Even as Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan met his Karnataka counter-part Basavaraj Bommai on Sunday seeking cooperation to extend the controversial ‘SilverLine Project’, the proposed semi high-speed rail corridor from Kerala to Karnataka has been stopped in its tracks.
According to sources in the Karnataka Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), Vijayan sought Karnataka’s co-operation to extend the project up to Mangaluru, but Bommai declined, stating it was “not very beneficial for Karnataka and had a huge ecological impact”.
Bommai explained his stand to the media after the meeting, stating that the railway lines, one from Kasargod to Dakshina Kannada and Mysore to Thalassery, fall in an eco-sensitive zone with national tiger reserve and elephant sanctuaries.
“Besides, it will pass through the biodiversity-rich and ecologically sensitive areas of the Western Ghats. So the Kerala CM was clearly told that it was not possible for the state of Karnataka to extend co-operation for this project,” the Karnataka chief minister said.
UNDERGROUND RAIL ROUTE
The 530-km long project is being projected by the Vijayan-led Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) government as one that will change Kerala’s infrastructure and connectivity.
Pegged at Rs 63,941 crore, the plan, if implemented, will reduce the travel time from the northern part of Kerala to it southernmost tip to four hours, from the current 10-12 hours.
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According to an official, who was part of the bilateral meeting of the CMs, Vijayan had proposed that the rail route in the 30 km in Karnataka be constructed underground. “This was rejected as it would have caused severe damage to the environment, including the rare flora and fauna, during the construction phase,” the official, who did not want to be named, explained.
“These are all old proposals, which were rejected earlier. Even now, our government made it clear that it is not possible to give approval to these railway lines,” Bommai added.
The Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the major parties in the state, have strongly objected to the project due to the lack of financial viability and the possible environmental and social impact.
Even India’s Metro Man E Sreedharan has criticised the project, calling it “ill-conceived with defective planning and strategy”.
While most of the protests have been around how it would damage the environment, as it passes through the ecologically rich Western Ghats, the Vijayan government also faced flak for keeping the detailed project report (DPR) of SilverLine under wraps for long. After several protests and pressure from various political parties, the government released the 3,773-page DPR.
CM Vijayan has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention to quicken the process for all necessary clearances for the project.
WHERE DOES IT STAND NOW?
In June, the Kerala cabinet gave its approval for land acquisition and also sanctioned Rs 2,100 crore from the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB). The process of acquiring close to 1,383 hectares has begun, of which 1,198 hectares will be private land.
Another flashpoint has been lack of trust when it comes to compensation for the land.
Revenue department officials and K-Rail officials have begun identifying areas for acquisition as well as demarcating land with boundary stones. These were the stones that the Congress workers recently pulled out as part of their protests.
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