Thiruvananthapuram: Renowned academics, developmental economists, environmental educators, scientists, litterateurs and journalists have opined that the K-Rail, the proposed independent high-speed railway line that aims to connect Kerala capital Thiruvananthapuram to the northern district of Thiruvananthapuram, will spell a disaster to Kerala society in multiple ways.
According to them, two areas of exceptional concern are the Kerala government’s fragile public finance and the increasing ecological vulnerability of the state.
“The two devastating floods of 2018 and 2019 and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic since early 2020 are already presenting scenarios of an existential crisis for which the entire society and the state have to stand in unison to protect the people and the environment. This calls for reprioritizing our developmental agenda away from such massive construction projects like the proposed Silverline,” read a joint statement issued by them on Saturday.
Former Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad leaders M K Prasad, RVG Menon, K Sreedharan, TP Kunhikkannan, former finance commission chairman Dr M A Ommen are among the 37 signatories of the statement.
They said they were dismayed by the Kerala government’s plan to implement the fully debt-funded, foreign technology-based, the independent rail system in a unilateral declaratory fashion, without a much-needed political consensus and public debate.
The experts have put forward five suggestions and urged Chief Minister Pinaarayi Vijayan to take them into account in the spirit of inclusive democracy.
1) The government should declare a freeze on its decision to go ahead with this massive project until a diligent articulation of the priorities in the making of a New Kerala is in place.
2) Within this larger vision for a New Kerala, the government should come out with a White Paper spelling out the state of affairs in the transportation system, covering the existing five modes i.e., road, rail, air, inland water and coastal waters. The White Paper should also spell out the relative emphasis, in further developing the transport system, taking into account factors like cost-effectiveness, environmental sustainability and the existing human settlement pattern.
3) While agreeing that the existing railway system in Kerala needs more facilities and speed, we would urge the Government of Kerala to rigorously explore all the options in enhancing the existing Indian Railway system in Kerala, is more cost-effective than the currently proposed system.
4) We would also urge the Kerala Government to discuss the State’s transportation problems and their remedies in the Kerala Legislative Assembly, where even minor projects have been discussed at length ever since its formation. Given the vibrant nature of the public sphere in Kerala with an informed public, we are sure that this will also generate much-needed creative inputs from the public sphere.
5) We would also appeal to the Government of Kerala to spell out why urgent issues of survival in the context of the heightening spread of the Covid 19 pandemic and the continuing basic developmental and welfare needs of the people are being side-lined by a misplaced concreteness on a massive rail project of a specific kind.
The signatories urged the government to take cognizance of the deep anxieties and doubts among the sections of Kerala society, who are going to be directly affected and also by the larger population, who nurse fears over its future implications. “We would like to remind the State's decision-makers that the denial of the people’s Right to Know is the denial of the spirit of democratic governance. This would be fraught with serious consequences for future governance. As development professionals and socially concerned writers and citizens, it is our collective responsibility to remind the esteemed decision-makers of the importance of societal consensus, in reinforcing inclusive, equitable and environmentally sustainable development. We earnestly retain our hope that all political parties will rise to this challenge,” read the statement.
Professor MK Prasad (former president, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad), Dr M.P. Parameswaran (nuclear engineer and people’s science activist), Dr M.A. Oommen (former chairman, Kerala State Finance Commission), Dr C.T.S. Nair (former director, Kerala Forest Research Institute, Peechi), G. Vijayaraghavan (former CEO, TechnoPark, Thiruvananthapuram), Dr. R.V.G, Menon (former president, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad), Dr. K.P. Kannan, (former director, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram), Dr. Khadeeja Mumthaz (writer), B.R.P. Bhaskar (journalist), M.K. Das (journalist), M.G. Radhakrishnan (journalist), Dr. K. G. Thara (former head, Disaster Management Centre, Government of Kerala), Dr. Rajeswari S. Raina (professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Shiv Nadar University, Dadri, U.P.), Dr. T.R. Suma (scientist, Hume Centre for Ecology and Wildlife Biology, Wayanad), Dr. Tara Nair (Professor, Gujarat Institute of Development Research, Ahmedabad), Sarita Mohana Bhama (journalist), Dr. K.G. Sankara Pillai (writer and former principal, Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam), K. Sachidanandan (writer and former secretary, Kendreeya Sahitya Academy) G. Raveendran (former additional director general, Central Statistical Organization, Government of India), Dr. C.P. Rajendran (geologist and professor, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore), Sridhar Radhakrishnan (engineer and independent researcher), Dr. K.V. Thomas (former scientist G & Group Head, NCESS, Thiruvananthapuram), Professor K. Sreedharan (former president, Kerala Sasthra Sahitya Parishad), Professor T.P. Kunhikannan (former president, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad), K.K. Krishnakumar (people’s science activist), Dr N.K. Sasidharan Pilla (former director, Integrated Rural Technology Centre, Mundur, Palakkad), Dr. S. Srikumar (former head, Department of Geology, Christ College, Irinjalakkuda), Dr. V. Ramankutty (public health expert and former head, Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies, Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram), Dr. John Kurien (environmental economist and former fellow, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram), Dr. Srikumar Chatopadhyaya (geographer and former scientist, Centre for Earth Science Studies, Thiruvananthapuram), G. Madhusoodhanan (IAS (Retd), writer and environmental thinker, Pune), Dr. J. Prabhash (former pro-vice chancellor, University of Kerala), G. Sajan (former deputy director of programmes, Door Darshan Kendra, Thiruvananthapuram), Dr. K.T. Rammohan (economic historian and former dean, School of Social Sciences, MG University, Kottayam), Dr. N. C. Narayanan (professor, Ashank Desai Centre for Policy Studies, Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai), Dr. M. Kabir (development economist and former head, department of economics, Government Women’s College, Thiruvananthapuram), M. Suresh Babu (professor of economics, Department of Humanities, Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai).