Joseph C Mathew's replacement Sridhar Radhakrishnan has accepted the offer to participate in the SilverLine debate but has done so in an utterly dismissive and combative tone.
He termed the debate a "meaningless farce". If he had still taken up the offer, here is why. "We will not let go of any opportunity to express our point of view. It is the duty of every Keralite to save Kerala from this misfortune," Sridhar said in a Facebook post on Monday.
IT expert and social commentator Joseph C Mathew was one of the three project opponents who were formally invited to participate in the debate. Former Indian Railways Service officer Alok Verma and environmental scientist R V G Menon were the other two. The chief secretary himself had sent out the invite.
However, without stating any reason, K-Rail struck off Mathew's name and invited engineer and environmental activist Sridhar Radhakrishnan to take his place. Sridhar put forward a set of conditions for his participation and the K-Rail accepted all of them.
Besides discussing with other engineers and environmental activists, who along with him were opposing the semi high speed project, Sridhar also talked to Joseph C Mathew before confirming his participation. In his Facebook post, Sridhar said that "Joseph C Mathew is irreplaceable". "The decision to declare a new panel removing Joseph C Masthew was not just highly improper but also condemnable. It was a politically motivated move," Sridhar said.
He also said that the future of the project was not with the K-Rail or the government. "It is now in the hands of the public and the India Railway Board. Even then, let the meaningless panel discussion farce take place," Sridhar said.
Joseph C Mathew, on his part, said the government would have been uncomfortable with the political questions that he would have raised. "I would like to know whether the LDF government had assured the Centre that the project would be implemented with 74% private funding. I have documents to prove that they have. But this is against the CPM's stated policy on private investment. And if this project is implemented in the PPP (Public-Private-Partnership) mode, the government is duty-bound to secure the prior permission of at least 70% of the affected population," Mathew said. "I would have asked these questions and the government would not have wanted to offer a platform to people who ask such uncomfortable questions," he added.
Mathew painted the K-Rail as an inept body. He wondered how an institution that could not conduct a small debate efficiently implement a massive infra project.