The Kerala High Court on Monday asked the state government why it was carrying out a survey to identify properties for Social Impact Assessment (SIA) study in relation to the SilverLine project when it claims it presently has no intention of acquiring land for the same. Justice Devan Ramachandran said SIA study under the Fair Compensation Act was a part of the land acquisition process and if the state claims it has no intention to acquire land, then the SIA would not be necessary and therefore, no survey was required to aid it.
The questions and observations by the court came during hearing of several pleas of which some opposed the survey being conducted and the others were against the laying of concrete poles to identify land meant for the SIA study.
The court also questioned the need for an SIA study in view of the Union government’s stand that it was "advisable" that land acquisition proceedings for the project be stopped for now.
It also asked whether an SIA study would be considered a part of the pre-investment activities which were permitted as part of the in-principle approval granted to the project by the Railways.
While listing the matters to February 18 to await specific clarification from the state on the queries raised and in view of the Union government’s stand, the court said further survey "would be unnecessary" for now as the Railways has said that the present alignment of the track has to be altered.
In such a situation, the expenditure on a survey would be "superfluous" and "wasted", the court said and directed that till February 18 further survey and acquisition steps in relation to the petitioners' properties "shall stand deferred".
The court on January 20 had deferred the survey process till February 7 to await certain clarifications from the state regarding the survey it was carrying out.
However, the state went in appeal to a division bench against the January 20 order.
The larger bench, after hearing all the stakeholders, reserved judgement in the appeal.
In response to the appeal, the Union government had filed a statement in which it had said that it was "advisable" that land acquisition proceedings for the project be stopped at this stage as its financial viability was "questionable" and feasibility of the present track alignment has not been agreed to by the Railway Ministry.
The same stand was taken by the Union government in the proceedings before Justice Ramachandran on Monday.
The Union government further said that permission was granted to Kerala Rail Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL) for conducting geotechnical investigations and hydrological investigations only and subject to KRDCL's adherence to the conditions laid down wherever the alignment was going parallel to the Railway land.
"But permission to plant boundary stones was not agreed to, in the absence of an approved Detailed Project Report (DPR)," it said.
The Union government also said that in-principle approval "only means approval to go ahead with preparation of DPR, etc. which brings out the complete details of the project including financials".
The state government, meanwhile, contended in the court that present survey was being carried out to aid the SIA study after which it would take a call on whether any land needed to be acquired.
It told the court that it has presently not declared any intention to acquire land for the project.
The Kerala government's ambitious SilverLine project, which is expected to reduce travel time from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod to around four hours, is being opposed by the opposition Congress-led UDF, which has been alleging that it was "unscientific and impractical" and will put a huge financial burden on the state.
The 540 kilometre stretch from Thiruvananthapuram to Kasaragod would be developed by K-Rail -- a joint venture of the Kerala government and the Railway Ministry for developing railway infrastructure in the southern state.
Starting from the state capital, SilverLine trains will have stoppages at Kollam, Chengannur, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Tirur, Kozhikode and Kannur before reaching Kasaragod.