On April 8, 2019, the Madras High Court stalled land acquisition proceedings for the ChennaiSalem Expressway Project and ordered that all land records and communications issued to landowners be revoked within two weeks. The court expressed its unhappiness with the project's prefeasibility report, pointing out that the report was a "cutandpaste" job.
According to The Wire, the project feasibility report is dominantly plagiarised and has failed to consult the affected families to properly assess the technical, economic and social feasibility of the project and the resultant impacts and losses on environment and peoples livelihood.
The ChennaiSalem Greenfield Highway is a 277kmlong, eightlane expressway proposed under the Bharatmala scheme at an investment of Rs. 10,000 crore. Bharatmala is a Central government initiative to improve road connectivity and infrastructure in India, besides improving the countrys manufacturing capacity. Upon completion, the expressway will reduce the travel time between Salem and Chennai to three hours from the current six hours.
The project has been met with opposition from the farming communities from whom land is to be acquired. According to a news report, around 853 families from five districts in the state are expected to be affected by the land acquisition. The farmers claim that the project threatens their livelihoods and that the compensation offered by the government is inadequate. They also claim that the project is to be implemented under the National Highways Act, 1956, which requires public hearing and Social Impact Assessment, a necessity under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (LARR) Act of 2013 but that it is being surpassed by the authorities.
On February 1, 2018, farmers in Sriperumbudur, Chengalpet and Uthiramerur tehsils in Kanchipuram district received a notice from the state that their fertile land would be acquired for the eightlane ChennaiSalem highway. Similar notifications have been issued for acquiring land in Dharmapuri, Salem and Krishnagiri districts. Ever since, farmers and environmental activists have been opposing the project.
In June 2018, some of the protesting farmers and activists accused the district authorities of committing excesses and harassing protesters in an attempt to disrupt the demonstrations. Several activists, including Yogendra Yadav, were arrested and meetings were stalled.
In August, the Madras High Court directed the Tamil Nadu government to not dispossess the landowners of their land holdings until further notice. The court also ordered the state to adequately compensate the farmers who were mistreated by the police while protesting, in response to a public interest litigation, says a news report.
After the court order, the district authorities stated that the affected farmers will be compensated for land and losses under the LARR Act and that they would carry out an Environment Impact Assessment of the project. The Salem district collector also stated that a suitable relief and rehabilitation plan would be prepared.
The farmers in the region have been dependent on agriculture for ages. If the government takes away their fertile land, they will have to migrate to different places. There are already two different routes to ChennaiSalem. Why is the government keen on destroying our land? We will fight until the government drops the project, A. Nehru, the tehsil president of Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam (farmers association), told Land Conflict Watch.
Another reason why the farmers are protesting is the low compensation offered by the government. Nehru added that more than 1,500 farmers have filed a writ petition in the Madras High Court.