Home » ‘Silverline’ Project and Kerala’s failing Ecological Health

‘Silverline’ Project and Kerala’s failing Ecological Health

by Rinku Khumukcham
0 comment 6 minutes read

By: M.R. Lalu
The K-Rail SilverLine SemiHigh-Speed Railway Project is the prestigious dream project of the Kerala Government that proposes to make high speed rail travelling possible between the south and north of the state. The proposed railway line covering 11 districts of the state is estimated to take passengers in 4 hours from the southern district of Thiruvananthapuram to the northern district of Kasaragod. As of now, the time to cover the same distance is 12 hours. The state government’s ambitious semi high speed rail project would run trains with 200 kms per hour speed. The government believes that this project would revolutionize the state’s development and give a boost to its tourism sector. In its second tenure, the Pinarayi Vijayan government led by the CPI(M) moved with greater energy in articulating the entire project to bring it on to the track. Expecting the project to finish by 2025, the Kerala Rail Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL), a joint venture between the Kerala government and the Ministry of Railways began its work. Though the project was a well thought out plan, it received severe criticism and opposition from various sections of the society including political parties and NGOs. Being a small state, with high density of population, the government wanted to reduce the travel load of traffic from the roads and help the existing railway system in the state to be less burdensome. The state government had to face severe opposition from the public as the land acquisition, it alleged, was started without proper rehabilitation being planned for the evacuees. The public opposition culminated in launching an outfit called K-Rail Silver Line Virudha Janakeeya Samiti, to carry out the agitation and stage protests at various levels. The Detailed Plan Report (DPR) proposes to build flats for an estimated 7000 households who would be evacuated. To accommodate these families, the report estimates to procure 10 hectares of land worth Rs 1730 crore.
The opposition is mainly due to the failing ecological health of the state converting it from the ‘God’s Own Country’ to the ‘Floods’ Own State’. In recent years Kerala witnessed torrential rain causing dangerous flash floods and landslides damaging lives of thousands of people. The state is located along the Western Ghats with many of its towns at the foothills. The flood that hit the state in 2018 and the subsequent landslides in 2020 were so catastrophic that they affected the lives of thousands of people, making many of them homeless and turning their land unfit for cultivation. Unprecedented landslides buried many families under torrential sludge in 2020.  A large area of the state, especially the areas attached to the rivers were submerged in water leading the state to run a massive evacuation drive. All the 14 districts of the state coming under the fury of rain and flood, the Government of India declared it as a level three natural calamity. The state had to release water from all the major dams which intensified the flood water to rise further. That was the first time the state witnessed such a precarious water fury. Studies found various reasons for the cause of the disaster. According to experts, issues such as heavy rainfall, the rampant mining and quarrying, construction on the highlands, and massive deforestation might have provoked nature, breaking its balance. Being a densely populated state, Kerala went on for massive construction to accommodate more people, inviting unprecedented calamities. Rampant construction on the hilly regions, shaving their green heads with uninterrupted human activities turned them into places of heavy landslides.
According to the report prepared by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, excessive mining and quarrying also contributed to the disaster. The state witnessed a massive change in its climatic situations in recent years. This was not the case some years ago. The ecology of the state was well maintained with beautiful green coverings across its landscape making the state the real God’s Own Country. The recent rains, landslides and flash floods triggered much opposition against the K-Rail project presumably expecting a huge ecological imbalance that the project would bring. Experts have already warned the State Government on the expected environmental issues that the rail project would intensify deteriorating the vulnerability of its ecology further. The other reason that the project is gaining opposition is for the fear of economic burden that it would bring on the state. Investing a huge sum of about Rs.64000 crore on a single rail project, the state would have to pay interest of an estimated Rs.5000 crore every year. Experts view it as a huge financial burden that the state is risking while taking up a project that it considers the most prestigious. The project is also opposed for being launched without any adequate studies and surveys conducted on the natural and economic disaster it is expected to bring. Though protests are underway, the government is firm on taking the project forward to its final stage.  
Meanwhile the Kerala high court raised its eyebrows on the silence of the Central government on the K-Rail Project. Warning the state government for implementing the project in a haste, the court asked the union government to make its stand clear. With the Railway Board coming against the state’s prestigious project in the court, the Silver Line Project by the State government might be shelved temporarily. As a huge amount of debt is involved in the project, the Ministry of Railways is examining its financial viability. The project also invited severe criticism from the metro-man of India E. Sreedharan. The K-Rail is expected to damage thousands of hectares of farm land and areas of human settlement. As the land acquisition for the project contains wetlands, forest areas, backwater areas, residential areas with high density of population, and a huge farm land with rice cultivation, the project is viewed to disrupt the ecology of the area in future. Passing through flood prone Mid-Highlands, the project is to take place on elevations and cuttings. Studies reveal the fact that such constructions can easily be damaged during flash floods and the situation will worsen in the state during the rainy season. What remains to be seen is the pace with which the state government executes its prestigious project amid pressure mounting on it to abandon it. One thing is sure, as a state, Kerala holds less ecological health to face the kind of disasters that it has undergone recently. Will the K-Rail Silver Line Project make it more vulnerable?  
(The author is a Freelance Journalist/Social Worker)

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