Thiruvananthapuram: The eagerly-awaited technical debate on the proposed SilverLine semi-high speed railway project, organised at the behest of the state government, began here at Hotel Taj Vivanta.
Kicking off the debate, former Vice-Chancellor of Kerala Technical University Dr Kuncheria P Isaac, who backs the project, said Kerala needs faster trains than Rajdhani Express or Jan Shatabdi trains.
"The average speed on our roads is between 30 to 40 kmph, while in other states it's upto 80 kpmh. People must ponder on if this is enough," he said.
Isaac, while pointing out the necessity of having better transportation facilities in the state, said even trains like Rajdhani Express and Jan Shatabdi runs through Kerala at a maximum speed of 60kmph.
"More people chose early morning and odd hours for travelling by road to avoid traffic congestion. This is the reason for high rate of road accidents in the state," the former vice-chancellor said.
"Around 4,000 people die in accidents in Kerala every year," he added.
"The state had a plan to construct an express-way. In 2003, it cost around 6,000 crore for the project. It was meant to reduce 12-hour journey to 5 hours. But the project faced protests from various quarters. They claimed the express-way would divide the state into two," he said. "Now, we have busy 4-lane highways. Even if we widen these highways, the traffic will stay the same."
"What we need is express-ways and east-west highways. SilverLine will rejuvenate the economy of the state," he opined.
Kerala needs faster means of transportation to attract more businesses to the state, S N Raghuchandran, president of the Trivandrum Chamber of Commerce said.
"The state has plans to fasten the movement of trucks in the state. The plan is to enable a truck from Kasaragod to reach Thiruvananthapuram in 3 hours. Such projects will help to attract more businesses to Kerala. This will help tourism sector too," he said.
"Kerala has several beautiful places to visit. But we lack good transportation facilities to these places. Those coming to Kerala for shorter vacations are spending majority of their time in cars," he said.
Opposing the SilverLine project, noted scientist Dr R V G Menon said Kerala doubling of tracks is the real alternative for SilverLine.
"What Kerala needs to do is to double the existing number of railway tracks. The incompetence of the officials and the lack of political-will delays the construction of new roads. You cannot blame the people for this," he said.
"Railway always neglect Kerala's demands. There is politics in every development project. SilverLine project has several issues to address to. Semi-high-speed trains running on broad-gauge lines exists. Why can't we run such trains in our state? Why did they decide to make the SilverLine a standard-gauge?," he said.
Meanwhile, the protests against laying of survey stones for the Rs 63,900 crore project intensified at Muzhappilangad in Kannur. Protestors who tried to prevent laying of stones by K-Rail officials were being forcefully removed by the police, according to TV reports.
SilverLine is the CPM government's dream project. The semi high-speed rail project will connect Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod in under four hours.
However, there's been widespread protest against the project from various quarters, including political parties, environmentalists, technical experts and sections of the general public, especially regarding land acquisition for the same.
Owing to protests erupting in various parts of the State on a daily basis and the people obstructing K-Rail officials from carrying out their duty, the government decided to hold a technical debate on the project.
While there are three panelists in favour of the project, there will be just one opposing speaker. Two other panelists who were supposed to speak against the project had announced their withdrawal from the event citing lack of clarity as to whether the debate was being directly organised by the government.
The panelists who withdrew are Alok Verma, former chief engineer of the Indian Railways, and Sridhar Radhakrishnan, an environmentalist. The organisers, K-Rail Corporation – which is the implementing agency of SilverLine – have not yet found replacements for them.
The only panelist who will speak against the project is noted scientist Dr R V G Menon.
Mohan A Menon, former head of the National Railway Academy, moderates the debate.
Panelists in favour of SilverLine include Subodh Jain, former member of the Railway Board; Dr Kuncheria P Isaac, former vice-chancellor of Kerala Technical University; and S N Raghuchandran Nair, president of the Trivandrum Chamber of Commerce.
Sasthra Sahitya Parishad invited to watch debate
The office-bearers of the Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), a Left-leaning scientific and cultural organisation, are among the listeners. They are the only group invited to the event based on a recommendation from R V G Menon, who earlier headed the KSSP. K-Rail Managing Director V Ajith Kumar will also be among the audience.
Meanwhile, an organisation named ‘Janakeeya Prathirodha Samithi’ has announced that it would hold another debate on SilverLine on May 4 and that the panelists will include those who withdrew from the official debate.
The panelists for the May 4 debate will include Alok Verma, 'Metro Man' E Sreedharan, Left-leaning political observer Joseph C Mathew, Sridhar Radhakrishnan, former LDF minister Thomas Isaac, economist K P Kannan, Kuncheria P Isaac and R V G Menon.
Hottest topic in town
Yet another seminar on SiverLine will be held at the Trivandrum Press Club at 3 pm on Thursday.
The event is being organised by the 'Movement for Peoples-Friendly Development'.
Dr C P Rajendran, a geologist attached to the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru, will inaugurate the seminar.
The speakers include Joseph C Mathew and K K Rema, Opposition member of the Legislative Assembly.