Land acquisition for Chennai-Salem 8 lane expressway, Tamil Nadu, India

Protest against the fast and murky conception and acceptance of the proposal for building an 8-lane expressway between Salem and Chennai. Issues of land and livelihood rights and ecological degradation.


The proposed eight-lane Salem Chennai expressway has been mired in controversies and conflicts sinceits inception, not only in terms of land acquisition, but also since documents revealed that the Rs. 10,000 crore project may have been officially conceived and cleared in just 6 days, and based on a recommendation by a World Bank blacklisted consultant. 

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Basic Data
NameLand acquisition for Chennai-Salem 8 lane expressway, Tamil Nadu, India
ProvinceTamil Nadu
SiteChennai and Salem
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific CommoditiesWater
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe initial proposal for constructing the 8 lane highway of 277.3 km required a total of 2791 hectares of land to be acquired, which includes agricultural land, community (poramboke) land and residential plots [1]. However, after multiple revisions due to protests, the land requirement has been brought down to 1900 hectares [2]. This project has been sanctioned by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways at a cost of ₹10,000 crore. [2]

The expressway will begin in Ariyanur in Salem and end in Vandalur, near Chennai, will pass through the districts of Salem (36.3 km), Dharmapuri (56 km), Krishnagiri (two km), Tiruvannamalai (123.9 km) and Kancheepuram (59.1 km). When the expressway is opened to traffic, the travel time between Salem and Chennai will be reduced to three hours. It takes six hours now, through three existing circuitous routes .
Project Area (in hectares)1,900
Level of Investment (in USD)1,500,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population10,000-12,000 (in 159 villages)
Start Date01/02/2018
Relevant government actorsUnion Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, State Government of Tamil Nadu, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersPoovulagin Nanbargal, Movement against Salem-Chennai Expressway
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Forms of MobilizationDevelopment of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Criminalization of activists
Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.This is an ongoining process, since the project came under public eye in February 2018. There have been mulitple forms of protests and subsequent reactions. But it is too soon to form a conclusion about its success.
Sources and Materials

Feasibility Report
[click to view]


[4] Madras HC bars land acquisition for Chennai-Salem eight-lane expressway in August 2018
[click to view]

[9] Chennai-Salem Expressway: Suit over land acquisition dismissed in September 2018
[click to view]

[1] Article by Nityanand Jayaraman on how this project was conceived and sanctioned without due process
[click to view]

[2] Article on the Madras High Court verdict to not dispossess landowners in August 2018
[click to view]

[3] Article about the different problems which the project creates
[click to view]

[5] Article about the government claims that only 400 hectares of the total land is arable.
[click to view]

[6] Article about the different protests and their motivations
[click to view]

[7] Article about the issues of dispossession and unemployment due to the project
[click to view]

[8] Article about the arrest of prominent activists protesting against the project.
[click to view]

Media Links

Petition to stop the highway project with nearly 28000 signatures
[click to view]

Other Documents

Chennai Salem highway proposal
[click to view]

Project Details of the expressway. Photo courtesy- Times of India
[click to view]

Activists jailed for protesting against the project Photo courtesy: National Alliance of People's Movement
[click to view]

Infographic about the pros and cons of the project. Photo courtesy: Deccan Herald
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorBrototi Roy
Last update11/11/2018