Calamities fuel protest against Kerala infra projects

Nature's fury fuels protests against Kerala's high-speed rail, Sabarimala airport projects

Apart from the ecological issues posed by the proposed constructions, concerns are also being raised over the requirement of construction materials

Protest in front of Kerala government Secretariat on Wednesday against semi high-speed rail project. Credit: Special arrangement

The back-to-back calamities in Kerala are fueling the protests and resentment against major infrastructure projects in the state, such as the high-speed rail line and the Sabarimala airport.

Apart from the ecological issues posed by the proposed constructions, concerns are also being raised over the requirement of construction materials like rocks in large quantities.

The viability of the projects and huge financial burden on the cash-strapped exchequer are the other concerns raised by those opposing the much-hyped projects of the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front.

On Wednesday, hundreds of people participated in a protest march in front of the government Secretariat against the high-speed rail project. Apart from those who fear of losing land, activists, religious heads and leaders of the Congress and BJP joined the protest.

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The 530-kilometre long semi high-speed rail line project from Thiruvananthapuram in the South to Kasargod in the North, named as Silver Line, is being projected not just as a high-speed travel option, but also as an eco-friendly alternative to the congested rail and road networks. The travel time from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasargod, which is around ten hours by rail and road now, could be reduced to around four hours with the proposed line.

The major resistance against the project is with regard to exploitation of nature. The railway line, with protective wall on either sides, would literally separate the state into two and would affect natural water flow, says environmentalists.

Rights activist C R Neelakantan said that as per data available from the detailed project report around 75 lakh loads of rocks and almost same quantity of sand would be required for the project. Hence, it would only lead to massive quarrying activities, he pointed out.

While the project's estimated cost is Rs 64,000 crore and foreign funding was also being explored, Opposition leader V D Satheesan said that the actual cost would be manifold higher and the state would fall into a debt trap.

Even as the Central nod for the project was still pending, the state government was going ahead with preliminary measures of land acquisition, said S Rajeevan, general convener of the action council against the project.

Resistance against the Sabarimala airport project is also gaining further momentum in view of the recent floods and landslides as the proposed project site Cheruvally estate is close to the recent flood and landslide-hit Mundakkayam and Koottickkal areas of Kottayam district.

Neelakantan said that the state government should seriously rethink whether such major projects that were not even viable should be taken forward at the cost of the ecosystem. He also said that there was no requirement for an airport at Sabarimala as Sabarimala Ayyappa temple pilgrimage was only a two-month-long affair. Moreover, the proposed land is also caught up in a legal tangle.

Political parties, rights forums, religious heads and people fearing displacement over the projects allege that vested commercial interests were the key driving forces of these 'unviable' projects.

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