Coimbatore

Activists voice against widening of Udhagamandalam-Coonoor Highway

Works to widen the Udhagamandalam- Coonoor Highway in progress near the Lovedale Junction. M . Sathyamoorthy

Works to widen the Udhagamandalam- Coonoor Highway in progress near the Lovedale Junction. M . Sathyamoorthy   | Photo Credit: M_ Sathyamoorthy

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Works taken up after consulting with GSI officials: District Collector

The ongoing widening of the Coonoor-Udhagamandalam Highway has led to some reservation among environmental activists, who say that this could trigger landslips and that it would be better to develop the infrastructure within the town first.

Venugopal Dharmalingam, honorary director of the Nilgiri Documentation Centre, told The Hindu that the excavators being used by the National Highways were “racing against time to gouge out mammoth rocks formed over millions of years leaving the road margins highly vulnerable and dangerous.”

“It is well known that the highway is highly unstable and several giant landslides have occurred on the route destroying men and material. The Mandada slide and the Marapalam slides are still fresh in public memory. The Geological Survey of India had recommended a 10 km tunnel from Burliar to Coonoor as a permanent remedy. The consequences of a major mishap on the slopes could be catastrophic considering the Ketti Valley and the mountain railway lying below them,” he stated in a press release.

He quoted a 2013 report by the Geological Survey of India which had attributed “human factors” including “vertical cutting” of slopes for the minor landslips in the region.

Responding to the concerns raised by Mr. Dharmalingam, District Collector Innocent Divya said that the expansion works were only started after an inspection by the officials from the Geological Survey of India. The experts had recommended certain measures be taken to prevent landslips.

Experts from the Indian Institute for Soil and Water Conservation (ICAR-IISWC) have also been consulted about measures that can be taken to strengthen and stabilise the slopes along stretches of the highway, which have been vulnerable to landslips in the past.

“Once the project is completed, we will strengthen the slopes using geotextiles made of jute, and also carry out plantations which will further lead to its stabilisation,” said Ms. Divya.

The expansion of the highway is expected to increase traffic flow between Mettupalayam and Udhagamandalam, especially during the summer festival season, leading to a fewer people getting gridlocked and as a consequence, encouraging more visitors to the hills.

Opposition

However, there has been opposition to the plans from conservationists, many of whom want the State government and district administration to limit the number of visitors to the Nilgiris to preserve its fragile environment and ecology.

Shobana Chandrasekar, a member of the ‘Make Ooty Beautiful’ campaign and the ‘Namma Nilgiris’ citizens’ group, said that the existing infrastructure within the major towns of Udhagamandalam and Coonoor were inadequate to meet the current demands of the number of visitors to the Nilgiris. “There is already dearth of parking space and lodgings for tourists in the Nilgiris, so there needs to be a holistic development model if we want to encourage more visitors to the district”.

She said that though she understood the need for widening of the highway, the current roads were “too narrow for two-way traffic, especially during the busy summer tourist season.” The added space could lead to encroachments and illegal parking along the newly expanded roads, defeating the whole purpose of the exercise, she said.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 2:34:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Coimbatore/activists-voice-against-widening-of-udhagamandalam-coonoor-highway/article25854612.ece

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