A tunnel road project was launched on Monday by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan that would connect Kozhikode with Wayanad. The launch of this tunnel road actually meant the starting of a survey and fixing the final alignment ahead of the DPR, followed by technical sanction, report on environmental impact assessment, as well as seeking mandatory clearance from various agencies including the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, according to an IE report. The CM ensured that the survey would be over in just three months and work on this tunnel road would begin next March with a deadline of 34 months for the project completion.
The upcoming tunnel road would be 7 km long and it is being described as the third-longest in the country. The tunnel would be a part of an 8 km long road cutting through hills and forests of the Western Ghats. The tunnel’s end points are at Maripuzha in Thiruvambady village panchayat, located in Kozhikode and Kalladi in Meppadi panchayat, located in Wayanad. Wayanad plateau is currently linked to the rest of the state via four roads, all with hilly sections, the longest road being Thamarassery Ghat Road that is 13 km long along the Kozhikode-Mysuru NH 766.
As the Thamarassery Ghat Road is congested and during heavy monsoon, gets blocked by landslides, the tunnel road is being developed as an alternative road. For widening the road, a proposal has been pending clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Besides, two alternative routes were suggested linking different parts of Kozhikode district to Wayanad, but because of forest patches that would need to be cleared, those alternative route proposals did not make much headway.
At the proposed tunnel road route, there have been talks about a surface since the 1970s, but it did not take off because of the involvement of forest land. Finally, the previous government ordered a survey by a private agency for a road through the forest between Maripuzha and Kalladi in the year 2015. The private agency found the surface road an uphill task, the report stated. But it was suggested by the agency to cut a tunnel with entry/exit points in private lands that are close to the forest.
For the survey, DPR, and project execution, the government engaged KRC as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) in 2019 on a turnkey basis. Earlier this year, the government gave administrative sanction for the project. Also, it promised an amount of Rs 658 crore from Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board.
The proposed route has been identified as a highly sensitive patch by the Forest Department, consisting of evergreen and semi-evergreen forests, shola tracts and marsh lands. This area is part of an elephant corridor spread between Wayanad and Nilgiri Hills in the state of Tamil Nadu. Also, Chaliyar and Kabani- these two major rivers that flow to the state of Karnataka, originate from these hills in Wayanad. A tributary of Chaliyar, Eruvazhanjipuzha as well as the lifeline of settlements in Malappuram and Kozhikode, begins on the other side of the hills. Known for torrential rain during the monsoon, the region has witnessed several landslides.
The guidelines issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change state that the Forest Act would apply to surface area and also to the underground area beneath the trees. Also, terms and conditions relating to underground mining would be applicable for tunnel projects.