Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad study halted stone-laying works of SilverLine

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Kannur: Besides the upcoming by-election in Thrikkakara, pro-Left science and cultural organization Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP)'s opposition, too, has led to the government decision to stall the planting of marker stones as part of K-Rail's SilverLine rail corridor project.

The government had been going ahead with the laying of survey stones as part of the Thiruvananthapuram-Kasaragod semi high-speed railway project despite stiff opposition from various quarters, including the public. The revenue department, however, on Monday ordered a halt to the work. The plan now is to conduct a GPD-enabled survey.

KSSP's preliminary report on SilverLine, prepared with the involvement of 1,000 people including experts, had also prompted the government to stop the stone-laying works. KSSP has been demanding the government to stop the work, which it termed as anti-people. The organisation had raised the demand at district conferences held so far in 10 districts.

Incidentally, several CPM members, too, are part of the Parishad. It is believed that at least a section of CPM leaders felt that the KSSP's opposition should be seriously considered. The Parishad has been reiterating that Kerala need not prioritise the expensive SilverLine as part of its development plans, or to solve the transport woes.

The organisation also demanded a comprehensive review of SilverLine-related debates and opposition. Besides raising the demand at its district conferences, the Parishad had also raised the issue in its organisational document, "Thoughts on New Kerala."

The influential pro-Left organisation also made several suggestions in the draft report prepared based on its study on SilverLine. The documents presented at the district conferences have made several recommendations to the government. Even as KSSP backed several other projects of the government, its reiteration of its opposition to SilverLine reflects its adamant stand on the controversial project.

Why is the Parishad opposed to SilverLine? Does it have any alternative suggestions? Is its opposition related to land acquisition for the project? A quick look:

Parishad had listed out the reasons for its opposition to SilverLine.

1. SilverLine and other high-speed railway lines are part of the central government's agenda to privatise railways.

2. Only half of the total project cost mentioned in the detailed project report will be raised as loans. The Centre's share will be confined to the land that the railways will provide. The State will have to bear the remaining costs, including the amount required for acquiring land.

3. Standard gauge is a standalone project. It cannot be linked to the railway network outside the State. 

4. The State will have to find hungomous quantities of sand and rocks for construction purposes.

5. The loan amount will change in accordance with the change in the value of currency.

Common man ignored 

The preliminary study report of KSSP has pointed out that the SilverLine is not meant for the common man. The project is aimed at those having their own vehicles, and those travelling in air conditioned vehicles and by air. The traffic survey conducted, too, considered this group of people.

Parishad is also apprehensive that SilverLine will not be affordable for the ordinary people. The organisation also felt that the politically influential and the affluent middle-class are trying to lead Kerala based on their interests.

The preliminary report is being presented at the Parishad's ongoing district conferences. The final report will be published later.

Give priority to roads

Kerala has an estimated 1.44 crore vehicles on its roads. One in two persons -- barring children -- own a vehicle. Though highway development, too, is detrimental to the environment, Parishad is not opposing it since the organisation has been of the view that roads should be developed.

The doubling of railway tracks and introduction of electronic signalling systems could help in increasing the speed of existing trains. MEMUs should be introduced connecting major cities to aid short-distance travellers.

Parishad pointed out that electronic signalling systems could be set up in two years at a cost of Rs 6,000 crore. KSSP opined that SilverLine needs to be considered only after implementing these projects.

SilverLine will cater only to a small section of the population. Among the potential users of SilverLine, 33 per cent own vehicles, 24 per cent travel in air-conditioned vehicles and eight per cent prefer to fly. The ordinary people are not in this section.

An active real estate lobby

Two special purpose vehicles are to be formed to implement the project. One is to construct SilverLine, and the second to develop cities around the stations. Real estate lobbies have already started amassing land near the planned stations. A State-controlled real estate lobby is being formed, a first in Kerala, the Parishad felt..

Land acquisition-related issues

The KSSP study classified the land acquisition-related issues into three. Under this classification, it studied the impact based on the area land that has to be acquired, 30 meters, 20 meters and 200 meters. 

The study estimated that 8,510 buildings will have to be demolished while acquiring 30 meters, 11,930 in 50 meters and 58,336 in 200 meters. Houses form 80-90 per cent of the buildings that have to be demolished. As many as 7,408 houses will have to be demolished in 30 meters, 1,362 in 50 and 50,925 in 200 meters.

Environmental impact

As many as 76.81 acres of forest land will have to acquired for the project, besides 1639.2 acres of laterite hills, mangroves in 335.28 acres, agricultural land of 1,275 acres, 1,519.34 acres of barren land, 1,456.57 acres of marshy land and ponds in 75.58 acres.

Need for more study

The SilverLine will have a rail corridor of 530 kms, but K-Rail has conducted depth analysis only at 120 places. The analysis is for constructing pillars. The study should have been held at four or five places in a kilometre. Kochi Metro has a pillar each in every 25 meters. The analysis conducted only at 120 places will not provide a clear picture. Parishad demanded that the analysis should be conducted at four to five places within each kilometre. 

Don't reject Sreedharan

KSSP felt that Metroman E Sreedharan's views should not be rejected as politically opinionated. He is an expert in the field. The Niti Ayog has already found that the project cost shown in the DPR was much below the actual estimate, and hence, it would be difficult to get its approval.

Islands of poverty

The report presented at Parishad's Kannur district conference referred to the existence of under-developed islands of poverty, despite the State taking pride in its top position in several social development indices. Though Kerala is ahead in education and health sectors, the privatisation of those verticals affected the quality of services provided.  Additionally, the extremely poor population could not afford such services. 

The report also raised apprehension that the politically influential and the affluent middle-class are trying to lead Kerala in accordance with their interests. 

Only 30 to 40 per cent of students who had completed higher secondary education are opting for higher studies. The State is unable to provide employment to the remaining students, and they are empowered with the necessary skills. Parsihad suggested a change in the education system and in the State's development perspective to address these issues.

The report also pointed out that several students could not attend online classes during the peak Covid-19 period though Kerala's education sector has been widely using information and communication technology. The interests of the middle-class have taken over the education sector. The KSSP criticised the government's failure in preventing such a takeover.

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