The protest against the changes in the alignment of the Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) phase-II extension linking Velachery to St. Thomas Mount gained pace with affected residents observing a hunger strike on Saturday.

Residents say that they are stepping up the protest as the piling work has started three days ago, on a contested 1.4 km stretch. They claim that a government order to go ahead with work on this stretch was yet to be issued. In response to an RTI query filed on July 14, the government replied, on September 3, that “the new proposal is under process and may be approved or disapproved.”

The original approved alignment was supposed to go over ‘poramboke’ land in a flood water canal near St. Thomas Mount. The 45-metre-wide canal has been reduced to a width of three metres in certain portions due to encroachment and residents claim that the deviation from the original alignment is being pushed through to help the encroachers.

The proposed realignment will result in the demolition of over 70 residences in Thillai Ganga Nagar, Jeevan Nagar and Tiruvalluvar Nagar, all of which are CMDA approved layouts.

S. Ekambaram, a 76-year-old retired TNEB engineer, said “An unbiased and competent technical panel should review the claims made by Southern Railway and CMDA (Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority). The vigilance department must enquire into the deviations and malpractices by some junior officials.” He was given a written clarification in 1983 by the CMDA that his property in Thillai Ganga Nagar will not be affected by the MRTS as it was not on the alignment line.

In 2001, the CMDA proposed the development of a ‘composite corridor’ combining the MRTS with the Inner Ring Road because it faced difficulties with land acquisition. It was accepted in 2006 by the State government and an order confirming this was passed.

However, the Highways Department deviated (by about 15 meters) from the approved alignment of IRR without consulting the CMDA or the Metropolitan Transport Project (MTP - Railways).

A letter, dated 21-06-2010, from the CMDA Member Secretary to the Highways and Urban Development Department Secretary, says “owing to certain lateral deviations in the alignment of the composite corridor, MRTS cannot follow the standalone rail alignment as originally approved in the Second Master Plan.”

Lakshmi Narasimhan, secretary of the Parvathipuram Residents’ Welfare Association, says “Since it was an integrated corridor, it is not just the responsibility of the Highways. MTP and CMDA should have noticed the deviation earlier. Even if the Highways deviated from the original alignment, the rail corridor can still follow the original alignment. Stilts can come up on either side of the road like the ones on Rajiv Gandhi Salai, instead of erecting pillars along the median.”

K.R. Ramaswamy alias ‘Traffic’ Ramaswamy, a public interest litigant, participated in the protest and said that if the concerned agencies do not take immediate action, a PIL will be filed soon. “The government is violating its own G.O. unnecessarily. No deviation from the original approval should be allowed without prior approval from the residents who will be affected,” he added.