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Tuesday, Apr 30, 2002

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World Bank aided road project -- Fresh eco study of ECR expansion

N. Ramakrishnan

CHENNAI, April 29

A FRESH, independent review of the environment impact assessment of the proposed coastal road from Cuddalore to Tuticorin has been taken up under instructions from the World Bank.

The Tamil Nadu Government had sought World Bank assistance for this Rs 1,900-crore project under the Tamil Nadu Road Sector Project. The earlier environment impact assessment was done in 1996-97.

During recent discussions, the World Bank asked the State Government to carry out an independent review of the environment assessment to find out whether there had been changes in any of the parameters under the earlier study. The World Bank felt that the environmental impact assessment done earlier was about five years old and hence a review of the assessment was needed to find out whether things on the ground had changed.

Accordingly, Lee Associates of Canada, an environmental consultant, has been entrusted with the independent review of the environment impact assessment. The review, according to sources, is expected to take a little over two months. The State Government is confident that it will be in a position to forward a concrete proposal to the World Bank by October this year for appraisal.

The project envisages extending what is now known as the East Coast Road — connecting Chennai with Pondicherry and to Cuddalore — to Tuticorin, in south Tamil Nadu, via Nagapattinam. Along with this, the project will also seek to improve some existing by-pass roads and provide more vital by-pass roads, besides upgrading the existing coastal road itself in places and ensuring proper maintenance.

The project will also take care of strengthening the highways department in the Government as part of the institutional upgradation measures. There are components in the project for institutional capacity building and institutional restructuring. It will look at reorganising and computerising the highways department. This is expected to put in place a better contract management system.

The World Bank, which has been looking at this project for some time now, has been insisting that it would approve the project only when the State Government carried out reforms in the power and transport sectors.

However, the State Government now wants the World Bank to de-link assistance to the road sector project from reforms in the power and transport sectors.

The Government is trying to convince the World Bank that it is committed to reforms in both the power and transport sectors, as had been indicated in the budget too.

However, since the Government feels that it will take some time to push through these reforms measures, assistance to the road sector project should not be held up.

According to reliable sources, the Cuddalore-Nagapattinam-Tuticorin project throws up opportunities for privatising operation and maintenance, for which tolls can be collected.

However, tolls cannot be levied to recover the entire cost of the road project as the sum involved is high.

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