The Kerala High Court told the state government massive projects like SilverLine “cannot be hurried” or “completed on war cries”, instead they should be carried out in accordance with the law if they need to have any legitimacy.
The remarks by Justice Devan Ramachandran came while hearing several pleas challenging the manner in which the state and the Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd (K-Rail) were carrying out land surveys in connection with the LDF government’s ambitious semi high speed rail corridor project — SilverLine.
“No project of this magnitude can be completed by war cries, it has to be done as per the law. A project of this nature cannot be hurried. It has to be as per the law, then only will it have any legitimacy. You have to follow the law to the hilt. Such projects cannot be taken forward based on fear by putting up such large poles,” the court said and added this was by far the biggest project in the state and hopefully “they (state and Centre) are doing it with their eyes wide open”.
The petitioners had opposed putting up large concrete poles to mark the land surveyed for the SilverLine project, saying that it was in violation of the Survey and Boundaries Act, and these structures were blocking access to various individual’s properties.
The court, on December 23 last year, had directed the state and K-Rail to install survey stones of the prescribed standards under the Kerala Survey Rules.
On Wednesday, K-Rail informed the court that prior to December 23, 2021, order for 2,834 poles had already been put up, but after that survey stones were being laid as per the Act and the orders of the court.
Justice Ramachandran said, “You messed it up by doing this. This issue arose because of your haste. You have obstructed access to homes. What you have done is egregiously improper as per this court. Surveys can be conducted for any project, but it has to be as per the law.”
“If you start laying such large, leviathan poles for each project, it would be difficult to move around in the state,” the court added.
After the state government and K-Rail sought time for a detailed hearing of the issues raised in the pleas, the court listed the matter on January 20 and directed that till the next date survey stones will be installed as per the rules, by the competent authority and of the prescribed size.
The court also directed K-Rail what it proposes to do with the “offending” 2,834 concrete poles already installed “which apparently are in violation of the Rules”.
The court also asked the Centre’s lawyer to be present on the next date to clarify the status regarding the project, saying “you cannot keep the court in the dark”.
“We are groping in the dark. I want the Union of India to say if the project is on. What does Railway mean by in-principle approval?” were the other queries raised by Justice Ramachandran.
The state government had recently told the High Court that laying of boundary stones for the project by saying that “only preparatory and preliminary works” were being carried out.
In an affidavit filed in the high court, the state has said that it only issued a government order (GO) on August 18, 2021, according to sanction for conducting a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) study and for constituting an expert group to evaluate the report of the same.
The state government has said that in the August 2021 order it has been made clear that steps to proceed with land acquisition would be taken only after getting the final approval for the project from the Railway Board.
However, in the same affidavit, the state has also said, “It is also pointed out that as per GO(MS) No.3642/21/RD dated December 31, 2021, revised orders have been issued according for the acquisition of 1,221 hectares of land of various villages for the Semi High Speed Railway Line – SilverLine – project.”
The state government has further said that the boundary stones were being laid to enable the SIA team to identify the land and conduct the study.
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-km 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.
(With inputs from Agencies)