Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the Kerala Assembly on November 8 that the government would go ahead with the Silverline semi-high-speed railway project upon receiving the nod from the central government. Categorically making a statement in the assembly, the Left government has reinforced its hope of realising the dream project.
Stating that rumours about the government dropping the project or freezing the project were untrue, Vijayan blamed the Central government for creating obstacles for political reasons and stalling the project. He was responding to the demand for an adjournment from UDF MLA, Roji M John, in the legislative assembly.
Silverline project once again came to the limelight after the Government decided to recall the revenue officials deputed to the 11 offices of K-Rail for the social impact assessment for the SilverLine project. as an indication of the government backing out from the project. The Chief Minister said that the redeployment was made to utilise the services of officers for other matters while awaiting the central nod for Silverline.
Vijayan told the assembly that that the land owners, on whose property survey was conducted and yellow stones laid, will not have any issue to transact the land. He also said that land acquisition for the project comes only after the government issues notification under section 11(1) of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (LARR Act, 2013). Despite the Chief Minister stating this, the landowners doubt if this could happen as no banks are ready to give loan and no one is ready to buy the surveyed lands.
The landowner’s doubts are quite genuine, as the banks would not take any risk in giving loans or any buyer risking his money. The government may also not stand guarantee to the woes of the landowners.
Apart from this, uncertainty prevails if the Centre would give the nod for the project. With the BJP state leaders sticking to a third rail line alternative to the Silverline, doubts persist if the Centre ruled by Narendra Modi would give the nod.
Moreover, Congress led Opposition had categorically stated that they would not allow the project if the Centre gives the green signal.
When all these are debated, environmentalists’ concerns are yet to be addressed. The semi speed railway connecting northern and southern parts of the state needs acquiring 1,383 hectares of land that cuts through the State’s ecologically fragile coastal ecosystems. It traverses through forest areas, backwater regions, wetlands, densely populated areas and paddy fields. It would also have devastating effect on the eco-sensitive heritage sites such as Ponnani-Thrissur Kole wetlands, Madayipara Biodiversity Park in Kannur. Thirunavaya ponds, lakes, Kadalundi bird sanctuary in Kozhikode and wetlands in Malappuram.
When looking at the project, a major portion of the Silverline is designed as a fully fenced large bund, named embankments. These mud-rock-concrete structures come in a width of 15 to 30 m and will line 55 per cent of the total distance of the alignment (292.73 kms of the total 529.45 Kms). As per the proposal, they would have a height of 1 to 8 metres above the maximum flood line (MFL). The embankment as the environmentalists point out would dig a division between the east and west of the state. No doubt, the construction of the will also drill holes in the already fragile Western Ghats as tonnes of rock and soil is needed to build these embankments.
Another contention raised is the cuttings that form 101.74 kms (19 per cent). These cuttings or channels are made through hills and mountains to a height of up to nine metres. The Silver Line also has 24.79 kms of cut and cover through hills. Then comes the bridges, tunnels and viaducts that cover the rest of the rail line.
As per reports, the Silver Line is dotted with watershed. The embankments would have its impact on the watersheds. The project would also affect a large area of paddy field. There is also fear of a change in land use around 500 metres towards each side of the rail corridor.
The Congress led opposition wants the government to address the concerns of landowners affected by the project survey. The opposition alleged that the landowners are unable to sell the land or mortgage it as the government has marked the land for a social impact survey.