Medha Patkar slams Kerala’s SilverLine project

Calling on CM Pinarayi Vijayan to review the project, Medha Patkar said the CM was not easily approachable which was not the case with former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.
Medha Patkar
Medha Patkar
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Social activist Medha Patkar on Sunday, January 9, hit out against the K-Rail project of the Left-front government saying it would destroy the agricultural lands and wetlands of the state. Speaking at a 'Meet the Press' at Ernakulam Press Club, Patkar asked the state government to ensure compensation for the endosulfan victims and their families before considering megaprojects like K-Rail.

She said that given the critical situation of the environment in the state after back-to-back floods and landslides, a proper study needs to be conducted on the environment and its impact on society. In an scathing attack on Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, she said that the CM was not easily approachable and that this was not good for the Left unity against communalism that the CPM has been propagating. She added that it was possible to have a dialogue at any point with former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, but that is not happening currently.

Speaking to reporters after the event, she said, "I really appeal to Pinarayi Vijayan. I know he is suffering of some serious disease and is in treatment. Please save his life and save others' lives as well. He can really review the project and really improve the present Railway system."

"Justice should not be delayed for endosulfan victims and their families who have been suffering for more than three decades. More than half of the over 6,700 victims have not been compensated in any manner until now," Patkar said, adding that no development project should be considered without ensuring the rehabilitation of the affected. The activist said she could not understand why the government was taking such issues lightly, which needed to be decided as soon as possible. She said a proper study was required while considering new development projects in post-floods Kerala or else it will lead to serious environmental problems.

"If the K-Rail project is implemented without a proper study, it will destroy the agriculture and wetlands of the state. Projects which are planned without taking into consideration the effect on agriculture and the farmers of the state cannot be termed as development," Patkar said. She asked how a government that plans megaprojects like K-Rail had 'forgot' about the rights of the endosulfan victims.

The state government's plan is to connect the 540 kilometre stretch from Thiruvananthapuram in the south to Kasaragod in the north by semi-high speed rail under the SilverLine project, also known as K-Rail, which is expected to reduce the travel time between the two ends of the state to around four hours. However, it has met with widespread protest from opposition parties and environmentalists.

Ambalathara Kunjikrishnan, Endosulfan Victims' Forum leader, said Kasaragod which has the maximum number of endosulfan victims lacks proper treatment facilities. The Supreme Court had in January 2017 directed the state government to disburse compensation and rehabilitation packages for endosulfan pesticide victims within three months.

A bench headed by then Chief Justice J S Khehar had ordered the government to provide a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the next of kin of persons who died following exposure to the pesticide and those who became bed-ridden or mentally-challenged. The order had been passed on a petition by CPI(M)'s youth wing Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) seeking country-wide ban on sale and production of endosulfan in its present form or any other derivative in the market.

Endosulfan, an off-patent organochlorine insecticide and acaricide, was used widely on crops like cashew, cotton, tea, paddy, fruits and others until 2011, when the Supreme Court banned its production and distribution. The health effects of the chemical include neurotoxicity, late sexual maturity, physical deformities, and poisoning among others.

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