Chennai Port-Maduravoyal Elevated Expressway gets HC green signal
Giving the much awaited relief to the Chennai Port management, the Madras High Court on Feb. 20 gave its nod to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to restart the 19-km long Chennai Port-Maduravoyal Elevated Expressway project, which was stalled by the Tamil Nadu Government’s Public Works Department (PWD) for almost two years.
Setting aside the orders of the PWD, which had in March 2012 asked the NHAI to suspend the work immediately as it did not approve the alignment of the elevated structure along the Cooum River, a Division Bench comprising Justices N. Paul Vasanthakumar and P. Devadass in High Court directed the State Government and all the contesting respondents to extend full co-operation for continuance of the project which has been already commenced after obtaining proper clearance from Coastal Regulatory Zone Authority.
Furthermore, the Bench also directed the PWD to co-ordinate and monitor free flow of water of Cooum River along with authorities. The State authorities should work in tandem with NHAI for the completion of the project, the order further said.
HC observed: “From the narration of the facts as well as study of the Project, no one can deny that the Elevated Expressway from Chennai Port to Maduravoyal is an imminent necessity and the decision was mooted during 2004-2005. The need for decongestion of traffic and to create alternate connectivity, the Elevated Expressway is required in order to mitigate the traffic congestion and for the movement of containers to the port. Therefore, a decision to have an Elevated Expressway from Maduravoyal to Chennai Port at a distance of 19 km was conceived and accepted as a viable project by the Central Government and State Government at the instance of the Chennai Port Trust in consultation with NHAI, which is an expert body.”
STORY SO FAR
The Government of India, Department of Road Transport and Highways accorded approval for implementation of the project on Build Operate Transfer (Toll) basis under Phase VII of the National Highways Development Project, out of which 40% of the project cost will be borne by the Central Government.
Based on the decision, NHAI invited bids and after evaluation, the proposal of M/s. Soma Enterprise Ltd., Hyderabad, was accepted by NHAI. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs also accorded approval for the project on Dec. 26, 2008. Letter of acceptance was also issued to the said agency on Jan 6, 2009 and thereafter the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, laid the foundation stone for the project on Jan. 8, 2009 near Maduravoyal.
Concession Agreement with M/s.Chennai Elevated Tollway Ltd. was also made on May 18, 2009 with a concession period of 15 years, including the construction period of three years.
Prior to the commencement of the work in Section-I (along river Cooum), Project Director, NHAI, in his letter dated Oct. 16, 2009 requested the Chief Engineer, PWD, to accord “Enter Upon Permission” for the stretch from Napier Bridge to Koyambedu along Cooum River for the project, duly enclosing the copy of the alignment drawings, right of way details.
Having satisfied with the project alignment along the Cooum River, the Executive Engineer, Water Resources Department, Araniyar Basin Division, Chennai, accorded permission on Nov. 12, 2009.
Meanwhile, the concessionaire commenced the work in Section-II at Koyambedu on Sept. 14, 2010 and Section-I work could not be commenced (then) because of non-receipt of Coastal Regulatory Zone Clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forest for the stretch from Nappier Bridge to Chetpet Bridge. After getting CRZ clearance on Feb. 25, 2011, Section-I work along the Cooum River was commenced and work to the value of Rs.500-crore was completed up to March 29, 2012.
At this stage, on Feb. 1, 2012 the Chief Engineer, PWD, issued stop work order in Cooum River until further orders, for which a reply was given by the Ministry of Road Transport, Highways, to the Chief Secretary of the Government of Tamil Nadu on March 7, 2012 and requested to convene a high-level committee meeting to sort out the issues on priority basis in the larger interest of the State and the nation.
However, no high-level committee meeting was convened and the Chief Engineer again passed an order on March 29, 2012 directing to seek approval for alignment of Cooum River and until such time, all the construction activities in Cooum River should be stopped.
NHAI MOVES HC
The said order dated March 29, 2012 was challenged in the Madras High Court via a writ petition and the matter was entertained by the court with a direction to the State Government and all the respondents, to file their counter affidavits.
During pendency of a writ, the Project Director, NHAI, by his letter dated April 2, 2012 gave a reply and requested to allow the concessionaire to carry out the work as there is no violation in the condition stipulated and also explained the necessity for early completion of the project and also requested to convene the high-level committee meeting.
As there was no response, the Secretary, Road Transport Department, along with Finance Member, NHAI, came to Chennai on Nov. 24, 2012 for a discussion with the Chief Secretary and during the said discussion it was suggested by the Chief Secretary that NHAI may explain all the facts to PWD along with technical justification and the alignments.
Accordingly an Independent Consultant Study Report regarding alignment etc. was obtained regarding free flow along River Cooum for ensuring maximum discharge of 25, 000 cusecs and the said report was submitted on July 16 (before the PWD) and requested to withdraw the stop work order to resume the work.
Since no action being taken, the issue was again taken up with the highest level viz., the Prime Minister of India. Consequently, the Advisor to the Prime Minister came to Chennai and met the Chief Secretary on Nov. 9, 2012 and requested to convene a meeting with technical experts of NHAI and officials of the Government of Tamil Nadu and after about six months the Chief Engineer, PWD, passed an order on Jan. 28, 2013 directing the Chief General Manager (Technical), Regional Office, NHAI, to obtain necessary permission from the Government of Tamil Nadu after fulfilling corrective measures pointed out and to get revised clearance of CRZ.
Irked over the latest action, the said order was challenged by the NHAI in High Court and told the judges that all the apprehensions expressed by the Chief Engineer were clarified and also reiterated that the Government of Tamil Nadu had earlier assured full support for implementation of the project in the past.
SIGH OF RELIEF
According to EXIM fraternity in the region, the HC order gives the Chennai Port management an immense relief as the facility was facing huge problem in supporting movement of containers and other heavy cargo vehicles round-the-clock to and from the port.
“If the project is restarted and completed as per the court order, it would help the Chennai Port to regain its position of being an important port in East Coast with regular mainline services to different parts of the world,” a leading EXIM player told Sagar Sandesh.