Revenue minister says K-Rail will continue planting survey stones 'where there is no resistance'

Revenue minister K Rajan on Monday gave a slight spin to his Department's directive to Kerala Rail Development Corporation (K-Rail) to stop planting survey stones to mark the boundaries of the SilverLine project. According to him, K-Rail has not been told to stop the laying of stones. Instead, he said K-Rail was just given three options to mark boundaries. One, plant survey stones where people give their consent. Two, use Geo-tagging. Three, use markers on permanent structures.

The minister's clarification looks like an afterthought. It is true that K-Rail had told the government that it would continue to place survey stones wherever the public gave consent. But the Revenue additional chief secretary's order earlier in the day was unequivocal. "In the circumstances rather than planting boundary stones, KRDCL is directed to use either the Geo-tagging method using good software or app or through demarcating the boundaries by marking on permanent structures." The additional chief secretary was clerly telling K-Rail to do away with the survey stones.

His directive further stated that K-Rail should assist the Social Impact Assessment team to identify the alignment either by DGPS survey equipment or mobile phones with GPS facility as proposed so that the SIA team may identify the project affected persons and collect the data properly.

Nonetheless, the government's decision to retain the survey stone option is nothing but a face-saver. Opposition leader V D Satheesan had already termed the Revenue Department's order a triumph of the anti-SilverLine agitation. "The government has finally come to its senses," Satheesan said. Though the government insists that K-Rail could still plant survey stones, the vehement objection to the process leaves K-Rail with no option but to resort to the two new alternatives for marking SilverLine boundaries, namely geo-tagging and marking on permanent structures.

Most railway experts like E Sreedharan, Alok Kumar Verma and even the Railway Board had advised against the laying of survey stones. A staunch project supporter, former member of the Railway Board Subodh Jain, too had said that GPS technology was a better bet than the placement of survey stones. Yet, the K-Rail went ahead with inserting 15 cm x 90 cm cylindrical stones on private lands unmindful of public protests, and on most occasions using force to remove protesters.

In fact, the laying of survey stones had stopped the moment the Thrikkakara by-election was notified. Like in the case of a temporary freeze on fuel price hikes during election time, it was felt that the process would begin once the election was over on May 31.

Instead, in a surprise move, the Revenue Department issued an order asking K-Rail to adopt less intrusive means. It was on May 5 that the K-Rail had written to the government of the difficulties it was facing as a result of the "violent public protests and resistance". Ironically, the K-Rail also said that "the alignment can be easily established in the field by GPS coordinates using DGPS (Differential Global Positioning System) survey equipment or mobile phones with GPS facility."

It then offered to plant survey stones where there was consent and mark on permanent structures where there was dissent. The boundaries are marked as part of the social impact assessment that has to be carried out under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, better known as the LARR Act.

The plan is to acquire 1221 hectares of land for the semi high rail speed project. The acquisition will begin only after the Union Ministry of Railways approves the project.

The critics of the project argue that the SIA, environment impact assessment, final location survey, and geological and hydrological surveys should have been part of the DPR. Even experts who support the project had conceded that the existing DPR, prepared by Paris-based Systra, is not even 30 per cent complete.

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