To address the many issues that have cropped up due to the controversial SilverLine project, the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala kicked off an “explanatory meeting” in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday, January 4. The meeting was held at Jimmy George Indoor Stadium to address any concerns over the implementation of the semi high-speed railway project. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who led the meeting, announced for the first time that a Rs 13,265 cr compensation and relief package has been set up for those who stand to lose their property and homes along the projected rail line.
Incidentally, the 200 guests in attendance – religious leaders, public figures and representatives of traders – were reportedly handpicked and invited by the state government. The main voices of opposition — environmentalists who criticised the project over the damage to fragile ecosystems, those who questioned the extravagant cost of building the rail line; and people whose land would be acquired — were conspicuously missing from the meeting.
During the two-hour meeting, CM Pinarayi gave a speech about the project, where he said that the SilverLine project wouldn’t pass through ecologically fragile areas and would have no impact on the environment. “SilverLine won't cause floods nor will it split Kerala into two. The project has been envisaged based on studies. The SilverLine won't pass through ecologically fragile areas or through wildlife sanctuaries. It won't affect the natural flow of rivers as the alignment of the project has been made so," he alleged, adding that those who oppose the project have vested interests.
While the point of the meeting was to convince the public who were opposing the project and alleviating the fears of environmentalists, there was a favourable atmosphere at the meeting as most of the invitees were in support of the project.
While endorsing the project, some invitees brought up their concerns, too. The Archbishop Baselios Cleemis of the Syro-Malankara Catholic said that those who would be evicted from their land along the proposed rail line should be ensured a fair compensation. VP Suhaib Moulavi, Imam of Palayam mosque in Thiruvananthapuram, raised concerns on what would happen to religious monuments that would be on the proposed rail line’s path. Ajith Kumar told him that as far as possible temples, mosques and churches have been exempted from the alignment.
Others put forth their suggestions. Mohan Roy, Regional Medical Officer of Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, said that the health benefits of the project due to reduced travel time should be highlighted. Prasanth CV, vice-president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) Thiruvananthapuram, suggested that an ambulance service should also be included (to shift patients swiftly to hospitals from the one end of the state to the other) on the train service. Former Chief Secretary K Jayakumar and Swami Sachidhananta of Sivagiri Mutt suggested that a White Paper about the project be brought out to clear any apprehensions people might have about the project.
This was the first in a series of meetings planned in the regions where the rail line will pass through. Ministers have been tasked with leading meetings at the district level and at the ward level, CPI (M) members will hold the meetings.
SilverLine is a semi high-speed rail project that will connect Thiruvananthapuram in the south of Kerala to Kasaragod in the north. The rail line, which will cover 529.45-kilometre and run through 11 districts, will cost an estimated Rs 63,941 crore to build. The project has been mired in controversy since it was proposed.