Thiruvananthapuram: After generating much sound and fury, Kerala’s semi-high speed rail corridor project Silver Line is doomed to hit a dead-end. The Centre has virtually red-flagged the project, dealing a grim blow to the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government.
The ruling dispensation has far too long hyped on Silver Line, rubbishing serious objections raised by the opposition parties, economists and environmentalists, besides showing hardly any concern over the anxieties of the people on the ground who stood to lose home and hearts if it came off.
The failure to clinch the Centre’s nod to the “dream project” has come as a personal setback to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who until recently exuded utmost confidence in pressing ahead with it at any cost. Scaling down from his adamant position, the Chief Minister has finally thrown sufficient hints that the project is grinding to a halt with the Central clearance not forthcoming.
Silver Line was Envisaged as a joint venture between the state-floated Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd (K-Rail) and the Ministry of Railways, during the first tenure of the Pinarayi Vijayan Government.
The rail corridor stretching from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram in the down south to up north Kasaragod, to be built at an estimated cost of Rs 63,490 crore, was featured as a flagship showpiece by the LDF government. It was projected as a viable option to address the present and future travel needs of the state by reducing the end-to-end travel time to four-and-half hours, which now takes around 12 hours.
Right from the start, well-meaning quarters, including experts, have dubbed it as an economically and technologically unviable project, which could grievously harm the state’s already fragile ecology. They also pointed out that the Detailed Project Report (DPR) of Silver Line is utterly flawed. The cost would far exceed the projections. In the final count, it would be a dead investment and a perennial liability for generations to come.
The project was given the in-principle nod by the Centre before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic to start the preliminary works like field survey. However, the Railway Ministry has made it amply clear time and again that this would not mean that the project is already on track. But an overconfident chief minister, and his camp followers, chose to go to town prematurely proclaiming that it would be implemented, crushing the hurdles on the way.
Its first ground test in the form of the social impact survey met with a voluntary eruption of people along the trail the rail line was proposed to pass. The promise of attractive compensation and rehabilitation packages failed to pacify hundreds of households. Then, the whole exercise became coercive for a while.
The situation turned murkier with the CPI(M) rallying its cadres on the ground to mount a counter-campaign, often intimidating the protestors and restoring the discarded stone markers. The party also accused a section of the media of fuelling the unrest.
The survey came to a virtual halt with the declaration of the by-poll in the Thrikkakara assembly constituency a couple of months back. In an ill-advised move, the LDF made it a referendum on the developmental projects, primarily the Silver Line. This turned out to be politically disastrous for the CPI(M), as Congress retained the seat with a huge margin. Since then, the hype and work on SilverLine have been put on the back burner. While the deadline for completing the survey is set to expire in a few days, there is no indication that it would be extended.
The cash-strapped state has burnt a big sum on the preliminaries of a project whose viability was suspect from the very beginning.
Though the Centre is yet to officially hit the pause button, nixing the project once and for all on the project, practically it has come to a premature end, costing the CPI(M), especially Pinarayi Vijayan, dearly.
The party’s stand on the Silver Line also exposed its double standards on big infrastructure projects that need vast swaths of prime land. The party is still spearheading a farmers’ stir in the Palghar district and adjoining areas in Maharashtra against the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project. But in the case of Silver Line, the CPI (M)’s central leadership chose to quietly fall in line held by the powerful state unit.
The spin doctors of the CPI(M), however, are now forced to put up a poor show on media platforms by changing the narrative, terming the whole fiasco as yet another case of the BJP government at the Centre blocking the development of the country’s lone Left government.