Kerala high-speed rail project in troubled waters

Kerala high-speed rail project in troubled waters

Amid rising protests against the project, NITI Aayog is raising serious concerns over the viability of the project

Representative image. Credit: PTI file photo.

Kerala's much hyped Semi-High Speed Rail corridor, Silver Line, project that aims at reducing the travel time between Thiruvananthapuram in the South to Kasargod in the North to four hours from at least ten hours required now, is running into troubled waters in the initial stages itself.

Protests against the project, especially due to the massive land acquisition and displacements of households involved, has now gained momentum with the NITI Aayog also raising serious concerns over the viability of the project.

An action council formed against the project has called for an agitation in front of the state Secretariat on December 3. The Opposition Congress in Kerala has also came out in the open against the project and sought an all-party meeting before it is taken forward.

Kerala Rail Development Corporation, a joint venture company of Kerala government and Railways Ministry for the infrastructure development of railways, is implementing the 529.45 kilometre rail line project with an estimated cost of Rs 63,941 crore. However, NITI Aayog said in a recent communication to the Kerala government that it would require at least Rs 1.33 lakh crore.

At least 1,383 hectares of land is need to be acquired for the project, which would involve displacement of at least 20,000 families, even as the authorities maintained that the rail line would be laid through less-populated regions in order to minimise displacement of households. Another major concern being raised against the project is the environmental impact as the project involves acquiring wetlands. Proposed fare of Rs 2.75 per km in standard class is also quite exorbitant compared to the existing modes of transport.

S Rajeevan, general convener of the action council against the project, said that the announcements of high compensation to the evictees would remain more or less on papers. Plight of hundreds of families evicted for similar projects earlier are instance, he said.

He also said that instead of investing heavily in a green field project, the existing rail line could be improved by straightening the curves and thereby reducing travel time.

Even as Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that attempts to sabotage major infrastructure projects would not be allowed, leader of opposition Ramesh Chennithala demanded the government to convene an all-party meeting before initiating land acquisition for the project.

The project proposed to be commissioned by 2025 also aims at decongesting the roads apart from reducing the travel time. Trains that could run at a speed of 200 kilometre per hour are proposed to be operated. The passenger carrying capacity would be 675 in business and standard classes and the number of stations are eleven.