K- Rail, a project to develop real estate for industrialists : Sreedhar Radhakrishnan

Sankar CG

“It is not a rail infrastructure project but a massive land grab project. Through the project, the government aims to convert consolidated lands in the hands of some industrialists into future potential markets. ''

The land near the proposed K-Rail station at Kollam. (Photo: Sankar CG)

Kochi: In what could be termed as a classic case of crony capitalism, the proposed SilverLine project of the CPM-led LDF government may very well turn out to be a massive land grab project to boost the real estate business of a group of industrialists , says Sreedhar Radhakrishnan, environmentalist, who backed off from the discussion organised by K-Rail. According to the experts in the field who oppose the multi-crore project, it is still a mystery why the government is in such a hurry to implement the project despite failing drastically in clearing the concerns of the people. Unlike the usual procedures of holding studies to find out the feasibility of a project initially, the government took a political decision first on K-Rail before conducting any such study.

There are allegations that the allignment of theSlverline project has been structured to benefit the real estate lobby in the state.In Kollam and Kochi, the K-Rail stations are respectively 10 and 12 kilometres away from the city. Experts criticise that these stations are not easily accessible. “It is not a rail infrastructure project but a massive land grab project. Through the project, the government aims to convert consolidated lands in the hands of some industrialists into future potential markets. The government says they are trying to build a new Kerala through K-Rail project. In fact, the government is trying to provide basic infrastructure for the development of the business of some industrialists using the funds of the public. If K-Rail becomes a reality, there will be a day when the common man in Kerala will be devoid of basic infrastructures and other facilities,” said Sreedhar Radhakrishnan.

Cost of construction is higher

There are serious concerns over the cost of production . Major portion of the alignment passes through wetlands and paddy fields and the government plans to cover vast hectares of such lands by violating all rules of conservation. ''If a proper environmental study is conducted, the project will not get the green signal. After all, the cost of construction will be much higher than estimated. In weak soils construction cost is much higher than in solid land. As per the preliminary findings of the state, 93 percent of the alignment of K-Rail passes through weak soil. However, the cost estimate was made with the assumption that 80 percent of the alignment passes through solid land. It was a deliberate move to deceive the public that the cost of the project is lesser than what is actually required. All the irregularities committed by the government to gain approval for the project will be out in the public one day and the project will be a disaster if implemented,” said Sreedhar Radhakrishnan.

Experts in the field allege that there have been serious irregularities and data was fudged in the DPR on alignment, cost, time required for finishing the project, feasibility and environmental issues.

'' Various data of the project were twisted to project a comparatively lesser cost in the DPR than what is actually required. The cost of the project mentioned in the feasibility report is lesser than what is mentioned in the preliminary report. In the DPR it became even less to the extent of 60 to 70 percent of what is actually required.''

Questions on daily ridership data

The daily ridership data in the preliminary report was just 37,000 and it rose to 68,000 in the feasibility report. The government was unhappy with the figure and an agency named, PK Engineering, from Rajasthan was called in to hold a survey and the ridership became 79,000. There were manipulations to twist ridership data.

“K-Rail is a disastrous project. The points I raised are a few among the many irregularities the government committed to get approval for the project. The project's social and environmental assessment are yet to be done,” said Sreedhar Radhakrishnan.

Private project with taxpayers' money

It is learned that the state government has already told the Center that 74 percent of the project can be privatised. “The government must tell the public that it is a private project and as per land acquisition rules consent of 70 percent people in the vicinity is a must for such private projects. See what is happening here, by suppressing the people's protest, the state is forcefully trying to acquire land for a private project like this,” said Joseph C Mathew.

He also criticised the government over its plans to implement a private project with the taxpayers’ money.

The embankment of K-Rail at 13-meter height will act as a dam wall without shutters during flood and its consequences will be disastrous, he added. “The alignment is designed so unscientifically. It has got more curves, including vertical curves and the stations are away from the city. There are vested real estate interests behind it. By allowing its sympathisers and businessmen to buy lands where the alignment comes and diverting the path through the lands of industrialists, the credibility of the government has come under scanner,” added Joseph C Mathew.

Environmentalist RVG Menon told Mathrubhumi.com that the proposed project will not be beneficial for the common man as it is designed for the elite class. “The ticket rate of Rs 2.75 per kilometer is equal to the rate of A/C tickets in trains, which may not be affordable for the poor. Spending huge amounts for a project like this will not be fair in any angle. With less money, the government can develop rail networks and attain fair speed,” said RVG Menon.

Experts have also opined that by the time K-Rail becomes a reality, our rail and road networks will be even more advanced and there would be hardly any travellers in K-Rail.

Former chief engineer of Indian Railways, Alok Verma, criticised the government for developing real estate and the business of industrialists in the veil of a project in taxpayers’ money. “In the DPR itself, the state government mentioned that real estate development is another motto of the project. If so, it is a private project and using taxpayers’ money for it cannot be appreciated,” said Alok Verma.

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