SilverLine: A bourgeois project for those born with a silver spoon in their mouth.



SilverLine  project and K-Rail is a complete failure. SilverLine will derail state’s
economy, ecosystem and livelihood of thousands. Communist Party, who lost power
in West Bengal and then in Tripura is facing a fund crunch. Senior
Communist leaders in Kerala like Chief Minister Pinarayai Vijayan were honest and
sincere. But, now there seems to be a demand within the state and national
leaders of Communist Party for a massive project to pump money into party fund
and to keep the leaders happy, who are looking to capitalise the second
consecutive term in power. Kerala will regret electing LDF for the second
consecutive term. UDF is right in saying that K-Rail will be the Nandigram of
Kerala and what happened to CPM in West Bengal will happen here in Kerala.
Therefore, SilverLine is a  project meant
for making big moneyπŸ’° in the form of kickbacks, unless the
government can come up with reasons which makes sense to the readers.

SilverLine
project will derail the ecological balance and will create havoc. There isn’t
any need for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for this project, to
determine the adverse effects. This ecologically destructive project will cause
irreparable loss to Kerala. The government needs to understand that Kerala is a
coastal state with fragile ecosystem. 
The project will include large scale excavation, underground tunnels,
over passes, embankments and viaducts throughout the railway corridor from Thiruvananthapuram
till Kasaragod.



Almost every party leaders in Kerala took part
in various protests, since their early days in politics to protect the forests,
waterbodies and natural resources. Sand mining in Kerala is a serious offence.
Kerala is a state which opposes indiscriminate mining, exploitation of natural
resources, forest and the nature. It is needless to remind LDF leaders about
many of them taking part in protests and rallies against levelling paddy
fields. The air we breathe, the water we drink and the beautiful nature we see
around us in Kerala is what we are going to loose. There are several political
leaders and activists who fought and even sacrificed their lives to protect it.
So we enjoy it today and we are indebted to inherit this to the next
generation.



Any trade
depends on supply and demand theory. On many occasions the political parties in
Kerala, especially the left parties demanded closure of Granite Quarries, at
various places in Kerala. It is said that the Quarries in Kerala will not be
able to meet the huge demand for granites for SilverLine project. Detail
project report (DPR) talks about meeting the demand for the project from Kerala
itself, while K-Rail Ltd plans to bring granite and other construction materials
from other states. Such explosion in mining granite and other natural resources
from within Kerala will lead to huge losses, landslides and other natural
calamities.

K-Rail authorities and the government is not
willing to reveal the DPR, which includes information about volume of
construction materials required for this project. The government seems to be
confused about how the DPR should look like, while there is an undue haste in
acquiring land to get foreign funding. Procurement of natural construction
materials in large quantities for this hyper project will lead to massive
pollution and environmental degradation in the state.  



Kerala was
bettered by recurring landslides, floods, cyclones and soil piping after the
2018 deluge. The project will result in tree felling in large numbers,
destruction of forests, water bodies, paddy fields, wetlands and canals.
Kerala’s fragile ecosystem and the landscape will not be able to bear this
massive infrastructure Project. KHSRCL conducted a survey in February 2017
among 13447 people and concluded that 86% were in favour of the project. As per
that survey, those opposed are people who are worried about displacement, loss
of homes, livelihood and the ecological impact. It is true that more than nine
thousand buildings will be demolished and thirty thousand families will be
displaced.  And the project requires a
total of 1198 hectares of private land. The reality is that at least 86% of
people in Kerala will oppose this project, if they understand the adverse
effects of this project on state’s economy and ecosystem. ‘Kerala Sastra
Sahitya Parishad’, ‘SilverLine Virudha Janakeya Samithi’, ‘Kerala Paristhithi
Aikya Vedi’ and ‘Green Forum’ has urged the state government to stop
SilverLine. Medha Patkar who spearheads the ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ movement
also has requested Chief Minister Pinarayai Vijayan to review the project.



Evolution
of K-Rail and SilverLine:



The idea of high speed train between Thiruvananthapuram
and Kasaragod (530 kilometres) was brainchild of LDF government led by the then
Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan (2006-2011). The high speed railway project
was part of its state budget for 2009-2010. In September 2011, the successive
government led by Oommen Chandy, formed ‘Kerala High Speed Rail Corporation
Ltd’ (KHSRCL) to implement the plan. T. Balakrishnan, the then chairman and
managing director of KHSRCL expected the project to take-off by April 2013 and
will finish by 2020. The plan was to run the train at a maximum speed of 350
kilometres per hour. As per that the train will cover Thiruvananthapuram to
Kochi (190 Kilometres) in 53 minutes and from Kochi to Kasaragod in two hours
and twenty minutes. The Oommen Chandy government reportedly delayed the project
fearing widespread protest against it. Later the LDF government came into
power. In 2016, DMRC prepared  the
feasibility report for the project. As per that the train will run at a maximum
speed of 300 kilometres per hour and will cover nine stations in two hours. And
it was between Kochuveli (South Thiruvananthapuram) to Kannur. In 2017, KHSRCL
was wound up and K-Rail (Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd) was formed.
High Speed Train with maximum speed of 300 kilometres per hour was replaced by
Semi High Speed train with its maximum speed of 200 kilometres per hour. And
the number of stations increased from nine to eleven.



The LDF who invented the idea of high speed train as
transportation solution in 2009, and the UDF government led by Oommen Chandy
who wanted to implement the plan were after a big project for big money
(kickbacks). There will be a gestation period of at least ten years upon
commissioning, if the project were to complete by 2025 as planned. So, it is
needless to talk about its economic viability back in 2009 or in 2013. Most
probably the union government’s ‘Vande Bharath’ train will start service in
Kerala by 2026 and it runs at a maximum speed of 180 kilometres per hour.  The initial plan, the changes which came
later and the final product called SilverLine is just a bourgeois idea. The
project is technologically and economically unviable. UDF and it’s allies are
not engaging in a strong state-wide protest. Is it due to COVID restrictions? Or
are they disagreeing to agree? Is UDF looking for share from the kickbacks? Or
are they looking at this project and it’s failure as a winning ticket in the
next state election?



The state government and those who support SilverLine
project are talking big about the benefits of it. They talk about achieving
carbon net zero world and reducing greenhouse gas emission. Kerala Chief
Minister Pinarayai Vijayan said that the SilverLine project will produce direct
employment for 11,000 people and indirect employment opportunities for 50,000 people.
He also said that the SilverLine will be a magical solution for Kerala’s
transportation woes. All these claims made by the state government and those
who support SilverLine project are one-sided, false, incomplete and are
misleading. Let us look into each one of them to see how they are misleading.



SilverLine will not be a comprehensive solution for
freight forwarding. SilverLine also cannot be an alternative for Trucks and
Ambulance. Road widening is inevitable and the state government has already
begun the work.



The government claims that the rail corridor will
integrate airports, will enable faster development of cities it passes through.
It is nothing more than a foolish idea. Once the government starts the SilverLine
project work, the realtors will buy prime properties near railway stations and
the real estate in Kerala may boom for a while. But it alone cannot bring
development. It just cannot increase commuters for SilverLine. It can lead to construction
of new apartments and townships. It will change the landscape forever. But it
will cause irreversible impact on rivers, paddy fields and wetlands.



Those who support SilverLine project are comparing Kerala
with London, Japan and China. They compare SilverLine with underground railways
in London, high speed rail system in Japan and high speed railways in China. China,
Japan and London were good in industries and commercial activities and lacked
just transportation solution. Kerala a costal state just cannot bear SilverLine.
A drastic industrial development is very unlikely to happen. And if it does,
then it will devastate the state’s ecosystem.



As per the government’s estimate, the trains will start
running after 2025, if they could complete the project as planned. The same
government has estimated that 2.88 million tonnes of carbon emissions will be
eliminated by 2025. But they fail to explain how they are going to achieve it.
A life cycle analysis of various high speed railways found that every
kilometre of work could potentially emit 13000-17000 tonnes of carbon. An
article published in thewire.in states that 70% of electricity produced in
India is from oil and coal. It is not going to change for the next few decades,
according to India’s integrated energy policy. And Kerala buys 70% of
it’s electricity from other states. K-Rail and SilverLine project doesn’t
include green power generation. If included, then the cost of the project will
be well above two hundred thousand crores. So the SilverLine will run on 3-5 lakh
metric tonnes of carbon every year, for another few decades. And this is in
addition to greenhouse gases such as Nitric Oxide and Sulphur Dioxide. The
state government which claims that the SilverLine will use only carbon free
green electricity has not explained the source for it.

Achieving carbon
net zero is possible even without all these extravaganzas and the adverse
effects of SilverLine on environment and economy. In an decade, most of the
passenger vehicle on the road will be electric vehicles.



 Economic
Viability:



Expected cost of this project is 63,941 crores as per the
estimates. But it will be well above rupees one lakh crores upon completion.
Union government is neither happy to give 185 hectares of Railway land, nor it
wants to pay the proposed share of rupees 2150 crores. The union government is sceptical
about this project and fears that it will interfere with the future quadrupling
of this section. In the worst case scenario, SilverLine project could be
another Mono-rail of Mumbai and the Indian railways will not be able to use the
standard gauge track. And SilverLine can never be integrated with Indian Railways,
which uses broad gauge. The state government values the Railway land’s worth as
rupees 975 crores and Is demanding the remaining 2150 crores to make it a total
of 3125 crores (Union government’s share of 4.8%). The Kerala State
government’s share is 3252 crores (5.9%). The remaining  amount will be loan from various international
lending agencies.



In 2019, a French consultancy SYSTRA did a survey and
reported that SilverLine is financially feasible. The ridership projection as
per that survey is nearly double than that of Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train,
which connects two busiest cities in India. The survey said that the project
could slowly recover the cost, if it links Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi
airport. The ridership projection is not realistic and is adjusted to make
people accept this project. K-Rail’s claim that the passenger will opt semi
high speed railway over the present railways is wrong. Those who use Indian
Railways in Kerala regularly are working professionals, students and the
labourers. Most of them use monthly pass, because it is cheaper then the
regular tickets.They just cannot afford the expensive fare of semi high speed
train. The SilverLine with just eleven stops won’t help many of them, even if
they can afford it.



According to DPR, 12,872 vehicles will disappear from the
road in the first year and the project will save rupees 350 crores spent on
Petrol and Diesel every year. This again is one-sided argument to support the
ridership projection. If we were to agree with this, then what will happen to
thousands who work in private buses and their owners. According Kerala private bus operators federation, there are around 12500 buses operating in Kerala. Among them at least half of them are buses which runs
between cities like Calicut to Trissur, Trissur to Ernakulum, Calicut to
Kannur. Students in Kerala depend on these buses for commuting to and from
school. Government may consider giving subsidy to students. But all these
students will not be able to use K-Rail, which only has eleven stops.



 KSRTC owned by
Kerala State government has a fleet of 6241 buses and employees 33416 people as
of September 2019. The KSRTC is also set to add 460 new buses into its fleet,
of which 310 will run on CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) and 50 electric buses and
plans to hire 50 electric buses. Kerala government also wants to procure 6000
electric buses by 2025. KSRTC also decided to buy buses with  company built bodies, which will takeaway jobs
of 1500 odd personnel. If I am not wrong, KSRTC is a loss making asset for
government from several years. All these above mentioned developments and the
SilverLine would sink the state further into debt. And the number of people who
will loose their jobs (livelihood) put together will be much more than the
direct and indirect employment opportunities SilverLine can create.



This semi
high speed rail corridor project is not a ambitious project, rather an
adventurous one. And the negative impact of this adventurous project will be a
curse for the next generation.

πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°

From now, there will be a letter published on every
Friday called, ‘Letters to the government’.  The idea is to reveal how good or bad the
grievance redressal mechanism in various government agencies.

Readers also can contribute by sending a copy of letter
or email you may have sent to any government agencies for grievance redressal
and the information about the action taken.



πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°



Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Indian political discourse becoming increasingly toxic and divisive

Karnataka election, a devil's bargain

Who should be the next prime minister of India?