Chennai-Salem Highway: Top 5 Jokes in the Feasibility Report

Here are the top 5 errors in the Feasibility Report of the proposed Chennai-Salem highway. Laugh and worry!

7 min read
Chennai-Salem Highway: Top 5 Jokes in the Feasibility Report

Barely four months after an official announcement of the government’s keenness in the project, the Rs 10,000 crore Chennai-Salem ‘Green Corridor’ Project has become a household name, the source of unending controversy, the raison d’etre of walkouts in the assembly, and most irritatingly, a comedy of errors.

Errors by the government, who have been intent only on silencing dissent. Errors by the general public and politicians, who misunderstood the word 'green' in green corridor to mean 'eco-friendly'. And of course, errors galore by Feedback Infra Pvt Ltd, the company in charge of preparing the 'Feasibility Report' for the project.

So here are the Top 5 ‘jokes’ in the Feasibility Report.

1. The Chinese City Between Chennai and Salem!

A direct cut-and-paste job from a project report pertaining to a city in China.
A direct cut-and-paste job from a project report pertaining to a city in China.
(Photo Courtesy: Chennai-Salem Highway Feasibility Report)

Xi'an is the capital city of the Shaanxi province in North-Eastern China. This is where the fossils of the Lantian Man, a subspecies of the homo-erectus was discovered. Of course, neither this fact, nor the city itself, has anything to do with the proposed highway between Chennai and Salem.

This is an embarrassing cut-and-paste job from a report (not pertaining to any highway) on a Chinese city. Read it in full for more ROFL, in section 11.1!

2. Gender Equality? That’s a Non-Issue!

The Feasibility Report simply brushes aside the question of gender equality.
The Feasibility Report simply brushes aside the question of gender equality.
(Photo Courtesy: Chennai-Salem Highway Feasibility Report)

This is in answer to the question on whether the project has the potential to promote gender equality.

'No serious Gender equality or empowerment issues'. Really?

According to the Confederate of Indian Industries, the proportion of women in the transport sector (road) is less than 1%. And in other modes of transport (rail, air, sea, etc), the percentage is negligible.

So what the report meant was that there were too few women in the sector to actually be an issue?

Gender equality in this case isn’t just about women in the industry, but for all of the women who use public transport, and public spaces. Ironically, over 90% of women use public transport, while among men it is around 70%.

YET, according to a survey conducted in Tamil Nadu, which included both men and women, over 70% said that women face the risk of being groped or harassed.

Another faux pas was the allocation of 20 lakh rupees for HIV/AIDS awareness, while there was no mention of educating the farmers who will lose their lands.

It is estimated that over 6,000 farmers along the proposed highway will need to forfeit their lands.

Farmers are not first-generation professionals. The land they work on, the trade they ply are both handed down across generations. It is both an emotional and a financial blow for a family of farmers to suddenly give up both land and the only work they know to do, for a highway.

Isn’t it only logical that funds and effort be allocated to educate and better inform the farmers on what they will stand to lose/gain through the highway?

Sadly, as per the feasibility report, it appears that it’s never the farmer’s way, only the highway!

And I fail to see the joke in that.

3. Trees? NHAI Sees None

NHAI states that only 6,400 trees will be cut across a 13 kilometre stretch of forest.
NHAI states that only 6,400 trees will be cut across a 13 kilometre stretch of forest.
(Photo Courtesy: Minutes of 189th Meeting of the EAC)
According to the NHAI’s presentation, only 6,400 trees will be cut to build a 270 kilometre stretch of 8-lane highway.

RoW, or Right of Way basically means the width that will need to be cleared for a 70-metre wide road. The total length of the road that will cut through 16 forest villages and seven reserve forests, is around 13 kilometres, or roughly 100 hectares.

Even if NHAI's statement is limited to just the 13 km stretch of forest land (which it clearly isn't), 6,400 trees is a blatant understatement.

Here's some perspective, in case you still don't get the joke; to refurbish government accommodations in small pockets of South Delhi, the proposed number of trees to be cut was 17,000!


Here’s a word problem that defies logic;

Q) It takes 17,000 trees to be cut down, to refurbish government quarters in a small part of South Delhi. How many trees need to be cut down to build a 277km highway (8-lane), that passes through 11 forests?

A) 6,400 trees only?!

4. Gallery of Repetitions Galore!

Is there a pre-requisite number of pages that a Feasibility Report needs, to be considered valid? This feels like a plausible question, after one notes the number of repetitions across the report. With no change in context, wordings or even the order of paragraphs, Chapters 1.1, 3.3, 5.1 and 11.1 are clones of one another and each run into seven-eight pages.

The content is simply this: The government has taken up development of Economic and National corridors, and the NHAI has appointed Feedback Infra Pvt Ltd to provide consultancy services.

This is then followed by Wikipedia copy-paste sections on Tamil Nadu and the five districts that are covered by the highway, over and over again!

  • Section 11.1 of the report.
  • Section 1.1 of the report.
  • Section 3.3 of the report.
  • Section 5.1 of the report.

5. Consultation? All Done!

Consultation with stakeholders is one of the most important steps of the process.
Consultation with stakeholders is one of the most important steps of the process.
(Photo Courtesy: Chennai-Salem Highway Feasibility Report)

It is in sections like these that the credibility of the report tends to become questionable. There hasn’t been a ‘Green Highway Project’ (highway built from scratch) in decades. The social and economic impacts of this project are bound to be immense. The Feasibility Report will therefore need to include details of stakeholder consultations, the number of people interviewed (also when and where), the questions asked and the responses.

Instead, all that the report provides is a single line stating cryptically that the consultations have been undertaken. No proof or further details have been provided.


Unanswered Questions

1. How many stakeholders have been consulted?
2. Which villages has Feedback Infra visited and on what dates?
3. What were the questions posed?
4. What were the concerns of the stakeholders?
5. What efforts were taken to educate the stakeholders about the project?

Stakeholder consultation is the cornerstone of any feasibility study. But in the study in question, this entire section has been literally copy-pasted from a different report. Or worse, purposely brushed aside as inconsequential.

What is even more questionable is the conclusion that the report draws, stating that the people actually want the highway, without the necessary surveys!

Such statements are misleading and subjective.
Such statements are misleading and subjective.
(Photo Courtesy: Chennai-Salem Highway Feasibility Report)
While the feasibility report leaves much to ponder upon, and laugh about, a portion of the blame (for all of the confusion and misinformation), also falls squarely on the people of the state.

The Joke’s On You, People

To lose one's land to a highway is never a pleasant experience. The present government has only poured salt over the already scared and wounded land owners and farmers, by taking on a no-tolerance approach to dissent. In fact, the police has become the face of the TN government, with the CM only giving occasional homilies and generic statements like, 'This project is good for the people of TN'.

But the people of TN too, are to blame for the overall confusion, thanks to an over-dependence on unverified social media sources for news without ascertaining the real situation.

Take, for example, actor Mansoor Ali Khan's arrest, or that of activist Piyush Pandey. Both have been upheld as martyrs for the farmers' cause and victims of police brutality – while in reality, Mansoor Ali Khan was arrested for his wantonly violent statement against the 8-lane highway at a function in which he was felicitated for cleaning up water bodies in Salem;

If they think of building an 8-lane highway, I will hack 8 people to death!
Mansoor Ali Khan, Actor, at an event in Salem

While his efforts at cleaning and rehabilitating the ponds around Salem's villages is truly commendable, his statement was surely not. And Piyush Pandey was arrested because he had organised the program. Both were treated with due respect and according the law by the police, and then released. But the high-decibel defence of them by the highway’s detractors are only adding to the confusion.

Then there’s this major misconception:

“How can you call it 'green' if you cut down so many trees and forests?”

In urban planning parlance, specifically when it comes to highways and roads, the term 'green' refers to a brand new road or highway. 'Brown' on the other hand, refers to refurbishment, or improving an existing road.

A 'Green Corridor', therefore means a corridor or road that is being built from scratch. The name has nothing to do with being environmentally friendly.

The Bigger Picture

The Chennai-Salem expressway is only one among a number of major infrastructure and industrial development projects that are underway in Tamil Nadu. Across the districts through which the proposed highway passes, chiefly Salem and Thiruvannamalai, a number of industries have been proposed.

Thiruvannamalai is one of the 250 most backward districts in the country and receives funds from the Backward Regions Grant Fund Program (BRGF).

According to The New Indian Express:

“...government plans to set-up 250 acre hi-tech SEZ for automative components, a 300-acre electronics hardware park and has a commitment from the Taiwanese Shoe Company to set up its unit.”

A steel SEZ across 250 acres by SAIL is being planned in Salem, in addition to this.

The CM’s Stake

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/ChennaiUngalKaiyil)

The ‘Edappadi’ in Edappadi Palanisamy is a constituency in Salem, which the CM of Tamil Nadu belongs to. The highway project, therefore, is not just a huge feather in the CM’s cap, but also a highly profitable venture for the consituency and a matter of honour for the CM.

It is therefore all the more important to NOT shatter the people’s trust in the government by presenting documents that fail to address people’s issues and make a mockery of their concerns.

The Feasibility Report for the Chennai-Salem highway is not just full of errors, but is also a cruel joke, played at the expense of the people.

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