By the time projects begin, more development happens

For 28 years now, 70-year-old A. Sridharan has been a resident of Perungalathur. He purchased land for a few thousands long ago to construct his house. It is the only property that he owns. However, the Highways Department recently issued a notice stating that a portion of his house and land will be required for constructing a flyover replacing level-crossing 32, situated north of Perungalathur station.

Residents in the area are objecting to the proposal as many homes, most belonging to senior citizens, would be affected. It is the same case in Chromepet where residents are opposing the construction of a subway at Radha Nagar replacing LC 27 and in Tiruvottiyur, where land-owners are against the construction of a flyover replacing a gate at Annamalai Nagar (LC 4). There are at least a dozen similar facilities waiting to be replaced.

However, it takes many years for the projects to actually take off. Right from floating tenders for consultants to preparing detailed project reports to exchanging general alignment drawing with the railways, acquiring land and finally calling for contractors to execute the project, it takes a considerable amount of time. By the time the entire process is complete, a lot more development happens in the locality, and the number of people affected by the exercise goes up.

According to a senior official of the Highways Department, the Southern Railway has been issuing warrants to replace all railway gates in the Chennai Metropolitan Area with road overbridges and road underbridges , and over the years, the State Highways Department has been replacing them, despite objections and litigations. “The Railways wants the gates to be closed so that they can increase train traffic and bring down accidents. The State government agrees to replace certain gates every year and a budget is allocated accordingly,” the official said. A traffic planner said the delay is also due to the involvement of two bodies. “There are some projects where the railways have taken up the work entirely. This brings down the delay in project implementation. People should also look at the possibility of Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). The government is looking at the possibility of land pooling. It has also announced a separate allocation for land acquisition for certain schemes. These are very welcome moves. These are ideas akin to the CMDA freezing land for major developmental works,” he explained. “Land acquisition should be taken up as soon as the project is announced. The project implementing department can also acquire lands instead of depending on the Revenue Department. The draft Land Acquisition Act, 2011 provides for compensation in kind. It takes into consideration the sacrifice the family has made for the project. The present Act does not include rehabilitation,” explained K.P. Subramanian, former professor of Urban Engineering, Anna University.

When implementing a project at a railway gate after considerable delay, the Highways Department could also consider taking a fresh look at the proposal — having a rethink on the original proposal. By the time the project comes up, land and building patterns change. Perhaps the department could think of imposing a freeze on the land like the CMDA does for major development projects or realigning the facility to suit the present needs.

Deepa H. Ramakrishnan writes on civic issues for The Hindu.

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