Updated: February 2, 2022 2:07:44 pm
Despite the protests taking place across Kerala against SilverLine, the CPI(M)-led government remains firm on implementing the project.
SilverLine is a semi high-speed railway project connecting the state’s northern and southern ends at a cost of over Rs 63,000 crore. Though the government has said that the project will bring about an upgrade to the railway infrastructure, mainstream parties like Congress, BJP and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) as well as large sections of the people have been protesting against SilverLine over its “lack” of financial viability as well as environmental and social impact.
Among the questions being asked are: how a debt-ridden state can afford the project; what the ecological cost would be on a state tackling climate change; would the train service be affordable given the cost of building it; and what the plans are to rehabilitate those displaced. The loudest concern though is the lack of consultation.
What is Kerala’s SilverLine project?
The proposed 529.45-km line will link Thiruvananthapuram in the south to Kasaragod in the north, covering 11 districts through 11 stations. When the project is completed, one can travel from Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram in less than four hours at 200 km/hr. On the existing Indian Railways network, it now takes 12 hours.
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The deadline for the project, being executed by the Kerala Rail Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL), is 2025.
KRDCL, or K-Rail, is a joint venture between the Kerala government and the Union Ministry of Railways created to execute big railway projects.
What was the need for the SilverLine project?
Urban policy experts have long been arguing that the existing railway infrastructure in Kerala cannot meet the demands of the future. Most trains run at an average speed of 45 km/hr due to a lot of curves and bends on the existing stretch. The government claims the SilverLine project can take a significant load of traffic off the existing stretch and make travel faster for commuters, which in turn will reduce congestion on roads and help reduce accidents.
The government claims the line will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, help in expansion of Ro-Ro services, produce employment opportunities, integrate airports and IT corridors, and enable faster development of cities it passes through.
What are its features?
According to K-Rail, the project will have trains of electric multiple unit (EMU) type, each with preferably nine cars extendable to 12. A nine-car rake can seat a maximum of 675 passengers in business and standard class settings. The trains can run at a maximum speed of 220 km/hr on a standard gauge track, completing journeys in either direction in under four hours.
As per the alignment, the railway line, beginning from Thiruvananthapuram, will have stations in Kollam, Chengannur, Kottayam, Ernakulam (Kakkanad), Cochin Airport, Thrissur, Tirur, Kozhikode and Kannur before culminating in Kasaragod (see map). The Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL) has already offered one acre for the station there.
Of the 11 stations, three will be elevated (Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam and Thrissur), one underground (Kozhikode) and the rest at grade. At every 500 metres, there will be under-passages with service roads.
Where does the project stand now?
The state government has begun the process of land acquisition after the Cabinet gave its approval in June this year. Out of 1,383 hectares needed to be acquired, 1,198 hectares will be private land. The Cabinet has also approved administrative sanction to get Rs 2,100 crore from the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB), the central investment arm of the government.
As part of the first stage of acquisition, local revenue and K-Rail officials are on the ground, demarcating land and placing boundary stones. This is done to give the officials a sense of how much private land will have to be acquired and the number of families who will be displaced.
While CM Vijayan has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting his ‘personal intervention’ to give all necessary clearances, the Centre has only given an in-principle approval to the project. The line is expected to be constructed using equity funds from the Kerala government, the Centre and loans from multilateral lending agencies.
As per reports, the state government is planning to issue a ‘white paper’ on the project, explaining its benefits and potential in the future. Members of the planning board will hold extensive consultations as part of the drafting of the ‘white paper’. A part of the detailed project report (DPR) was released by the government following demands by opposition parties and activists.
Why are there protests against the project?
Political parties such as the Congress, BJP and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) as well as citizen outfits such as K-Rail SilverLine Viruddha Janakeeya Samiti have been spearheading separate protests.
A petition signed by 17 Opposition MPs from the state said the project was an “astronomical scam in the making” and would sink the state further into debt. The petition, addressed to the Union Railways Minister, said the project was financially unviable and would lead to the displacement of over 30,000 families.
The Samiti and green activists allege that SilverLine would cause great environmental harm as its route cuts through precious wetlands, paddy fields and hills. The Samiti said the building of embankments on either side of the major portion of the line will block natural drainage and cause floods during heavy rains. The Kerala Paristhiti Aikya Vedi, a forum of ecology experts, has urged the government to abandon the project and explore sustainable solutions.
E Sreedharan, former Delhi Metro head who has joined the BJP, has said that the project was “ill-conceived” and defectively planned. He said the present proposal needs a lot of correction including its basic track width.
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