Kerala rail project: Social impact studies on track despite protests

The survey has covered more than half of the project area in three districts – Kannur, Kasargodu and Kollam – and has now started in Thiruvananthapuram

A SilverLine survey stone

Authorities continue to conduct a social impact assessment of Kerala Rail Development Corporation’s (K-Rail) semi high-speed SilverLine project despite protests in several parts of the state.

The survey has covered more than half of the project area in three districts – Kannur, Kasargodu and Kollam – and it has now started in Thiruvananthapuram, said Saju V Itty, Executive Director of Kerala Voluntary Health Services (KVHS), a non-profit organisation federated to the Voluntary Health Association of India.

“So far, we have not seen any protests or boycotts from those who will be affected by the project,” he said.

Largely cooperative

KVHS is one of five agencies mandated to study the social impact of the Kasaragod-Thiruvananthapuram rail project. According to the agencies, people have largely been cooperative, even in places where protests have been organised by the Anti K-Rail Action Committee.

KVHS’ initial estimates say only 7 to 10 per cent of the project area assessed will see building demolitions.

Also read: Kerala govt’s K-Rail whips up a storm; residents fear loss, displacement

“The study is in the early stages. So far we have covered 28 km in Kannur and 42 km in Kasaragod. Our volunteers have completed the survey in 12 villages in Kollam District,” Itty told The Federal. “People are generally anxious because of lack of information regarding compensation. We include every minute detail of the socioeconomic profile of the families affected by the project, including those living in buffer zones.”

The survey includes questions on loss of land, structures, livelihoods, crops, livestocks, and access to public infrastructure such as hospitals, railway stations, village offices, bus stops, schools and roads. 

It also collects data on access to water resources, cash crops and food crops, number of trees and plants, building structures (tiled or concreted), their age and square footage.

Sajeev’s home will be demolished, and the land acquired for the project

Sajeev, a native of Cherukunnu Village in Kannur, will be directly affected by the project. A daily wage welder, he recently built a two-storey house that will be demolished. The house is built on 30 cents of land. Sajeev, who was in Saudi Arabia for 20 years and is now back home, told The Federal that he is not against the project. 

Compensation is key

“The volunteers came here and talked to us in detail. My only demand is that they should take all my land and give me a decent amount as compensation,” he said. “I don’t want to give (just) a portion of the land because the remaining bit will fall right adjacent to the rail. I also don’t want to go far away from this village. I want enough compensation to buy a decent house in this locality.”

As someone who worked abroad for a long time, Sajeev said, he understands the need for development.

The Anti K-Rail Action Committee, however, has promised to intensify its agitation and organise a boycott of the survey. “We have been asking the affected people not to cooperate with it,” said Rajeev, the state convenor of the committee.

“The agencies’ claims are false. In several places they could not complete the survey due to resistance from the people,” he told The Federal. 

Survey methodology

Rajeev also raised questions about the survey methodology. According to the Detailed Project Report (DPR), K-Rail will have to acquire about 1,383 hectares – 185 hectares of railway land and 1,198 hectares of private land – for the 529.45 km SilverLine corridor. About 67 per cent of this land falls in panchayat areas, 15 per cent in municipal areas and the remaining on corporation limits.

Land acquisition will be based on the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Settlement Act, 2013. According to the DPR, 11,535 crore has been earmarked for compensation.

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