Around 17,000 trees and plantations will be cut down and 5.4 hectares of reserve forest will be taken over in Kancheepuram, Vellore and Ranipet for laying the Chennai-Bengaluru Expressway.
While the said reserved forest in Mahimandalam contains another 2,000-odd trees, 26 water reservoirs or lakes in the three districts will also be affected, show National Highways Authority of India documents. Around 13% of people residing here were engaged in agriculture.
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board will seek feedback from the public and other stakeholders regarding the project on March 13 and 16 at Kancheepuram and Vellore district environmental engineer’s offices.
Of the ₹3,472 crore sanctioned in the this year’s Union budget for the third and final phases of the project, ₹66 crore is to be used by the NHAI for compensatory afforestation and environmental monitoring.
A senior NHAI official said the government’s compensatory afforestation guideline will be strictly followed. “Ten trees will be planted for every tree felled,” he said. But Gokul Raj of Voice of Nature Trust, a not-for-profit organisation which has filed several cases in the past against NHAI for false afforestation claims, said authorities take up such drivers for namesake and respond only when National Green Tribunal or courts pull them up. “A classic example is Chennai-Tirupati NH205,” he said. NH48 is currently the most preferred route for commuting between Chennai and Bengaluru, but the NHAI’s new four-lane road project is expected to reduce travel time by 45 to 60 minutes.
While the total length of the new project is 278 km, the final phase will involve laying a 106 km stretch from Irungattukottai in Sriperumbudur on Chennai’s outskirts to Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh. The project will also involve construction of 57 bridges, 50 pedestrian underpasses, three truck rest areas and more importantly six toll plazas.
In the pre-construction phase, trees will be felled and 150-odd residential and commercial structures and religious institutions razed.