The Madras High Court on Tuesday stayed the Rs 10,000-crore project for a eight-lane expressway between Chennai and Salem.
Admitting a batch of petitions filed by environmental activists as well as Pattaali Makkal Katchi leader Anbumani Ramadoss against the project, a division bench headed by Justice M Sivagnanam granted an interim stay and adjourned the hearing to Sep 11 with a direction that no farm land should be acquired nor any forest tree felled till further orders.
The National Highway Authority of India ( NHAI), in an affidavit filed before the division bench on July 13, had said it had got environmental clearance from the Union Ministry of Forests, Environment and Climate Change for the project.
The petitioners submitted that 80 per cent of the expressway would pass through cultivable land and 10 per cent through forest areas and the government had not so far held consultation with the local people as mandated by law.
The green field 277-km expressway will shorten the travel time. Critics say there are already three highways connecting the two cities and there is no need for a fourth one which will pass through eight districts and entail acquisition of farm and forest lands. Farmers in Tiruvannamalai, Salem and other towns and villages have been agitating against officials measuring the lands earmarked for takeover.
Welcoming the interim stay granted by the high court, Anbumani Ramadoss said the legal battle would continue “till we get a permanent injunction”. Simultaneously political battle would also be kept up till the Tamil Nadu Government dropped the Centrally funded project .
Rejecting the contention of the Tamil Nadu and Central Governments that the express way was meant to ease congestion on the highway and reduce fatal accidents, Anbumani said it could be achieved by widening the existing expressways.