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Regional ring road around Hyderabad to 'uproot' fertile farm lands, packed villages

By Narasimha Reddy Donthi* 

The Regional Ring Road for Hyderabad is proposed with an approximate length of 338 kilometres, and at a distance of 50 Km from Hyderabad. This greenfield (new) expressway will be another ring road, in addition to the existing Outer Ring Road (ORR) of 158 km.
Thus, Hyderabad will have two ring roads, which is probably unique to any metro city in India. Both the roads fall under the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Area (HMDA) of 7,257 sq km. Both the roads do not figure in the Master Plans, indicating adhoc plans and non-seriousness in scientific assessment of its requirement.
Not enough evidence or argument has been built for this RRR within a decade of the completion of the ORR. With ORR yet to be used fully, the need for another ring road, within a distance of 25 km, is unnecessary and unjustified.
Proposed regional ring road expressway around Hyderabad is set to affect fertile agricultural lands, and densely populated villages filled with structures and houses. Precious agricultural land will be lost to the project, which has minimal gains for the local populace. Road alignment is always subject to pressures from real estate lobby and the powerful elite, invariably impacting the poor and the voiceless.
In the past, the Outer Ring Road has undergone several changes in its alignment, ultimately burdening the public exchequer, environment and the poor people. Frequent changes in ORR alignment, owing to dictates of the powerful elite, has done irreversible damage impacting water resources, water bodies and local natural water cycle.
Number of hillocks have vanished, while a few were sliced open to allow the ORR alignment. Natural streams were destroyed. Mrugavani and other natural forests were also impacted negatively. An audit of ORR is required to understand how these impacts could have been avoided.
Just like ORR, the Regional Ring Road expressway is mostly designed to exclude local population from using it. Usually elevated, expressways are designed to exclude many types of road users and slow vehicles.
Expressways have become a death trap for pedestrians as the road design lacks footpaths, crossroads, cycle lanes, street lamps, medians, overhead bridges, traffic lamps and dividers. Rural folk, living on either side of the proposed RRR, who use different modes and methods of transport, including livestock, would be several affected.
Livestock grazing areas are either divided or encroached, thus, effectively killing livestock-based livelihoods, including sheep, goats, buffaloes, cows and poultry.
Without committed efforts to safeguard the environment from the Telangana government and national government, RRR will increase the pressure on the State’s land, forests, water systems, wetlands, grassland ecosystems, and other natural resources--assets many of the poor depend on for their livelihoods.
Livelihood loss can increase poverty, unemployment and nature-based production and can have a cascading effect on Gross State Domestic Product. Telangana GDP, and thus national GDP, is at risk because of these huge road projects, whose benefits have not been assessed scientifically so far.
On the other hand, air pollution is likely to increase in the area as land and soil are disturbed. Food production within a 150 km radius area would reduce gradually to zero, with consequences on hunger, nutrition and future generation growth.
The project does not help in developing and diversification of the economic opportunities in surrounding districts and mandals, since RRR is not about improving transport facilities and services in rural areas. It does not enhance employment and income generating opportunities for the local people and does not create inter-district trade routes.
The design of the RRR project is not inclusive and will affect economic growth prospects of the local people especially poor and women. Even the unskilled employment generated during this road project implementation does not help local people, as mostly migrants are employed.
ORR and widening of other roads connecting Hyderabad have led to removal of lakhs of trees, flattening of hillocks as they contributed soil and rock metal for road construction, and destruction of natural streams and local aquifers. RRR is likely to cause similar impact multiple times of what has happened due to ORR.
Regional Ring Road will increase the overall appeal of real estate sector in this area, especially the projects between ORR and RRR. This road accelerates urbanization, concretization, natural resource transfer from the poor to the rich and land ownership consolidation.
Urban design, especially zonal regulations, needs to be reviewed in this context. Since almost all of the RRR project falls under HMDA Master Plan area, Master Plan of HMDA area requires review and appropriate integration of zonal development plans.
The Telangana government does not have comprehensive approach towards its transport sector in improving its institutional, financial, and operational efficiency to maintain sufficient transport infrastructure (including State roads, national highways, and expressways) and to improve road safety.
Detailed project report has not been shared in the public domain. Only bits and pieces of information are shared in the newspapers, without giving a comprehensive view of the project. Government of Telangana has so far not clarified whether it is planning to acquire additional land around the proposed RRR, from the transport corridor. The NHAI notification does not give specific land survey numbers.
The Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India, and the Telangana government must stop all activities related to Regional Ring Road expressway until the following is done:
  1. Detailed project Report is developed and shared in the public domain. Provisions requiring environmental permits and forest clearances—and at least 80% of site availability at commencement — have to be focused upon. DPR can identify potential environmental impacts and risks of this project.
  2. Environmental Impact Assessment has notbeen done and shared with the people. This Assessment can examine the social and environmental consequences of the RRR Expressway project prior to execution. It can provide information to decision makers and the public about the environmental implications of proposed actions before decisions are made.
  3. Comprehensive relief and rehabilitation policy and plan have been developed by the Telangana government, with regard to land acquisition in general and in the case of RRR, in particular. This policy should enable and accelerate financing for activities that utilize nature-centric solutions, green infrastructure, and other approaches that restore and enhance natural resources and ecosystems. Experience in Telangana in the recent past shows that involuntary resettlement can give rise to severe economic, social, and environmental risks, and result in long-term hardship and impoverishment of affected people. A policy, which incorporates safeguards, has to call for meaningful consultation with affected people; facilitate mechanisms of compensation of losses and provision of assistance to and benefit sharing with displaced families, and special measures for the poor and vulnerable. This policy and concomitant measures require the preparation, implementation, and monitoring of time-bound resettlement plans.
  4. Government should aim to avoid involuntary resettlement wherever possible. It should strive to minimize involuntary resettlement by exploring alternatives to the project and project design. The Government has the responsibility to enhance, or at least restore, the livelihoods of all displaced persons in real terms relative to pre-project levels. Relief and rehabilitation should be designed to improve the standards of living of the displaced poor and other vulnerable groups.
  5. Land Acquisition Act, 2013, should be applied whenever land acquisition is being made. And, not the State Act of Land acquisition, 2017, which is discriminatory, limited and non-comprehensive. Land registration rates have to be revised based on established laws and procedures. Land acquisition, if at all, has to be based on these two conditions: applicability of central law and revision of land registered values to reflect market rates.
  6. Environment Mitigation Plan is developed with sufficient funds allocated and an institutional accountability hierarchy is defined. This can prescribe the environmental management strategy to be implemented by the project developers. Compensatory afforestation is only a one-dimensional approach that has failed to mitigate road project impacts on environment, ecology, watershed and catchment areas of water bodies.
  7. The Telangana government needs to devise a streamlined decision-making procedure, with each step having a defined transparent timeline and content so as not to permit exploitation of the poor, and clearly established measures for reaching consensus among stakeholders.
  8. RRR requires specific, visible and accessible grievance redressal mechanism. Union government and Telangana government need to establish such a mechanism.
  9. To ensure the environmental soundness and sustainability of this RRR project (as also other road projects), environmental safeguards have to be developed. Environmental considerations have to be integrated into the project decision-making process.
While RRR is not required under the current conditions and circumstances, the government should not to go ahead without fulfilling the above steps.
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*Based on the author's representation to Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India, with copy to Telengana government officials

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