Road, yes. Trod, no

Published: Monday 15 July 1996

Road, yes. Trod, no

Controversy reared its head once again on the East Coast Road (ECR), a 700-km-long highway being constructed from Madras to Kanyakumari. Activists of the ECR action committee (AC) were assaulted by miscreants at Kadapalkam village (40 km north of Pondicherry). The ECRAC is a group of non-governmental organisations demanding the construction of the highway without the environmental ruin being inflicted on the surrounding areas. The victims of the violence were volunteers of the Tamil Nadu Science Forum (TNSF) and the Indian National Trust for Art and Heritage.

The ECR has been hanging fire since its construction began in 1992. The ministry of environment and forests (MEF) had laid down conditions for the project following such allegations by environmentalists as the indiscriminate cutting of trees and the acquisition of homestead lands with no rehabilitative measures being taken. The MEF stipulated that trees would not be cut, rehabilitation would be ensured and no new hotels or factories would be allowed on the sea-ward side of the road. But despite these conditions violations continued unabated and in September 1995, the MEF issued a suspension order and constituted an enquiry committee.

According to the TNSF, the attack occurred when the MEF team was being taken around the sites by activists of the ECR AC. The activists were isolated from the rest of the group and forcibly detained by a group of people led by a former member of the legislative assembly, Kolathur Kothandam. Kothandam is said to have extracted a statement from the activists under duress, saying that their objections to the ECR would be withdrawn. But the incident has only spurred the ECRAC on its campaign, which demands that the ECR be built at the earliest, following the MEF's stipulations. They have also asked for action to be taken against Kothandam and others responsible for the attack.

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