In the bedroom of the 49-year-old Mini Saji, a long, winding crack at one of the walls runs down to the base, after which it is divided into two parts. There are many other such cracks in their 800 sqft reed tile house that remain hidden due to a recent cement patching. A few meters away from the house, traffic flows smoothly inside the newly opened tunnel in Kuthiran in the Thrissur district of Kerala.
Not only Saji’s, many other houses in the neighborhood have been damaged by the vibrations of five years of blowing in the hills to cut out the dike tunnel. They say they are all exhausted to fight for adequate compensation to repair their properties.
KA Chacko, who was once Saji’s neighbor, was forced to move to a rented house three kilometers away due to an explosion. Chacko, who has been paying a monthly rent of Rs 6000 since 2017, said the foundation is now the only thing left of his house.
“I received Rs 85,000 as compensation for a house that was completely damaged. How can I still build a house with so little money? ”Asked 65-year-old Chacko, a daily wage worker.
The first tunnel of Kerala – the 964-meter-long two-tube tunnel construction of Kuthiran – began in 2016 and was interrupted several times due to financial crisis and public protest against explosion. The tunnel that reduces the three-kilometer journey in the Thrissur Palakkad section of NH 544 gained importance as the road that runs through the hills of the notified Peechi-Vazhani wildlife sanctuary, which made regular headlines for recurring traffic jams and accidents. One of the tunnels was opened to the public on July 31 after a tweet from Nitin Gadkari, Minister of the Union of Road Transport and Highways. The tunnel is part of the six-lane and development of the same highway.
At least 400 people were approached with complaints in 2017 due to explosion in the hills, said Vijayankutty NK, former district member of the area. These are damages reported from four neighborhoods of Pananchery panchayat or within three miles of the tunnel, he said, adding that the complaints also include that of houses affected by explosion in nearby areas of the tunnel as well as part of the six-lane. of the highway.
“Sometimes the rocks hit our houses during the explosion, and when the work went on, it felt like an earthquake,” Saji said. Saji and other residents protested for months at the subway site, after which they submitted a written petition to the Kerala High Court in 2017, demanding compensation claiming the explosion was illegal.
“We had evidence. The contract had stated that even controlled explosion is not allowed in Kuthiran, but the company has broken it,” said Nibu Chirampattu, another resident.
A 2009 agreement between the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) and Thrissur Expressway Private Limited for the construction and development of six-lane Mannuthy-Vadakkanchery section of NH 544 (then NH-47) stated that “with it wildlife, open excavation and blasting (self-controlled blasting) will not be allowed, and boring tunneling will only be allowed. “
The petition filed before the Supreme Court was dismissed in the same year with the court ordering the officials of panchayat and revenue to review the damage and submit its report to the District Collector. The court also asked the contractor to pay the amount and resume work.
“Officials pay out about one to two lakhs per person for damage that even the base of homes causes,” said attorney CA Anoop, who represented the residents in the Supreme Court. He said repeating the blowing caused more damage and added that they were forced to file another petition in 2019 to seek more money. According to Anoop, the number of applicants also increased because the explosion caused damage to more houses.
The court ordered the Thrissur collector to review the case. But nothing happened even after assessing the damage, he said. Residents have filed a 2020 case of contempt of court that has not yet been heard. Anoop said one of the reasons for the delay is the pandemic.
The estimate was made in haste, Chirampattu said, pointing out that officials promised to provide additional compensation after the tunnel was completed. According to him, 68 people who applied for damages after the resumption have not yet received any money.
“We are not against all development activities. We have witnessed all the accidents that happened here, so we know the importance of the tunnel,” Saji said. She received Rs 1.10 lakh in 2017, although the amount is not enough to rebuild her house.
“Most of us are day laborers. We can’t afford to build or move another house,” she said.
A total of 245 people were compensated between January 2017 and August 2021 for the explosion that occurred at the Kuthiran tunnel, an RTI application revealed. Rs 3.5 crore was paid out, of which persons received various amounts according to the damage.
“People have been approaching compensation since 2017. We currently have 62 applications of which 35 are eligible to receive the amount, according to the assessment made by the PWD to the court in 2019. It will be distributed if the company pays it,” he said. said Davis PA, senior clerk at the Thrissur Collectorate.
“The company compensated the people for damage estimated by the government,” said Ajith, Public Relations Officer (PRO) at Thrissur Expressway Limited. He said blasting was necessary to complete the work and added that one of the reasons for the delay in completing the project was the public protest.
‘Opportunities for human-animal conflict:’ Former guard
The area will witness human-animal conflict after both tunnels begin to function, said AO Sunny, former warden at the Peechi-Vazhani wildlife sanctuary.
“When the traffic completely passes to the tunnel, the existing road is abandoned, creating a safer path for wild animals. “Because this is a human-brake area, the residents and their properties will be vulnerable to attacks,” he said.
According to Sunny, the relevant authorities should address this issue after consultation with residents before the other tunnel is opened.
Meanwhile, Saji said she saw wild elephants crossing the road at night when traffic was low.