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Kerala’s SilverLine project: Nod depends on techno-economic feasibility, says Railway Minister

The Rs 63,491-crore ambitious project of the CPI(M)-led government has been facing massive protests over the survey and marking of the corridor boundary.

The concerns over the environmental issues linked to Kerala’s controversial semi-high speed SilverLine rail project are “real”, so the final sanction would “depend upon the detailed techno-economic feasibility” of the project, said Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw in the Lok Sabha.

“The concerns about environmental issues are real concerns. They are genuine concerns. If it is implemented in the way the project is currently designed, we do not really understand what will be the environmental impact on the State. That is the reality,” Vaishnaw said.

Replying to a question on the uncertainty over the approval for the project raised by Ernakulam MP Hibi Eden, the minister said: “As far as Indian Railways is concerned, we have very clearly said that the project’s final sanction will depend upon the detailed techno-economic feasibility. We have to see whether the technology is okay or not; whether the soil conditions are okay or not.”

The minister said ‘Metro Man’ E Sreedharan during a meeting with him had explained that the existing tracks in Kerala were “still sinking every year, which basically means that there are lots of issues on the technical side also”.

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The Rs 63,491-crore ambitious project of the CPI(M)-led government has been facing massive protests over the survey and marking of the corridor boundary. “This is a 530-kilometre project which has about 88 kilometres viaduct and 36 kilometres tunnel. It is a standard gauge line. So, there is no interoperability. That means, a train, which goes on the normal Indian railway network, cannot really use this line,” the minister said.

“On financial feasibility, the cost which is estimated is definitely an underestimate. So, we need to carefully look into all these things, then only something can come out… I would like that this should be handled in a very systematic manner,” he added.

Benny Behnan, MP from Kerala’s Chalakudy, added that the “entire proposal is without considering any of the critical ecological and geographical stature of Kerala where the population density is very high and about 44 rivers criss-cross from East to West.”

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However, when Eden asked whether the state government was allowed to do the foundation laying ceremonies without clearance for the project, the minister said the question was related to conduct of the state government and he wouldn’t make a comment on it.

“As far as we are concerned, the process is very straightforward. The in-principle approval basically means that you can go ahead, start working on understanding what you need to do to complete that project. That basically means, feasibility studies, surveys, preparation of a Detailed Project Report (DPR), etc. But preparing a DPR does not mean that the land is given by Indian Railways to that project. That is very clear, and that is the stated position… If the state government is going ahead with land acquisition, please take it up with the state government,” he said.

With the project becoming a flashpoint between the ruling CPI(M) and the Opposition Congress in Kerala, the members from Kerala had an argument with the Communist Party’s lone MP from Kerala A M Ariff on the issue and argued that it was a project that was part of his party’s manifesto and the people had given mandate for the CPI(M)-led LDF on the basis of that manifesto. “When we submitted our election manifesto before the public, they gave their mandate and approval to the K-Rail project,” he said.

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Arif said the central government should not exempt the K-Rail project from its national rail plan. “The K-Rail project is your project also. Your government is taking initiative and implementing all projects included in the National Rail Plan… when you are exempting this project, there is no doubt that it is a negative approach to development. It is on the basis of narrow politics,” he said.

On the same issue, Mavelikkara MP K Suresh alleged that the rail corridor project is an example of “communist brutality and terror”, as the project is being bulldozed through the homes and fields of people. He accused the state government of breaking open the homes of the people, planting “survey stones inside their kitchens, while the helpless women, children, senior citizens, bed-ridden patients, and even priests are terrorised and assaulted”.

First published on: 17-03-2022 at 01:41:54 am
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