The incomplete pillars on Chennai’s Inner Ring Road are a stark reminder of one of the tall claims of the state and central government about the extended Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS). Twenty three years after Phase-1 of Parakkum Rail between Chennai Beach and Mylapore was inaugurated in 1995, construction over a 1.5-Km stretch from Adambakkam to Puzhuthivakkam on the Inner Ring Road remains suspended.
The 20-kilometre long MRTS line from Chennai Beach to Velachery includes prominent and populated localities that are not serviced by the older suburban railway network. However, the MRTS has not been utilised to its maximum potential because of the phased construction work on the Inner Ring Road stretch.
Three proposed stations in this 1.5-km stretch (Adambakkam, St. Thomas Mount and Puzhuthivakkam) that are still in the construction stage, are not connected to the suburban rail network. Once construction is completed, St Thomas Mount will be the only station in India to be connected on all three city rail networks – the Metro, MRTS and suburban services.
A shift that led to delay
The proposed elevated line that goes through the residential locality of Adambakkam, was stuck due to disputes over compensation for land acquisition. When the work to construct these stations commenced in 2000, southern railway officials marked the routes and proposed a plan that would not affect residential units.
But multiple hurdles cropped up along the way. Soon after work commenced, there was some trouble in the already operational line at Tidel Park.
“During the trial run of the MRTS line from Chennai Beach to Velachery, a pillar came crashing down at Tidel Park. So work at Inner Ring Road was stopped, and all effort diverted to tackle the crisis at Tidel Park. It was two years before work resumed again,” says V Ramarao, a civic activist.
Meanwhile, the plan was also changed. “The original plan was to have the MRTS line on the Poramboke lands adjoining Adambakkam Lake. But since the erstwhile Municipal Chairman (Alandur was not part of Chennai Corporation then) R S Bharathi and Highways Minister T R Balu allotted those lands to citizens with pattas, the plan had to be changed,” says octogenarian S Ekambaram, who has been fighting the MRTS completion issue for about 18 years. A retired engineer from TNEB, Ekambaram is the President of Parvathipuram, Thillai Ganga nagar and Jeevan Nagar association.
|Chennai Beach to Mylapore||9km||260 crore||Operational|
|Mylapore to Velachery||9Km||665 crore||Operational|
|Velachery to St Thomas Mount||3Km||417 crore||Stalled in construction|
Mired in litigation
In the new plan, Southern Railways earmarked a 120-feet long road for construction, which would require demolition of 75 houses in Thillai Ganga Nagar and Jeevan Nagar. In February 2007, residents filed a litigation against the new plan, after which the Madras High Court passed an order of interim injunction, ordering authorities not to disturb the property of citizens.
Despite the injunction, the state government proceeded to give eviction notice to the families, under the Land Acquisition Act. 40 of them obliged, but what angered land owners was the unjust compensation for the lost land. The new law passed by Parliament, The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, was never considered and citizens were compensated as per the centuries-old Land Acquisition Act of 1894. The old law, enacted during the British era, allows acquisition of land for public purpose by government agencies, upon payment of compensation as determined by the government. The new law mandates the government to pay more than the prevailing guideline value.
“We were granted compensation only after the new law was enacted. But, unfortunately, the revenue officers and the administrative officers deceived us, and paid only Rs 1912 per square feet, as opposed to Rs 6000, which would be the fair rate according to the new act,” said G Ezhilarasan, one of the residents. “The revenue officials calculated the value of land at 2010 prices and registered it accordingly. If they had calculated as per the market value of 2014, we would have received fair compensation,” he added.
It is also unfortunate that residents have only received 70 per cent of the total amount agreed upon by the government. In 2016, they appealed to the Madras High Court, demanding compensation as per the 2013 act.
A bench of the Madras High Court has ruled that the arguments by the counsel for the government are unacceptable and do not adhere to the provisions of the new land acquisition act. However, the court reserved judgement five months ago, meaning that it can be pronounced anytime now (within six months).
In the recent assembly session, Alandur MLA T M Anbarasan demanded speedy completion of the stretch that would enable St Thomas Mount to become an important rail hub. “Once operational, MRTS would enable South Chennai residents to reach localities such as Mylapore and Kotturpuram with much greater ease,” Anbarasan said.
Chennai citizens are now pinning their hopes on the impending judgement that might not only fetch them fair compensation, but also put this very important mobility project back on track.