Centre-state friction adds to uncertainty over Kerala’s Silver Line rail project

The fate of the Silver Line high-speed rail project of the Kerala government remains shrouded in uncertainty as the Centre has said it has not given any approval whereas the state government continues to show its keenness to go ahead with this project.

The Kerala government has said that that the Centre’s approval is not necessary at this stage, wherein social impact assessment (SIA) under the provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, is being carried out.

However, it does not look like the SIA will be completed on time, as the deadline ends by the end of this month, and hardly 25% is done in several places.

Only a few months ago, the SIA process had met with massive protests, as the officials were laying survey stones in proposed areas where the Silver Line project would come up, and since these fell on private property, unhappy residents raised opposition to the move.

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The government had then replaced the laying of survey stones with geo tagging. However, the process is still far from over.

“We were authorised to do the social impact assessment in five districts. Only in district (Kasargod) we could complete 90% of the SIA. In other Districts, we could not finish even 50 % of the study. Hence it is difficult to submit even a draft report at this stage,” said Saju V Itty, Executive Director of Kerala Voluntary Health Services (KVHS), a non-profit organisation which is one among the seven agencies entrusted to do the SIA.

The resistance from the local people in affected areas was cited as a cause for delay. “We cannot go forward without clarifying all doubts raised by the people. In many places, the volunteers could not reach out to the affected people due to protest” says Saju.

Also read: K-Rail project will be Left’s Waterloo moment, says Kerala Oppn Leader

Amid this, the Railway Ministry has informed the Kerala High Court that the final approval for the project is yet to be granted.

However, G Anil Kumar, secretary of K Rail (Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd), which is managing the Silver Line project, told The Federal that “We received the approval in principle and hence started the survey process as well as social impact assessment. Final approval is not required for doing social impact assessment survey.”

The SIA was supposed to be completed in six months, ending July 2022. “Out of 189 villages that come under the project area, the SIA has been done in 45 villages. The government would re-notify the process and will restart accordingly,” said Anil Kumar.

The Central Railway board too stated that they had neither approved nor concurred with the Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and Survey being done by the Kerala Government.

In an affidavit submitted in the Kerala High Court, the Assistant Solicitor General has stated that the Railway board of the Union Government has no role in the on-going survey and impact assessment. It is also submitted that K Rail being a company, the expenditure for the survey and impact assessment will be at their own risk and responsibility.

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