Published in Sagar Sandesh Maritime Weekly
-Killing the geese laying golden eggs
Though 15 months have passed by now, ever since the Tamil Nadu State Government stopped the 19-km long Chennai Port - Maduravoyal Elevated Expressway along the banks of the River Cooum citing a ridiculous reason of slight deviation from the approved alignment, there is no sign of restarting the important infrastructure project anytime soon.
The inordinate delay in completing the all important road connectivity project, which was primarily conceived as a permanent solution to growing congestion of heavy vehicles plying between Chennai Port and the outskirts of the City via Chennai’s arterial roads, is silently eating into the already fragile EXIM trade growth of the region.
As a cascading effect of the halted project, exporters and importers of the State, who naturally preferred the Chennai Port for their needs for the last several decades, have started to slowly move their operations to ports located in the neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka.
According to EXIM sources, any further delay to this Rs. 1,815-crore project would not augur well for the profile of the Tamil Nadu State, which vies for support of many more foreign manufacturing companies to set up their plants here.
In the interest of EXIM traders from the region, the State Government should take serious efforts to bring the decongesting road connectivity project back on track, says the EXIM community in Chennai.
With Chennai Port, a Central Government maintained port, and the Tamil Nadu State Government realizing that the growing congestion of heavy vehicles on Chennai’s arterial roads could create serious problems for other road users in the future if not arrested on time, the stakeholders have planned for a better road connectivity to ensure seamless movement of cargo towards Chennai Port round-the-clock.
After much deliberation on the prospective plans for win-win situation for all users - regular motorists as well as heavy vehicles – it was finally decided that an elevated road connectivity project from Chennai Port up to Maduravoyal, which is the important entry point for all kinds of commercial vehicles to the port, should be developed, so that traffic congestion could be arrested in future.
As a next step, the Government of India in December 2008 gave its nod for the development of 18.3 km four-lane elevated road from Chennai Port to Maduravoyal under its flagship scheme of National Highways Development Programme (NHDP) Phase VII.
The project, started in September 2010 at the behest of Tamil Nadu Government and Chennai Port Trust and due to be completed by September 2013 (as per 2010 schedule), would cut down the travel time between the port and Maduravoyal, on the city outskirts, from more than two hours to just 15-20 minutes.
Under NHDP Phase VII, the Government of India had approved the construction of standalone ring roads, bypasses, grid separators, flyovers, elevated roads, tunnels, road over-bridge, underpasses, service roads, etc. under Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode.
The need for a dedicated freight road emerged in the picture, as Chennai Port has experienced a steady increase in the volume of traffic handled over the years, which in turn has increased the traffic on the internal roads of the port.
The Elevated road connectivity project came into existence due to traffic restrictions on movement of heavy vehicles to Chennai Port on NH-4 within Chennai City.
The State Government of Tamil Nadu in 2008 also agreed to the alignment of this elevated road and also to carry out the land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement on a 50:50 cost basis between the Chennai Port Trust and the State Government. The Chennai Port Trust would initially bear the entire cost and subsequently 50 % of the cost would be reimbursed from the State Government.
The project has been envisaged to provide an all-time road without any traffic regulatory obstacles so that the port can be approached directly from the outskirts of Chennai City without interfering with the city traffic by all commercial vehicles.
For general traffic (non-commercial users), entry/exit ramps are proposed on Kamarajar Salai (exit), Sivananda Salai (entry), College Road (entry) and Spur Tank Road (exit).
The project was planned on Design, Build, Finance, Operate & Transfer (DBFOT) basis and the concession period was decided as 15 years in accordance with the design capacity of the highways.
The project has been divided into two sections. In section -1, road from Chennai Port to Koyambedu –total length 14.2 km including the ramps at Koyambedu would be developed. In section -2, the project was decided from Koyambedu to Maduravoyal – widening of NH4 from and elevated road should be carried out.
Though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laid the foundation stone for the important connectivity project in January 2009, work on the Koyambedu to Maduravoyal section of the Elevated Road began only in September 2010.
The work on the Chennai Port to Koyambedu section started only in March 2011 after receiving the Centre’s CRZ clearance for the section since it runs along the River Cooum, one of the important waterways in city.
Though the implementing authority of the project, NHAI, started to fast track the project after so-much undue delays, Tamil Nadu Government put a spanner on its work citing deviation from approved alignment along River Cooum in March 2012.
Ever since the objection and “Stop Work” notice by the State’s PWD Department, work on the Rs. 1815- crore much-desired project came to a grinding halt.
Consequent on the project being forced to halt in the face of PWD’s objection, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has moved the Madras High Court seeking directions to the State authorities to execute it as agreed earlier.
According to the prayer, NHAI sought quashing of a letter by the Chief Engineer of Water Resource Organisation, Public Works Department, asking NHAI to obtain revised Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ) clearance for the 19-km long' Chennai Port-Maduravoyal Elevated Corridor, and carry out certain remedial measures.
This direction to obtain revised CRZ clearance was nothing but arbitrary exercise of power, mala fide against the spirit of public interest and various orders passed by the Tamil Nadu Government, NHAI claimed in the petition.
The implementing agency also submitted before the court that though necessary clearances and approvals had been obtained from concerned departments/agencies before commencing the project, after the change of Government in May 2011, there has been no cooperation from various departments of the State Government with regard to the land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement of project affected families.
Though the court proceedings are still on, the delay due to stoppage of the connectivity project has already taken a heavy toll in the form of drastic fall in cargo meant for Chennai Port.
Meanwhile, Soma Constructions Ltd., the contractor of the Chennai Port – Maduravoyal Elevated Expressway project, also approached the NHAI authorities for compensation arising out of undue delay in completing the project.
For Chennai Port, the elevated road project came only as an opportunity to secure seamless as well as uninterrupted road connectivity, since the other connecting road, EMRIP, also known as the Chennai Port Road Connectivity Project, is progressing slowly.
The EMRIP has been planned to improve the connectivity of the Chennai Port to the National Highway network by strengthening the connecting roads from the port. The project is being executed by the SPV Chennai Ennore Port Road Co Ltd comprising National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), Chennai Port Trust, Ennore Port Limited and Government of Tamil Nadu.
Even though the existing EMRIP road serves as a lifeline for Chennai Port, it is also the important arterial road for other commuters as well as the public transports in Northern parts of Chennai.
Since the EMRIP would also face congestion of vehicles in a few years’ time, a dedicated road like Elevated Road from Chennai Port to Maduravoyal, which would be free from any kind of restrictions on movement of vehicle, will ultimately help the port to sustain its dominance in the region.
GAINS FOR TN
According to a section of EXIM players, early commissioning of the Elevated Expressway would help both the traders of import and export as well as the State Government. While seamless movement of cargo would increase revenue for Chennai Port, it would also help the manufacturing sector in the State to fully rely on the oldest port for their raw material requirements.
So, in the interest of the trade as well as for the brand building of Tamil Nadu State among
the international players, who are keeping a close eye on the State to set up their manufacturing plants, the concerned authorities should sink their ego and seriously vie for a solution for the very important infrastructure project in the best interest of EXIM players as well as Chennai Port in particular and the Tamil Nadu Government in general