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Explained: What Is the Controversy Around Kerala's 'SilverLine' Rail Project?

Despite opposition, the LDF government seems determined to proceed with the 'Silver Line' project.

Published
Explainers
5 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Despite opposition, the state government, led by the Left Democratic Front, seems determined to proceed with the 'SilverLine' project.</p></div>
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The SilverLine project – a semi high-speed rail corridor that connects one end of Kerala to the other – has been mired in controversy. The project, which has been in the making for the past 12 years, has drawn flak from activists, engineers, and the people who will be displaced by land acquisition. But the Left Democratic Front (LDF)-led state government seems determined to proceed.

Here is all you need to know about the ambitious project.

Explained: What Is the Controversy Around Kerala's 'SilverLine' Rail Project?

  1. 1. Vision for the Project

    The 532-km corridor is projected to be built at a cost of Rs 63,941 crore. The project aims to cut the travel time between the two ends of the state from 12 hours to less than four hours. The train will travel at a speed of 200 km/h and will traverse through 11 of the state’s 14 districts – Alappuzha, Wayanad and Idukki being the exceptions. There are also plans to connect the corridor with the international airports at Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.

    The Kerala Rail Development Corporation (K-Rail), a joint venture between the Ministry of Railways and the Kerala government oversees the project. The deadline for the project is 2025. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the construction will result in direct and indirect employment opportunities for 50,000 people, and the project, once completed, would create direct employment for at least 11,000 people.

    Expand
  2. 2. Features of the Project

    The project will have trains of electric multiple unit (EMU) type with nine cars and extendable to 12 cars each, according to K-Rail. The estimated passenger capacity per train is 75 for a 9 car set with a daily average ridership of 80,000 passengers.

    The railway line, beginning from Thiruvananthapuram, will have stations in Kollam, Chengannur, Kottayam, Ernakulam (Kakkanad), Cochin Airport, Thrissur, Tirur, Kozhikode, Kannur and Kasaragod. The proposed station at Kozhikode will be underground, those at Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam and Thrissur will be elevated and the rest at-grade.

    A total of 1,383 hectares have to be acquired out of which 1,198 hectares have been identified as private land. The Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB), the central investment arm of the government, has sanctioned Rs 2,100 crore for the project.

    Expand
  3. 3. Timeline for the Proposal

    The SilverLine project between Thiruvananthapuram and Kasaragod was mooted by the LDF government (2006-2011) as part of its state budget for 2009-2010. In September 2011, the Kerala High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd (KHSRCL) was formed to implement the project. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) was then in power.

    The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) was given the task of doing a feasibility report but it was delayed by several years.

    In 2014, the project, originally conceptualised by KHSRCL for the Thiruvananthapuram-Kasaragod route, was later extended to the Kochi-Kasaragod stretch too. In 2016, when LDF came to power, the project was upgraded to connect Kochuveli (south of Thiruvananthapuram) to Kannur.

    At that time, the KHSRCL conducted a survey to find out the views of the public. In February 2017, it was found that 86 percent were in favour of the project and those who opposed it were worried about displacement of homes, loss of livelihood and the ecological impact.

    In early 2020, an aerial survey was conducted with Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) aerial remote sensing method to map the houses along the proposed rail tracks. The Pinarayi Vijayan-led government then set up land acquisition cells in 10 districts. It was agreed that Railways ministry will give 200 acres of unused land that falls along the corridor.

    The Kerala cabinet approved the proposal which was then tabled before the Union government in October 2020.

    The railway line is expected to be constructed using equity funds from Kerala government, the Centre and loans from multilateral lending agencies. In May 2021, the Union government’s Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) sanctioned a Rs 3,000 crore loan for land acquisition.

    Expand
  4. 4. Activists Allege Project Will Cause Irreparable Damage to Ecology

    The state government has claimed the railway line will reduce greenhouse gas emissions but there has been significant opposition by environmentalists citing potential damage to the ecosystem. They fear irreversible impact on the state’s rivers, paddy fields and wetlands. This could trigger floods and landslides in the future, they say.

    Earlier in 2020, the Thiruvananthapuram-based research institute Centre for Environment and Development (CED) completed a Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (REIA) on the project. The research institute was not an authorised agency for doing Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). Engineer and activist Sridhar Radhakrishnan highlighted in The News Minute that a Comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (CEIA) is necessary that will cover all the seasons in a year, and not an REIA done through just one season. He argued that the report submitted focused on the positive aspects of the project, while ignoring the major negative aspects and also fails to suggest plans to mitigate them.

    According to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report of the project submitted in July 2020, the SilverLine alignment does not pass through any notified area such as a national park, wildlife sanctuaries, biosphere reserves, and other ecologically sensitive areas. However, the assessment adds that the "alignment is somewhat parallel to one of the global biodiversity hotspots, the Western Ghats and hence, impacts relating to biodiversity need to be carefully assessed". These include the villages of Madayipara, Kadalundi, Ponnani, and Thirunavaya.

    The Kerala Paristhithi Aikya Vedi, a forum of eco-experts and activists, has called on the government to abandon the project and explore sustainable solutions.

    “The SilverLine project envisages the borrowing of Rs 64,000 crore from various international lending agencies. Alternatives that can be implemented at a cost less than or equal...These need to be considered in consultation with experts before any hasty commitment to the project,” Kerala Paristhithi Aikya Vedi’s statement read.

    K-Rail estimates that 9,314 buildings would have to be demolished. It is known that at least 10,000 families may have to be relocated. Once the Environment Management Plan (EMP) is complete, this number could be double the estimate.

    Expand
  5. 5. 'Flawed' Plan: BJP's 'Metroman' Sreedharan

    During the UDF rule, ‘Metroman’ Sreedhan had said that people were apprehensive of large scale displacement but 80 percent of the proposed corridor was either elevated or on underground rails, so there was no need to panic. Sreedharan, who was also the Member of the State Planning Board, had pointed out that the pressure on the existing transport infrastructure would be relieved once the corridor came up. “It will be the second commercial corridor of the state and will change the face of Kerala,” he told reporters in March 2013.

    However, since the proposed plan was expanded, he has been critical of it, calling it “flawed". Sreedharan had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2021 and his affront to the K-rail project is being considered politically motivated.

    He spoke to local media channels in October 2021 explaining that from Tirur to Kasaragod, the rail runs parallel to the existing railway line, which isn’t advisable as it would interfere with the future quadrupling of this stretch.

    "SilverLine should be away from the existing line, either elevated or underground. Nowhere in the world high-speed or semi high-speed lines are planned at the ground level,” he told The New Indian Express.

    The chief engineer of the K-Rail, in a webinar named "Green Rail" organised on World Environment Day 2021, refuted this and explained that “about 88 km run through viaducts, 11 km through tunnels and 13 km on bridges, the rest of the line runs on embankments and cuttings.” The rest of the line runs on embankments.

    V Ajith Kumar, the managing director of the Kerala Rail Development Corporation (K-Rail), clarified, “The embankment for the SilverLine is similar to the current embankments for railway line. No floods have been caused in Kerala due to the railway embankments in the past 100 years...Around 90 per cent of the high-speed rail lines across the globe have been constructed at the ground level."

    Expand
  6. 6. Huge Financial Liability for Kerala: Centre

    The Centre has also taken a firm stand against the project stating a small state like Kerala does not have the capacity to withstand such a huge financial liability.

    The Kerala government was expecting an assistance of Rs 2,150 crore from the Centre. But the Centre has rejected the state’s request for a standing guarantee for a foreign loan. Allotment from the central fund is also uncertain.

    Several groups have demanded a comprehensive transport policy in the state, instead of the expensive SilverLine project.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Vision for the Project

The 532-km corridor is projected to be built at a cost of Rs 63,941 crore. The project aims to cut the travel time between the two ends of the state from 12 hours to less than four hours. The train will travel at a speed of 200 km/h and will traverse through 11 of the state’s 14 districts – Alappuzha, Wayanad and Idukki being the exceptions. There are also plans to connect the corridor with the international airports at Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.

The Kerala Rail Development Corporation (K-Rail), a joint venture between the Ministry of Railways and the Kerala government oversees the project. The deadline for the project is 2025. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the construction will result in direct and indirect employment opportunities for 50,000 people, and the project, once completed, would create direct employment for at least 11,000 people.

ADVERTISEMENT

Features of the Project

The project will have trains of electric multiple unit (EMU) type with nine cars and extendable to 12 cars each, according to K-Rail. The estimated passenger capacity per train is 75 for a 9 car set with a daily average ridership of 80,000 passengers.

The railway line, beginning from Thiruvananthapuram, will have stations in Kollam, Chengannur, Kottayam, Ernakulam (Kakkanad), Cochin Airport, Thrissur, Tirur, Kozhikode, Kannur and Kasaragod. The proposed station at Kozhikode will be underground, those at Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam and Thrissur will be elevated and the rest at-grade.

A total of 1,383 hectares have to be acquired out of which 1,198 hectares have been identified as private land. The Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB), the central investment arm of the government, has sanctioned Rs 2,100 crore for the project.

Timeline for the Proposal

The SilverLine project between Thiruvananthapuram and Kasaragod was mooted by the LDF government (2006-2011) as part of its state budget for 2009-2010. In September 2011, the Kerala High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd (KHSRCL) was formed to implement the project. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) was then in power.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) was given the task of doing a feasibility report but it was delayed by several years.

In 2014, the project, originally conceptualised by KHSRCL for the Thiruvananthapuram-Kasaragod route, was later extended to the Kochi-Kasaragod stretch too. In 2016, when LDF came to power, the project was upgraded to connect Kochuveli (south of Thiruvananthapuram) to Kannur.

At that time, the KHSRCL conducted a survey to find out the views of the public. In February 2017, it was found that 86 percent were in favour of the project and those who opposed it were worried about displacement of homes, loss of livelihood and the ecological impact.

In early 2020, an aerial survey was conducted with Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) aerial remote sensing method to map the houses along the proposed rail tracks. The Pinarayi Vijayan-led government then set up land acquisition cells in 10 districts. It was agreed that Railways ministry will give 200 acres of unused land that falls along the corridor.

The Kerala cabinet approved the proposal which was then tabled before the Union government in October 2020.

The railway line is expected to be constructed using equity funds from Kerala government, the Centre and loans from multilateral lending agencies. In May 2021, the Union government’s Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) sanctioned a Rs 3,000 crore loan for land acquisition.

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Activists Allege Project Will Cause Irreparable Damage to Ecology

The state government has claimed the railway line will reduce greenhouse gas emissions but there has been significant opposition by environmentalists citing potential damage to the ecosystem. They fear irreversible impact on the state’s rivers, paddy fields and wetlands. This could trigger floods and landslides in the future, they say.

Earlier in 2020, the Thiruvananthapuram-based research institute Centre for Environment and Development (CED) completed a Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (REIA) on the project. The research institute was not an authorised agency for doing Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA). Engineer and activist Sridhar Radhakrishnan highlighted in The News Minute that a Comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (CEIA) is necessary that will cover all the seasons in a year, and not an REIA done through just one season. He argued that the report submitted focused on the positive aspects of the project, while ignoring the major negative aspects and also fails to suggest plans to mitigate them.

According to the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report of the project submitted in July 2020, the SilverLine alignment does not pass through any notified area such as a national park, wildlife sanctuaries, biosphere reserves, and other ecologically sensitive areas. However, the assessment adds that the "alignment is somewhat parallel to one of the global biodiversity hotspots, the Western Ghats and hence, impacts relating to biodiversity need to be carefully assessed". These include the villages of Madayipara, Kadalundi, Ponnani, and Thirunavaya.

The Kerala Paristhithi Aikya Vedi, a forum of eco-experts and activists, has called on the government to abandon the project and explore sustainable solutions.

“The SilverLine project envisages the borrowing of Rs 64,000 crore from various international lending agencies. Alternatives that can be implemented at a cost less than or equal...These need to be considered in consultation with experts before any hasty commitment to the project,” Kerala Paristhithi Aikya Vedi’s statement read.

K-Rail estimates that 9,314 buildings would have to be demolished. It is known that at least 10,000 families may have to be relocated. Once the Environment Management Plan (EMP) is complete, this number could be double the estimate.

'Flawed' Plan: BJP's 'Metroman' Sreedharan

During the UDF rule, ‘Metroman’ Sreedhan had said that people were apprehensive of large scale displacement but 80 percent of the proposed corridor was either elevated or on underground rails, so there was no need to panic. Sreedharan, who was also the Member of the State Planning Board, had pointed out that the pressure on the existing transport infrastructure would be relieved once the corridor came up. “It will be the second commercial corridor of the state and will change the face of Kerala,” he told reporters in March 2013.

However, since the proposed plan was expanded, he has been critical of it, calling it “flawed". Sreedharan had joined the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2021 and his affront to the K-rail project is being considered politically motivated.

He spoke to local media channels in October 2021 explaining that from Tirur to Kasaragod, the rail runs parallel to the existing railway line, which isn’t advisable as it would interfere with the future quadrupling of this stretch.

"SilverLine should be away from the existing line, either elevated or underground. Nowhere in the world high-speed or semi high-speed lines are planned at the ground level,” he told The New Indian Express.

The chief engineer of the K-Rail, in a webinar named "Green Rail" organised on World Environment Day 2021, refuted this and explained that “about 88 km run through viaducts, 11 km through tunnels and 13 km on bridges, the rest of the line runs on embankments and cuttings.” The rest of the line runs on embankments.

V Ajith Kumar, the managing director of the Kerala Rail Development Corporation (K-Rail), clarified, “The embankment for the SilverLine is similar to the current embankments for railway line. No floods have been caused in Kerala due to the railway embankments in the past 100 years...Around 90 per cent of the high-speed rail lines across the globe have been constructed at the ground level."

ADVERTISEMENT

Huge Financial Liability for Kerala: Centre

The Centre has also taken a firm stand against the project stating a small state like Kerala does not have the capacity to withstand such a huge financial liability.

The Kerala government was expecting an assistance of Rs 2,150 crore from the Centre. But the Centre has rejected the state’s request for a standing guarantee for a foreign loan. Allotment from the central fund is also uncertain.

Several groups have demanded a comprehensive transport policy in the state, instead of the expensive SilverLine project.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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