Kerala's Spice Highway

It's only the six-lane express highway gets LDF in Kerala to see red,not for its proposed two-lane highway for export freight from its spice hills. The Kerala government has stepped up the throttle on the Rs1,000-crore blue print of its hill highway.Early estimates are that the 960km Kasargod to Parassala highway may cost Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1.5 crore per km (on 2006 prices), depending on the altitude and contouring needed. Once the proposed spice corridor becomes a reality, it is envisaged that farm to port distances would dissolve for Kerala's hill produce like rubber, spices from pepper to cardamom, cashew, coffee, tea and vanilla.
"It was a survey on the undulating terrain that was eating up too much time," said state works minister Mons Joseph. At the end of a 10 year long survey, National Transportation Planning and Research Centre (NATPAC) had come out with a report on the first phase upto Pattantitta. The survey report for southern stretch is almost through," the minister said. Some of the roads are ready on local initiative.Only inter-connectivity is lacking. At some points,the angles,curves and gradients would have to be fine-tuned. The highway could bring tea estate clusters like Meppady (in Wayanad) closer to Kochi port by about 90 km."The highway is likely to be ready in three years, if there is political willpower," a NATPAC official said.Although not aspiring to be high speed or six-lane as the controversial Express highway, the two-lane hill highway too had its share of green headaches. Since the northern leg of the highway rubs shoulders with the protected forest reserves enveloping the Western Ghats, environmental impact was a matter of concern. The state government is also armed with an environment impact report from the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI), Peechi, as it gears up to seek the ministry of environment's nod.
The key change would be that faster access to market could enable farmer get better prices, says MC George,who heads Infam,a leading farmers' outfit.
Besides, emerging as a crucial multiplier for the backward rural economy in the high altitude farmlands, the proposed hill highway could also afford a joyride for the state's Rs 11,000-crore tourism business. Going by the current alignment, vetted by NATPAC, many far-flung scenic tourist spots (like Pookode Lake and Vaithiri, Kanthappara waterfalls and Soojippara, Chempara peak and Edakkal Caves) could come closer, kicking up scores of new ideas for holiday picnickers.

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