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Closing the Enforcement Gap: A community-led groundtruthing of the expansion of a National Highway in Uttara Kannada

By: Centre for Policy Research - Namati Environmental Justice Program

In 2011, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) proposed the widening and upgrading of the existing National Highway (NH) 17, renaming it NH-66 in the process. It is mentioned in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report and in the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) that the construction of the highway will reduce traffic, fuel consumption and accidents, and save time. It is also claimed by the project proponent that the construction of the highway will bring development in all the areas it passes through and lead to economic growth of the region.

The Centre for Policy Research (CPR) – Namati Environmental Justice (EJ) Program conducted a pilot study of the impacts of the project in April 2016 in the villages of Chandumata, Bogribail, Mavinkatta and Haldipur to understand the issues associated with the expansion of the NH in Uttara Kannada district. The pilot study showed that the NH project affected families beyond those who had lost their land to the project. The occupational areas and livelihoods of the coastal communities of the district were affected on a large scale as a result of the project. Many village communities lost the right of access to public property, such as public roads, drinking water sources and schools. Some communities had lost access to use common land. Several rivers, streams and creeks had been blocked for the construction of bridges and roads, and these blockages resulted in flooding and saltwater intrusion into farmlands during the monsoon. All these issues went beyond the primary concerns raised by the communities regarding land acquisition by the project. These concerns can be considered more significant as they were the unaccounted impacts of the project.

In view of all the above impacts of the highway project, the research team carried out the current study along with communities who had been affected by the highway expansion to assess and ascertain the extent and nature of social and environmental impacts caused by this project. The aim of the study was to understand the application of environmental regulations on the project, the various regulatory agencies involved in approving the project, and the status of legal compliance of the project in relation to its widespread socio–economic and environmental impacts in the district.

This report consists of three parts: The first section lays out the methodologies used to undertake this community-based groundtruthing of environmental and social impacts of the highway expansion project. The second section of the report provides an assessment of the project’s legal compliance with approval procedures and approval conditions. The third section of the report presents the landscape level project impacts identified through the study. This section also enumerates the estimated number of people affected by the specific project activities and violations of approval conditions.

The report highlights and suggests that given the scale and nature of project impacts, there is a grave need to bring to attention the burdens caused by the project beyond land acquisition. This study has focused on not only those people who have lost their land due to acquisition for the project, but also on those whose private and common land, homes, livelihood sources and local public infrastructure have been affected by the project operations. Since several of these impacts were not identified by the project through its EIA and EMP reports, the people affected by these impacts are invisible in the project’s implementation plans. The affected communities have tried hard to make themselves visible by lodging complaints and protests. The study provides an analytical basis to their claims for justice in light of these project impacts.