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Explained: The Row Around Proposed Kerala ‘SilverLine’

The pet project of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan - K-Rail (Silverline) had faced several protests time and again from many fronts including scientists, environmentalists, locals, and politicians.

Published: January 30, 2022 2:52 PM IST

By News Desk | Edited by Snigdha Choudhury

Explained: The Row Around Proposed Kerala 'SilverLine'
The project, if completed will set up a 529.45 km corridor connecting Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod and a high speed train which will run this distance will complete its journey in around four hours. (Photo: Zee News)

New Delhi: The pet project of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan – K-Rail (Silverline) had faced several protests time and again from many fronts including scientists, environmentalists, locals, and politicians. The ambitious high-speed train project, estimated to cost over Rs 60,000 crore has been seen as one of the biggest infrastructures being planned by the Pinayaran Vijayan government.  With a fresh assembly session ahead, this project is touted to be the most discussed topic.

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What is Kerala’s SilverLine project?

The 529.45 km corridor – Silverline-K-Rail – will connect Thiruvananthapuram in the south to Kasaragod in the north. The proposed high-speed train line will link 11 districts through 11 stations. With the new corridor, once it is constructed, the traveling time from Kasaragod to Thiruvanthapuram will be cut down to less than four hours. The deadline for this project has been set for 2025.  The proposed Silverline project is to be built costing over Rs 60,000 crore.

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SilverLine project: Why is it being protested

In January, at least 40 prominent citizens urged Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan to freeze the proposed semi-high-speed SilverLine railway project. The signatories include scientists and environmentalists. In a letter to Kerala Chief Minister, they raised serious apprehensions that the proposed independent railway system called SilverLine will spell disaster to Kerala society in multiple ways. They have pointed out that the two areas of exceptional concern are the state government’s fragile public finance and the increasing ecological vulnerability of the State.

“What dismays us beyond words is that the Kerala government has come out with this fully debt-funded, foreign technology-based, the independent rail system in a unilateral declaratory fashion, without a much-needed political consensus and public debate. Therefore, we appeal to the Chief Minister to urgently take into account the following suggestions, made in the spirit of inclusive democracy,” the letter read.

The letter suggests the Kerala government drop this massive project until a diligent articulation of the priorities in the making of a New Kerala is in place. It further said that the Kerala government should come out with a white paper spelling out the state of affairs in the transportation system, covering the existing five modes – road, rail, air, inland water, and coastal waters.

The concerned citizens appealed to the government to rigorously explore all the options in enhancing the existing Indian Railway system in Kerala, citing it “more cost-effective than the currently proposed system” and to discuss the state’s transportation problems and its remedies in the Kerala Legislative Assembly.

Congress, BJP, and other opposition parties have also raised concerns over the SilverLine project and strongly protested against it.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) President K Sudhakaran slammed CM Pinarayi Vijayan over the SilverLine semi high-speed rail project and alleged that his only aim is to earn commission from it. “We see the SilverLine issue as a matter of life and death for Kerala. Not even one per cent can justify this plan. It is arrogant for the Kerala government to say that the project will be implemented. The Detailed Project Report (DPR) of the SilverLine has not yet been seen. From the very beginning, the government has been deceiving the people. The people of Kerala will not benefit from this project except disaster. We will fight against this project legally till the end,” Sudhakaran said.

“If Vijayan fails to answer the questions raised by the common man, this project will not be allowed to go forward by the Congress party. And if the law and order situation in the state is affected because of it, only Vijayan will be responsible. We are ready to withdraw our protests if Vijayan is ready to give answers,” Sudhakaran said.

Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan also lashed out at the Kerala government over the Silverline railway project. “Kerala government has come out with Silverline railway project that will cover the entire state and cost Rs 75,000 crore initially. It has the largest debt and is reeling under flood. In this situation, the Kerala government is coming out with a railway line that will cross Rs 1.1 Lakh crore when completed,” Muraleedharan said.

Meanwhile, CPI-M state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan trying to play down the Opposition said even though the stones will be pulled out, the alignment will not be changed nor will the project be shelved. “Those who oppose this will go down in history as those who are opposed to development in the state besides will have to face legal action also,” Balakrishnan said.

SilverLine project: What Kerala High Court said

Earlier this month, the Kerala High Court stayed the process of laying boundary stones on land identified for the Silver Line semi-high-speed rail project and said it should not be implemented by “intimidating and threatening the people”. The High Court also asked the central government to make its stand on this project clear.

A single bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran on January 13 stayed this while considering two petitions against the implementation of this project without conducting a social impact study and environmental impact study.

The Kerala High Court said that nobody knows what is the stand of the Central Government on the project. “It was improper for one Counsel to appear for both the Union of India and the Ministry of Railways since there was a clear conflict of interest involved. This is perhaps the biggest project the Kerala Government has taken upon itself so far. Such a big project should not be implemented by intimidating and threatening the people. The law cannot be violated in its attempts to execute the scheme,” the Kerala High Court said.

Kerala seeks Centre’s help

The Kerala government on Friday sought support from the Centre to implement the SilverLine project and raised the issue during a pre-budget consultation meeting with Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, according to a report by New Indian Express. During the meeting with Sitharaman, Kerala Finance Minister K N Balagopal had urged the Centre to “expedite requisite proposal” for the SilverLine project.

SilverLine: What Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan said over protests

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan said the SilverLine project will not be abandoned just “because some people are protesting” and the state will work on its progress from time to time. “The government will not go back from implementing development activities. It is not right to abandon the SilverLine project because some people are protesting. It is the duty of the government to lead the state to progress. It is not the duty of the government to give in to the opposition. The state should progress from time to time,” Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan said.

“There may be opposition and difficulties in implementing development activities. As the state gets better, so will the lives of the people. There will be minor difficulties to citizens in implementing development activities required for the state. But the government aims to minimize the hardships caused by it,” Vijayan said.

CM Pinarayi Vijayan said that the argument that the project is harmful to the environment is completely false. “The SilverLine does not pass through ecologically sensitive areas or wildlife areas. It does not obstruct the flow of any river or stream. There are plans to drastically reduce carbon emissions. Freight vehicles can also be delivered on the SilverLine through the Ro-Ro system. Cars can also be taken through this. There will also be a huge reduction in the use of fossil fuels. 500 crore fossil fuel consumption can be reduced. This is a great benefit to nature. The government will not implement development by forgetting nature,” he said.

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Published Date: January 30, 2022 2:52 PM IST