Wayand tunnel road project via Western Ghats a poll gimmick, allege environmentalists

Kerala government's much-hyped Anakkampoyil-Kalladi-Meppady tunnel road project, launched by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan recently, is deceitful and a gimmick eyeing the assembly polls due next year, environmentalists said.

The Wayanad Prakruthi Samrakshana Samithi, a prominent environment protection body in the state, alleged that there is a conspiracy behind the project to mine tonnes of building stone in the name of the tunnel construction.

The proposal is to construct a two-lane tunnel road on the Anakkampoyil- Kalladi-Meppadi stretch and a two-lane, 70m bridge, across the Iruvanjippuzha.

The Samithi, in a statement, said the chief minister was taking an anticipatory bail by branding environmentalists as anti-development. “Environmentalists have not yet come out against the tunnel. However, the government has to conduct adequate feasibility study, and if it is viable, environmental impact assessment and sociological impact assessment. The state government has not even applied for the permission of the Ministry of Environment and Forests. There was neither a detailed project report nor any technical study. It is strange that the chief minister inaugurated such a project,” the statement read.

The Samithi said the project, like several others in the state, will remain non-starter.

“The claim that the works on the tunnel will be complted within three years is also absurd. The Military Road Organisation could finish the nine-km Atal tunnel, the foundation stone of which was laid by the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2002, only last week. The works on the Kuthiran tunnel, only 900 metres, have not been finished even after six years and a half,” it said.

The activists' organisation said it was still not clear where the tunnel will end in Kallady. “Nobody knows how much is the total estimate of the project,” the statement said.

The Samithi also listed out the environmental hazards posed by the project. “The tunnel will be passing underneath the mountain ranges that are part of the ecologically highly sensitive Chembramala-Vellarimala camel hub complex. The Chaliyar river also originates from there. This region is second to none when it comes to biological diversity. It was on the eastern side of this mountain ranges that the Mundakai landslide and last year's Puthumala landslide happened. This year also, huge landslips occured there. This region records five-fold of the average rainfall received in Wayanad and witnesses landslips frequently. These mountain ranges have rock formations that are 150 million years old and they receive 1000 mm rainfall a day. Geological experts have to conduct studies to assess whether constructing a tunnel there would destabilise the structure of the mountains,” it said.

The Geological Survey of India, in its study submitted to the state government after the floods in 2018, has directed to avoid human intervention in these regions. The state government also has to make it clear if the central government would give permission for the project in the ecologically sensitive area that was included in zone 1 in the Madhav Gadgil panel's report and enlisted as natural landscape in the Kasturirangan report.

“The chief minister has said that the project, once completed, will reduce the distance between Kozhikode and Bengaluru by seven km. The development of Wayanad is also projected as the major benefit of the project. By spending one fourth amount of the Rs 10,000 crore meant for the tunnel, the five mountain pass roads could be strengthened and modernised,” the statement read.

The tunnel road plan

The 6.8km bypass for the Thamarassery Ghat Road will be the third longest underpass in the country. The state government has given administrative sanction for Rs 658 crore in the first phase through the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB). The Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd (KRCL) has been roped in for the construction.

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