By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A fierce debate is raging over the Silverline rail corridor project connecting Kasaragod and Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala state.
The Opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) led by the Congress has strongly opposed the project on the ground that it is economically and environmentally unviable. The main burden of the opposition song is that the project will impose a huge debt burden – over 1,24,000 crore on the cash-strapped State. Besides, its implementation will dispossess more than 20,000 families. The 450-km steep embankment needed for the project would be a geographical disaster for the State as its implementation would weaken Kerala’s narrow strip of terra firma. As if this was not enough, the ‘quixotic’ project would submerge large expanses of ecologically fragile wetlands, mangrove forests and paddy fields. The elevated embankment would also impede the natural flow of water during monsoon – a ‘luxury’ the State reeling under floods cannot afford. The unkindest cut would be and increased intensity of floods and landslides.
Another charge of the Opposition against the Left Democratic Front (LDF) Government is that it has not made any comprehensive environmental study of the project besides its economic impact. Leader of the Opposition V D Satheesan, wondered how the Government, which is finding it hard to meet the demand for granite for the Vizhinjam port project, will find the granite necessary for the high embankment for Silverline. The Government can achieve this only by allowing indiscriminate mining of the already fragile Western Ghats. That would be an open invitation to the granite mafia to loot the ecologically weakened State, Satheesan alleged.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, however, stoutly defended the Silverline project. The opposition, the Chief Minister asserted, is seeing ghosts where none existed. Its fears and apprehensions are totally misplaced, added Pinarayi. There is a lot to comment the project, the Chief Minister asserted. The project would reduce the 16-hour travelling time between Kasaragod and Thiruvananthapuram to less than four hours when Silverline is completed. It would give a big boost to the development of Kerala’s hinterlands and tourism. The State’s carbon footprint, the CM claimed, would be considerably reduced.
Rebutting the criticism of the Opposition, Pinarayi said the Centre has made it clear that an environmental impact study is not mandatory for green projects. He also sought to allay the fears of the project-baiters that it would be an albatross around the neck of Kerala. The Centre has given in principle approval for it. International financial bodies have offered to give low-interest loans. And Kerala is not the only state to go in for high-speed rail projects. Many other States are also trying to implement such projects.
Meanwhile, the satyagraha against the project, launched by the anti-K-rail Janakeeya Samithi, has entered the 380th day. Eminent lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan, who recently, participated in the satyagraha, voiced strong reservations about Silverline. He requested the State government to withdraw from the project claiming that it would only benefit the real estate mafia. It was unfortunate, he said, that the project was being implemented by those who were against the Express highway while in opposition.
UDF leaders, on their part, say the project, implemented by the Kerala Rail Development Corporation – a joint venture firm formed by the State government and the Railway Ministry – passes through 73 km in Kozhikode district. It is estimated that the project would entail land acquisition in seven villages in Kozhikode and Koyilandy taluks.
LDF sources however counter this by pointing out that the K-Rail have secured permission to acquire land in Beypore, Cheruvannur, Elathur, Karuvanthuruthi and Puthiyangadi villages in Kozhikode taluk , and Chemanchery and Chengottukavu villages in Koyilandy taluk. However, there is stiff opposition to the land acquisition move. More than a dozen committees have come up in Kozhikode district to oppose acquisition of land. There are fears that more than 3,000 houses will have to be demolished for the project.
LDF leaders, however, see a conspiracy of the Opposition against the project. Instead of raising frivolous objections, the opposition should cooperate with the Government in the implementation of the project which will be a game-changer for the State. They say that change is always opposed. But those whose land will be acquired will be adequately compensated. In support of their contention, the LDF leaders say there was stiff opposition to the implementation of the Gail gas project. But the Government went ahead with it. The project has proved to be of immense benefit to the people. The LDF Government and the Chief Minister was praised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari for the commendable initiative. (IPA Service)