‘Salem expressway in interest of environment’

It will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions, Union government tells High Court in defence of project

Published - August 03, 2018 01:19 am IST - CHENNAI

Contrary to fears of environmental damage that could be caused due to the proposed ₹10,000-crore Chennai-Salem eight-lane expressway, the Centre on Thursday contended in the Madras High Court that the expressway would actually help in preventing release of around 17 crore kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is equivalent to the effect achieved through a 38,000 ha forest area with 75 lakh trees.

In a counter-affidavit filed in response to public interest litigation petitions filed by advocate A.P. Suryaprakasam and two others, the Centre said the reduction of carbon dioxide could be achieved by reducing diesel consumption by 10 crore litres per annum. It went on to state that consumption of diesel would come down considerably because of shortening of travelling distance between Chennai and Salem by 57 km to 75 km.

Amit Kumar Ghosh, Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, had filed the counter-affidavit. He said the expressway was part of the Centre’s major road programme known as Bharatmala Pariyojana-I entailing construction of about 35,000 km of national highways across the country at an estimated cost of ₹5,35,000 crore before 2022. The programme was aimed at decongesting six national corridors.

According to the official, resorting to brownfield development and widening existing national highways would be more damaging to the environment than greenfield alignment, because it [brownfield development] would require felling of trees apart from demolishing structures that had come up on both sides of the highways due to urbanisation. He said brownfield development was not resorted to because of ground constraints as well as associated financial and environmental costs.

The two existing highways between Chennai and Salem were 334 km and 353 km long and the proposed expressway would reduce the distance to just 277 km.

‘No clearance needed’

The court was also told that there was no necessity to obtain prior environmental clearance for the project from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, before issuing preliminary land acquisition notifications under Section 3A(1) of the National Highways Act of 1956.“The authority empowered to undertake environment appraisal and clearance cannot do so unless it is made aware of the alignment as borne out from the preliminary land acquisition notifications in this behalf. Further, the land acquisition per se has no impact on the environment impact assessment... These are two altogether different activities and not inter-dependant,” the Centre said. It added that works were being carried out simultaneously to reduce time.

Conceding that 9.95 km of reserved forest area had to be acquired for the expressway, Mr. Ghosh said: “It may kindly be appreciated that such kind of forest stretches are unavoidable in long linear projects and the authorities have taken due care to keep the impact to the barest minimum while finalizing the alignment.” assured that due care would be taken to preserve the waterbodies en route by desilting and deepening them.

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