Auroville red-flags proposed four-lane NHAI bypass

A view of the Galaxy shaped master-plan for Auroville, in Puducherry.   | Photo Credit: S_S_KUMAR

Aurovillehas flagged serious concerns over the potential havoc that a proposed four-lane highway bypass of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) could wreak on the five decades of reforestation and environmental regeneration work that has transformed a once-barren plateau into a bountiful bio-region.

Golden jubilee

The Auroville community, which recently celebrated the golden jubilee of its founding by Mirra Alfassa, spiritual associate of Sri Aurobindo, and has about 2,500 residents from 50 nations across the world, is particularly worried that the NHAI alignment for the proposed road will virtually “destroy the work carried out by Auroville over the last 50 years in environmental reforestation and regeneration work and the peaceful atmosphere it strives to establish.”

In a memorandum to the Villupuram District Collector L. Subramanian, Auroville raised concerns that the proposed bypass, aligned very close to the centre of Auroville’s soul, the Matrimandir (less than 2 km away) and the unplanned haphazard development that this can be expected to bring, will destroy the peace and tranquillity of the ‘City of Dawn’.

“We believe that the currently proposed bypass alignment is not in the right place and would not serve the purpose of a real bypass because by the time it is completed, it would pass through dense suburban areas of town as can be seen by the previous bypass (100 feet road) now congested with development. “Therefore it should be realigned in such a way that it is not detrimental to the environment and water security, and should serve the intended purpose of being beneficial to the region,” the memorandum said.

According to the memorandum, since inception on February 28, 1968, the Auroville experiment belonging ‘to humanity as a whole’ as stated in its Charter, has the protection and full support of the Government of India, concretised in 1988 with the Auroville Foundation Act and its governance structure under the Ministry of Human Resources Development.

UNESCO has also recognised and encouraged Auroville’s potential in five major resolutions since 1966, the latest one being in 2017. Further, the HRD ministry supports and recognises Auroville as a model, with the capability to help India with its challenges through experiments with a sustainable and integrated model of urban development that seeks to co-evolve with the bioregion in numerous ways.

Concerted efforts

The memorandum, which has also suggested alternatives to the proposed alignment, points out that over five decades, the Aurovillian community had put in considerable efforts to provide water security, restore agriculture to this formerly barren landscape, and increase fertility of the land.

“The extensive work carried out in the form of contour-bunding, building check-dams and putting in place other water conservation and soil erosion control measures such as extensive tree plantation, has resulted in reduced run-off to the sea, conservation of the top soil, and recharge of ground water aquifers,” Auroville said.

In fact, increased green cover, and revival of agriculture in the region has benefited all the surrounding villages in the region.

Besides, the afforestation work carried out in Auroville and its extended region is not mere plantation of monoculture species, rather it is the restoration of the rare and highly endangered Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest (TDEF) found only along the east coast of south India.

As per various scientific estimates, it had been reduced to only 4% of its original extent.

While restoring the TDEF Auroville has created several sanctuaries where this TDEF restoration can be seen, such as Pichandikulam, Ravena, Forecomers, Aranya, and many more, the memorandum said.

According to the memorandum, the results of all these painstaking efforts, stand imperilled as the first and the second bypass alignments cut through these sanctuaries.

This thriving ecosystem has seen the unique return of its fauna, a vast array of birds, reptiles and mammals now use the forests of Auroville as their habitat.

This fauna requires wildlife corridors to flourish and the close proximity of such a large highway poses real dangers to this development, Auroville said.

According to the memorandum, the proposed four-lane highway bypass, with service roads on either side around Puducherry town, is intended to allow vehicles headed southward to bypass the town and connect to the proposed widening of the existing 183 km stretch of Villupuram-Nagapattinam highway to four lanes.

The proposed bypass starts from the East Coast Road (ECR), north of Kalapet and ends at Ariyur village west of Puducherry where it connects to the Pondicherry-Villupuram highway and the south Pondicherry bypass to Cuddalore.

It goes from west of Kalapet, passes through the eastern side of Auroville, north of the Pondicherry airport, crosses NH 45A (Puducherry-Tindivanam highway) between Morattandi and JIPMER and from east of Ousteri Lake and ends at Ariyur village just west of Villianur.

The first alignment proposed by NHAI was passing through the green belt of areas under the Auroville’s master plan. This was discussed in meetings by members of Auroville community and NHAI in Chennai and Delhi, after which the alignment was moved to the east, closer to Kuilapalayam village, passing along the eastern edge of the Auroville master plan. “However both these alignments (which are parallel to the ECR, and in between ECR and NH66) are detrimental to the area,” Auroville said.

Alternative alignment

The memorandum, suggests as an alternative alignment, exploring the north and west of Auroville.

The advantages of such an alignment would include connecting to an industrial area such as Sedarapet — which benefit from linkage to the transportation corridors (roads and railways) — conduit along small villages and lesser population density as compared with the currently proposed alignment.

Another positive aspect of connecting to Sedarapet is that then the alignment passes from the west side of Ousteri, which is also an largely industrial area. This will also not adversely affect Ousteri Lake’s watershed on its eastern side. The land prices are lower in this area as compared with villages along the current bypass alignment, the memorandum said.

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Printable version | Nov 15, 2020 10:15:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/auroville-red-flags-proposed-four-lane-nhai-bypass/article25314663.ece

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