Chennai Railway Hub to be a reality soon: TN HC clears way for MRTS Phase-II extension

Chennai चेन्नाई (MAS):  Last-mile connectivity issues delaying completion of an integrated railway station at St Thomas Mount, where MRTS, Metro Rail, Beach-Tambram suburban rail lines and long distance trains would converge, is closer to reality now.  Clearing the decks for the extension of MRTS phase-II from Velachery to St. Thomas Mount, the Madras High Court dismissed petitions and an appeal challenging the acquisition of lands for the project.

The matter pertains to Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) Phase-II extension from Velachery to St Thomas Mount. Between 2008 and 2011, authorities had completed works on 3.7km out of 5km of MRTS line. Works remain to be done only for about 500 metres in the final 1.3-km stretch.

However, for about six years, residents welfare associations, individual land owners, a church and others from the 500 metres along the project area, stood in the way of completing the project on two grounds: First, authorities amended the original alignment thereby prejudicing the interests of landowners; Second, they invoked emergency land acquisition clause which did not require the usual proceedings such as issuing notice and hearing objections.

In its common judgement, a Division Bench comprising Justices N. Paul Vasanthakumar and M. Sathyanarayanan said the counter affidavits filed by the government and Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority made it clear that after the proposed alignment and extension of MRTS phase-II in 2008, between 2008 and 2011, the authorities had completed work on 3.7 km of the total five km of MRTS line. Work on only around 1.3 km remained.  On Wednesday, a division bench of Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar and Justice M Sathyanarayanan, acceding to the submissions of Tamil Nadu advocate-general A L Somayaji, dismissed the entire batch of writ petitions and appeals, saying: “Deviation in alignment was necessitated and integration among rail transit systems (MRTS, CMRL, Chennai suburban and long distance trains) would clearly benefit the commuters who are residing in Chennai Metropolitan Area. It would result in reduction of traffic congestion in the metropolis as a whole. Therefore, it cannot be said that no public interest is involved.”

The area belonging to the petitioners and appellants was only 500 metres of the 1.3 km. The project is to be completed expeditiously for the benefit of the public. Therefore, a conscious decision had been taken to invoke the urgency clause.

Counsel said there was no urgent need or necessity to invoke the urgency clause and to dispense with the enquiry, citing delays in the project and deviation in alignment.

Noting that allegations of malafides by some officials, who allegedly acted for extraneous considerations, had been inquired into and also closed, the judges said: “Therefore, it cannot be said that the decision was actuated by malafides.” Citing the exhaustive meetings, discussions and analyses conducted by officials and experts, the bench said, “it cannot be said that without proper application of mind, deviation in alignment was mooted. The decision was also taken in public interest by taking into consideration ground realities and facts and circumstances. Expert opinion in this regard cannot be lightly interfered with.”

Earlier, Somayaji said the original alignment had to be changed because Chennai Metro Rail Project came into being on September 2, 2008. Also, a decision has been taken to integrate MRTS, CMRL rail lines with Chennai Beach to Tambaram suburban line at St Thomas Mount railway station and a further decision was also taken to terminate long distance trains there, so that the city traffic may get reduced.

Advocate-general further said that as per the old alignment 35 structures had to be demolished, whereas the new alignment required only 28 structures to be razed. The new alignment would ultimately result in optimal integration of four rail systems at St Thomas Mount, he said, adding that the emergency clause dispensing with usual acquisition proceedings had to be invoked, because all works, except those lying in the 500-metre stretch had been completed by the railways.

Before parting with the case, the judges gave a piece of their mind to the MRTS administration in maintaining its existing facilities up to Velachery. They said that huge space and buildings constructed at huge cost at existing MRTS railway stations from Chinthadripet to Velachery had not been put to good use. “There is no proper upkeep and maintenance of MRTS railway stations and Southern Railways and MRTS shall take emergent steps to maintain the railway stations cleanly, properly and keep them user-friendly.

“Dismissing the appeal and writ petitions, the Bench observed that a public purpose required invocation of the urgency clause. As for the deviation, it had been done with due application of mind, the Bench stated.  It also observed that there was no proper upkeep and maintenance of MRTS railway stations. The huge spaces in the stations meant to be used for a commercial purpose had not been put to use, it pointed out.