SilverLine project: Facts and factors behind Kerala govt’s ‘halt-for-now’ move

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Representative Image | Photo: Mathrubhumi

The ruling Left government in Kerala, which had been defending its move to lay survey stones for a social impact assessment (SIA) study regarding the proposed SilverLine semi-high speed rail corridor, has decided to redeploy all the staff posted for the same and brought to a halt -- for now -- the implementation of the ambitious project.

According to a government order issued by the Revenue Department on Sunday, all the staff posted in land acquisition units for the project "may be called back immediately" and be redeployed to other essential projects.

The order also states that fresh notifications for an SIA study with regard to acquisition of 1,221 hectares of land in several villages of the state for the SilverLine may be issued after getting approval for the project from the Railway Board.

There are several facts and factors that pushed the state government to halt the project. Here are the major ones:

Problematic social messaging

The project was pitched as a solution to ease transportation along the entire north and south stretch of Kerala, and reduce the travel time to less than four hours as against 12 to 14 hours at present. The rationale was interesting, but social messaging on the same was problematic as the regime failed to convince about the cost-benefit. Not just Opposition, but even Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP), a major Left-leaning organisation raised doubts on the project. Though the regime tried to address the concerns through public forums, many still did not understand the logic behind pursuing the Rs 64,000 crore project by ignoring alternative methods.

Congress workers in Kottayam remove a Silverline survey stone | Photo: Mathrubhumi

Confusing statements on buffer zone

The Detailed Project Report (DPR) had implicitly hinted challenges to the houses and buildings near the proposed railway line. Former minister Saji Cheriyan said even one meter of buffer zone would not be required, which he later rectified over CPM’s intervention. K-Rail said that the buffer zone would be 10m on both sides of the track. SilverLine DPR said development activities in a 30m distance from the middle of alignment should be ceased. The narratives on terms like protected zone, safe zone and buffer zone were also vague and ambiguous.

Centre-State equation

One of the crucial factors that hindered the pursuit of the project was the equation between the BJP-led union government and state government. Ever since the project gained momentum the union government has been maintaining that it requires more clarity. Railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw declared that the union government will give approval to Kerala's SilverLine project only after a detailed examination. The state government claimed it had responded to details sought. The interventions of Kerala High Court on the way the project has been implemented has also turned crucial.

Scenes from the conflict / Photo: Screengrab from Mathrubhumi News

Anti-SilverLine protests

Congress-led UDF, which has been at the forefront of those opposing the project, was successful in ensuring public support against the project. They pointed out that the regime did not have replies when the Opposition questioned the project in Kerala Assembly and outside. Similarly a delegation of Kerala BJP leaders sought the Centre’s intervention to cancel the K-Rail project in Kerala. The state witnessed high-voltage protests in the areas where K-Rail marked survey stones were erected. Many protestors uprooted the stones and at many points they raged against revenue and K-Rail authorities who were on ground for various activities related with the project. The protests also led to clashes with police and many protesters were booked. Nevertheless, ruling faction leaders and loyalists tried to label the protestors as infiltrators and anti-development terrorists.

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