The “One against three” debate on the controversial SilverLine high-speed rail line in Kerala is over. A much contentious issue now in Kerala, the government’s decision to hold a debate on the much-hyped SilverLine was also embroiled in controversies.
Discussions and debates are all good for the implementation of any development programme as it could help in the long run. The decision of the Kerala Government to hold a debate was a welcome note. But this debate also landed in controversy after social commentator Joseph C Mathew was removed from the panel of speakers and two others – Alok Kumar Verma and Sridhar Radhakrishnan (who were opposing the project) – withdrew from the first debate of experts on SilverLine.
The debate on SilverLine was held on Thursday with only one member environmentalist RVG Menon (only panellist who opposes the high speed rail) against three panellists – Subodh Kumar Jain, retired member of Railway Board, Kuncheria P Isac, former VC of Technological University, and SN Raghuchandran Nair, president, Trivandrum Chamber of Commerce and Industries – who argue for the project,
WHAT MESSAGE DOES THIS SERVE?
Everyone had welcomed Kerala government’s decision to hold a debate on the controversial project. But in the next instance, controversy erupted after the decision to withdraw social commentator Joseph C Mathew came up. Environmentalist Sridhar Radhakrishnan was named in his place. The controversy did not end with Alok Kumar Verma and Sridhar Radhakrishnan withdrawing from the panel.
In his letter to the Kerala Chief Secretary, Alok Kumar Verma said the invite to the debate itself raised doubts about its purpose. He was controversial on the government for not holding the discussion. Pointing out that the earlier invite said the debate is being organised as directed by the chief secretary, he noted that the formal invite did not say so. It only mentioned that a retired officer of the personnel (HR) Department of Indian Railway has replaced the principal secretary, science and technology, as the moderator. Meanwhile, Sridhar alleged political interference to sabotage the discussion by eliminating the role of the Chief Secretary. He said that the state government ought to listen to the arguments against SilverLine and not Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd (K-Rail) alone.
With an expert removed from the panel and two of the panellists withdrawing from the debate, what message does this give? The debate is solely held by the Krail organisers and the Kerala Government has now no role in the much-hyped debate. If the government had been so serious, then it could have organised the debate with the participation of government officials on the panel or as moderator, experts alleged.
They alleged that the government wanted only to show the people that they had called on experts to discuss the issue but they had withdrawn without any solid reason. The government could even argue that the panellists would not have withdrawn if they are so sincere. Well, the experts alleged that the government from the beginning has shown no seriousness, which was quite evident from the removal of Joseph C Mathew.
Environmentalists and others allege that the decision to hold a debate of experts was only for hoodwinking the people, who have come in large numbers against the project. They argue that the government could have organised such debates much before the controversy erupted. It was also argued that Metro man E Sreedharan should have been included in the panel. They said that it was “all politics” that topped the agenda.
Moreover, it is alleged that the debate lost its steam after the two panellists withdrew from the debate. They alleged that the debate was only a one sided affair. They also opined that the government should have held serious debates across the state as it affected the life of thousands of people and brought in environmental devastation. It is just “political” and only to hoodwink the public, and nothing serious.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president K Sudhakaran said the debate was a farce aimed at hoodwinking people. He said that the government should show the guts to hold the debate in places where people are set to become homeless and not within Ac rooms. Opposition leader VD Satheesan said the government was clueless about who is holding the debate – whether the K-Rail Corporation or the government itself.