Thiruvananthapuram: The 111-km Sabari Rail project has been pending for long though it had received the nod of the Indian Railways in 1998. It seems it will finally see the light of day as the Kerala government has belatedly decided to bear 50 per cent cost of the construction. The crucial decision was taken at the Cabinet meeting here the other day after the government realised that the Railways would jettison the project without this assurance from the state.
The money for the Rs 2,815-crore project would be mobilised through Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB).
Even though the Kerala chief minister had urged the prime minister that the railway line should be constructed by the Railways considering its linkage to a national pilgrim centre like Sabarimala, the Ministry of Railways stuck to its stand that the state government should bear 50 per cent of the construction cost.
The state government has decided to bear the cost with certain conditions. Kerala wants the Ministry of Railways to implement, operate and maintain the rail line. Moreover, the development of the 20 railway stations along the proposed line should be carried out with a special company with public-private participation.
The income generated through the project, minus expenditure, should be shared on a 50:50 ratio between the Railways and state.
Earlier the Kerala government had decided to bear 25 per cent of the cost involved in land acquisition for national highway development, in a similar fashion.
The Sabari Rail or Sabarimala Railway project envisages the construction of a railway line from Angamaly to Erumeli. So far only a 7-km rail line has been constructed between Angamaly and Kalady as part of the project. The initial work had begun on the 10-km Kalady-Perumbavoor stretch too.
The project was envisaged for providing facilities to the Ayyappa devotees coming from various parts of the country and also for the development of Kerala's south-east region. However, the project got delayed due to various reasons.
The initial estimate for the project was Rs 550 crore. With the project getting delayed indefinitely, the estimated cost in 2017 has now escalated to Rs 2,825 crore, of which 1407.5 crore has to be given by the Kerala government. The state government's share can be given in instalments as per the progress of work.
Though the survey was completed and line alignment was confirmed, there was strong opposition from certain quarters over land acquisition plans. Subsequently, the line alignment was redrawn to ensure minimum destruction of houses and permission in this regard was obtained. But as the project was still in limbo, the land acquisition offices became defunct. The staff manning these offices was sent on deputation to other departments. Some of the staff was shifted for land acquisition for the ongoing double lining of the railway line via Kottayam.
The mainland acquisition office of the project is located at Pala. A special tehsildar and four other employees function from the office. Though there were recommendations to shut it down, it didn't materialise. With the project getting a new lease of life now, land acquisition is set to pick up tempo even with the existing staff.
Central Kerala to gain
The state government's decision to bear 50 per cent of the cost of Angamaly-Erumeli Sabari rail project is expected to give a fillip to the development of railways in central Kerala. If the project becomes a reality, it would mark the arrival of railways in Idukki district.
The decision is also set to cheer landowners especially along the 73 km between Kalady and Ramapuram, near Pala, as so far they couldn't buy or sell land owing to the uncertainty around the project.
The proposed stations along the Sabari rail line will come up in Idukki and Kottayam districts. The new stations will be at Thodupuzha, Karimkunnam, Ramapuram, Bharananganam, Chemmalamattom, Kanjirapally and Erumeli.
Angamaly and Kalady, both in Ernakulam districts, already have railway stations.
The line begins at Angamaly and ends at Erumeli, close to Sabarimala.
Southern spur under consideration
If the Sabari rail line is extended up to Punalur, further south, it will ensure connectivity with Tamil Nadu as well. The importance of this southern spur is not lost on the government.
Punalur is on the Kollam-Sengottai rail line, linking Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
The work on this extension could be completed in five years. If the work is carried out at a faster pace, three years would be enough.