Opposition against high speed rail project gains momentum in Kerala
The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Kerala government is of the opinion that the ambitious high speed rail project, called K Rail, will change the transport system of the state but opposition parties are against the idea saying it will turn into another Nandigram for the ruling party.
Many green activists have also opposed the ₹63,490 crore proposed project saying the state is yet to learn lessons from recent natural calamities and early warnings of climate change. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, known for his adamant posture, however said the government will go ahead with the project and the party has also given an open call to its workers to expose forces that are bent on derailing developmental activities of the state.
The government has also started a crackdown on protestors who disrupted survey and other work related to the project. Police said around 100 people were booked in four districts of north Kerala in a week. Last week the government announced special officers to acquire land and they faced fierce resistance at many places. Protestors have floated action committees throughout the state and are planning to intensify their struggle.
The CPI(M) is planning to portray it as a struggle between development and anti-development forces in the state. Though the project is yet to get environmental clearance and the Union railway ministry’s nod the government is surging ahead with the project. On Wednesday, the CM sent a letter to Prime Minister Modi seeking his personal intervention to speed up sanction for the project.
In the letter, he said, a pan-India future ready rail system will hike economic growth and improve ease of living and would benefit not only the state but also the nation at large. “I request your personal intervention to accord sanction to the key project that will be a milestone in the progress of the state,” he said.
But earlier Union Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnav had red-flagged the project citing its inability to bear the liability of loans to be availed from international agencies. The state had submitted a proposal to take ₹33,700 crore from lending agencies but the Niti Ayog had given approval for the big project on two conditions, the repayment of the loan and cost overruns would be the sole responsibility of the state.
The high-speed rail connecting one-end of the state (Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram) needs 1383 hectares of land most of which is private land. Since land is at a premium in the densely-populated state it will be a gargantuan task for the state. The state is planning to fund the project using equity funds from the government, foreign lending and railway ministry’s part funding. It will take only four hours to cover 529.45 km (present time is 12 hours) and it will be completed by 2025, said the Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd, the nodal agency for the project.
But it seems things are not that easy for the government. The two main opposition parties, Congress and BJP, are opposing it and some of the allies of the ruling Left Democratic Party have apprehensions about the big ticket project. Green activists and some of the left-leaning organisations like Sastra Sahitya Parishad, that played a key role in total literacy movement, have also opposed the project.
“The government is going ahead with the project ignoring large-scale protests from different sections. The CM is not even ready for a dialogue. It will cause immense environmental damage and displace thousands of people,” said state Congress chief K Sudhakaran MP. He said the party will have to pay a heavy price and reminded the CM of the last days of the CPI(M) government in West Bengal which tried to suppress a farmers’ uprising in Nandigram over a proposed car project in 2007-2008.
“The railway ministry feels that the big-budget project was unnecessary and instead of this it should help it to develop the existing railway line. The state has not even done a social and ecological study on the project,” said Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan, a staunch critic of the project. Some of the allies of the LDF also expressed apprehensions over the project. “True, many left organisations have reservations over the project. The government will clear all doubts,” said CPI secretary Kanam Rajendran.
However, CPI(M) leader A Vijayaraghavan underplayed any differences in the ruling front. “It was part of the LDF manifesto. The project was conceived after enough studies. Forces that oppose the development of the state are creating unnecessary confusion and fanning trouble. K Rail will herald a new phase for the state,” he said.
Metroman E Sreedharan also spoke out against the project. “Let the government first help complete the ongoing doubling work of the existing stretch between Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram which is dragging for more than two decades. K Rail’s alignment is also flawed; it is running parallel to the existing line from Tirur (Malappuram) to Kasaragod. The railways opposed this alignment. Around 140 kms of the line passes through wet land and it is not suitable for high speed trains,” he said. But the CPI(M) said the Metroman was opposing the project due to his political affiliations. (He was a BJP candidate in last assembly elections and lost).