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Environment India

Proposed K-Rail project to wreck Kerala’s fragile ecology

EIA report full of holes, gov’t pushing project through without answering key questions about land acquisition, rehabilitation and deforestation

Mubashir VP 09 Apr 2022

K-Rail Project
Image Courtesy:science.thewire.in

A semi high-speed railway network, flagship infrastructural project spearheaded by PinarayiVijyan led Left government, could spell the death knell to state’s already embattled ecology. The study conducted by ‘Kerala People for Eco Protection’ avers the ecological destitution of the state in courting high-end infra projects.

K-Rail project was mooted by second Pinarayi Vijayan government. It plans to build semi high-speed railway line from Kasargode to Thriruvananthapuram, thus linking northern and southern parts of the state with faster mobility options. Separate new railway line needs to be installed as the current rails are not able to increase fast beyond 65 kms per hour.

The administration has drawn criticism for pushing the project ahead without adequate environmental impact study. According to Environment Protection Act of 1983 Environment Impact Study is compulsory before initiating work on large infra projects. Sudhakaran, Member of Parliament from Kannur, accuses the government of flouting environmental norms in a bid to sabotage Kerala’s fragile environment. “While we are not averse to infrastructural projects, but all developments should be done according to KasthuriRangan Report,” he said in Kozhikode.

The project is being scrutinized by State’s Green Tribunal. Kerala Rail Development Authority, which heads the project, has called for new Environment Impact Assessment now due to public pressure. “A lot of ambivalence could be found in the government’s reports. Even the route map is contradicted sometimes,” says the report by a group called Kerala People for Eco Protection (KPEP).

For the materialization of the project, more than 100 hectares of paddy fields have to be cleared, mangrove forests at various places are under threat, and large swathes of forests on the Western Ghats have to be destroyed. “The Kerala ecology is not ready to supply building material for the projects,” says Ramakrishnan of KPEP.

More than 20,000 families have to be rehabilitated for the project. People at various places have already started protests against the projects. The villages across the state have responded to land surveyactivities by plucking out the marker stones.

With political alliances fragmenting, the project has turned into stiff political rivalry. The ruling left government is hell-bent to push ahead with the project while opposition parties are making no stones left in hindering the project.

The largest destructive impact would be upon the fragile ecology of Western Ghats. “According to the present plans, the rail will run through Kottayam, Kannur and Ernakulam and large tracts of western Ghats have to be flattened to lay lines,” says Bujair, a social activist from Kannur.

The state, presently bearing the brunt of climate change is not yet ready for large scale infra projects. In the last five years, the state hasstruggled against devastating floods and landslides. Clogging of drainage system due to lying of lines is expected to worsen flood situation in the state. “Obstruction of drainage system in the State would prove suicidal,” says the report.

People demand more discussion on the project and caution the government to be flexible with details. The state needs huge leap in infrastructure and that should come essentially not at the expense of environmental destruction. 

Acquisition of private land

Total land requirement is pegged at 1,198 hectors, out of which 185 hectors would be requisitioned from Railway Ministry. 1,198 hectors of private have to be acquired from the private owners, which makes the project unfeasible in a densely populated state like Kerala.

Four sources of funding have been explained in the feasibility study commissioned by the state government. 10 % by the central government, Kerala government 28 %, loan 53% and KIFBI 9% are the proposed final sources. In essence, around 90 % of total expenses would be funded by loans and infrastructural bonds this in turn would incur huge financial burden on state’s coffers.

Key information missing from Environmental Impact Assessment report

As per Environmental Impact Assessment notification 2006, projects under railways do not mandatorily demand environmental impact studies. This lacuna allows the governments to hastily push through projects with crass regard to environment. 

But Kerala Government commissioned Environmental Impact Assessment through Centre for Environment and Development, Thiruvananthapuram. They submitted report within three months on March 2020.But experts have indicated many shortcomings in the Environmental Impact Assessment Report and criticize the government for unjustified swiftness in pushing ahead with the project.

Critical details like the destruction of protected forests in the states and the rehabilitation of the affected are conspicuous by their absence in the report.Moreover, exact figures of mangroves forest to be cleared for the project is not mentioned. The report just pays lip service to the rehabilitation of the critical ecology of mangroves.The rail passes through Coastal Regulation Zones (CRZ) mainly in northern districts. The large-scale destruction of this vulnerable stretch is missing from the report.

Glaringly, the impacts of the projects in World Heritage Sites of Western Ghats are not explained properly askey details are missing.The ecological destruction following huge scale quarrying to supply construction materials is not mentioned in the report.Loss of wetlands, the hub of inland fisheries and tourism in the state, has been casually mentioned in the report. There is no reference to hydrological imbalance these land-use changes could bring about.Although the report alludes to the ruin of important protected forests of the state including sacred groves, wildlife sanctuaries, details are not explained.

The project is supposed to forcefully rehabilitate around 10,000 families. How they will be accommodated and the compensation details are missing from the report.

The project brags about the drastic reduction in carbon emission. But the metrics are ambiguous.

Development should not trample over environmental concerns

Kerala Sahitya Parishat is at the forefront in denouncing the flagship project of Pinarayi Government. They are conducting awareness programs across the state. The people have also registered severe criticism of the project.

“The fragile ecology of the Kerala is ripe recipe for ecological disasters. Although the people demand swift mobility options, it should not be at expense of ecological equilibrium,” says the report published Kerala Sahitya Parishat.

They advocate the upgradation of the available railway utilities as an alternative. Double-lining and completion of electronic signaling would provide for faster railway travel. The fragile condition of Kerala’s ecology should feature prominently before taking any leap. Unlike other states, the state is already is reeling under severe ecological stress resulting in frequent climate disasters.

Development of Kerala waterways and expansion of public transport are the alternatives to improve the faster mobility demands of the state. Improving the airways is also proposed taking into account the rising middle-class population in the state.

The critics cry for the implementation of the program only through public consultation. The hasty implementation would only result in breeding resentment across the state.

“Government should publish Detailed Project Report as soon as possible, let the people discuss and reach consensus. Left government should never forget Nandigram of West Bengal. We plead the government not to make K-Rail Project another Nandigram”, says MaksoodVattaparamban from Malappuram District.

Instead of forcefully going ahead with the project, government needs to engage in public consultation. While political parties are up in ante against the dictatorial attitude of the government, civil society is left in dark about the project.

*The author is a journalism student at Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, and is currently interning with SabrangIndia

Related:

Nature’s message to planners in Kerala and Uttarakhand
Tribal leader V.K Geetha leads struggle against destructive development

Proposed K-Rail project to wreck Kerala’s fragile ecology

EIA report full of holes, gov’t pushing project through without answering key questions about land acquisition, rehabilitation and deforestation

K-Rail Project
Image Courtesy:science.thewire.in

A semi high-speed railway network, flagship infrastructural project spearheaded by PinarayiVijyan led Left government, could spell the death knell to state’s already embattled ecology. The study conducted by ‘Kerala People for Eco Protection’ avers the ecological destitution of the state in courting high-end infra projects.

K-Rail project was mooted by second Pinarayi Vijayan government. It plans to build semi high-speed railway line from Kasargode to Thriruvananthapuram, thus linking northern and southern parts of the state with faster mobility options. Separate new railway line needs to be installed as the current rails are not able to increase fast beyond 65 kms per hour.

The administration has drawn criticism for pushing the project ahead without adequate environmental impact study. According to Environment Protection Act of 1983 Environment Impact Study is compulsory before initiating work on large infra projects. Sudhakaran, Member of Parliament from Kannur, accuses the government of flouting environmental norms in a bid to sabotage Kerala’s fragile environment. “While we are not averse to infrastructural projects, but all developments should be done according to KasthuriRangan Report,” he said in Kozhikode.

The project is being scrutinized by State’s Green Tribunal. Kerala Rail Development Authority, which heads the project, has called for new Environment Impact Assessment now due to public pressure. “A lot of ambivalence could be found in the government’s reports. Even the route map is contradicted sometimes,” says the report by a group called Kerala People for Eco Protection (KPEP).

For the materialization of the project, more than 100 hectares of paddy fields have to be cleared, mangrove forests at various places are under threat, and large swathes of forests on the Western Ghats have to be destroyed. “The Kerala ecology is not ready to supply building material for the projects,” says Ramakrishnan of KPEP.

More than 20,000 families have to be rehabilitated for the project. People at various places have already started protests against the projects. The villages across the state have responded to land surveyactivities by plucking out the marker stones.

With political alliances fragmenting, the project has turned into stiff political rivalry. The ruling left government is hell-bent to push ahead with the project while opposition parties are making no stones left in hindering the project.

The largest destructive impact would be upon the fragile ecology of Western Ghats. “According to the present plans, the rail will run through Kottayam, Kannur and Ernakulam and large tracts of western Ghats have to be flattened to lay lines,” says Bujair, a social activist from Kannur.

The state, presently bearing the brunt of climate change is not yet ready for large scale infra projects. In the last five years, the state hasstruggled against devastating floods and landslides. Clogging of drainage system due to lying of lines is expected to worsen flood situation in the state. “Obstruction of drainage system in the State would prove suicidal,” says the report.

People demand more discussion on the project and caution the government to be flexible with details. The state needs huge leap in infrastructure and that should come essentially not at the expense of environmental destruction. 

Acquisition of private land

Total land requirement is pegged at 1,198 hectors, out of which 185 hectors would be requisitioned from Railway Ministry. 1,198 hectors of private have to be acquired from the private owners, which makes the project unfeasible in a densely populated state like Kerala.

Four sources of funding have been explained in the feasibility study commissioned by the state government. 10 % by the central government, Kerala government 28 %, loan 53% and KIFBI 9% are the proposed final sources. In essence, around 90 % of total expenses would be funded by loans and infrastructural bonds this in turn would incur huge financial burden on state’s coffers.

Key information missing from Environmental Impact Assessment report

As per Environmental Impact Assessment notification 2006, projects under railways do not mandatorily demand environmental impact studies. This lacuna allows the governments to hastily push through projects with crass regard to environment. 

But Kerala Government commissioned Environmental Impact Assessment through Centre for Environment and Development, Thiruvananthapuram. They submitted report within three months on March 2020.But experts have indicated many shortcomings in the Environmental Impact Assessment Report and criticize the government for unjustified swiftness in pushing ahead with the project.

Critical details like the destruction of protected forests in the states and the rehabilitation of the affected are conspicuous by their absence in the report.Moreover, exact figures of mangroves forest to be cleared for the project is not mentioned. The report just pays lip service to the rehabilitation of the critical ecology of mangroves.The rail passes through Coastal Regulation Zones (CRZ) mainly in northern districts. The large-scale destruction of this vulnerable stretch is missing from the report.

Glaringly, the impacts of the projects in World Heritage Sites of Western Ghats are not explained properly askey details are missing.The ecological destruction following huge scale quarrying to supply construction materials is not mentioned in the report.Loss of wetlands, the hub of inland fisheries and tourism in the state, has been casually mentioned in the report. There is no reference to hydrological imbalance these land-use changes could bring about.Although the report alludes to the ruin of important protected forests of the state including sacred groves, wildlife sanctuaries, details are not explained.

The project is supposed to forcefully rehabilitate around 10,000 families. How they will be accommodated and the compensation details are missing from the report.

The project brags about the drastic reduction in carbon emission. But the metrics are ambiguous.

Development should not trample over environmental concerns

Kerala Sahitya Parishat is at the forefront in denouncing the flagship project of Pinarayi Government. They are conducting awareness programs across the state. The people have also registered severe criticism of the project.

“The fragile ecology of the Kerala is ripe recipe for ecological disasters. Although the people demand swift mobility options, it should not be at expense of ecological equilibrium,” says the report published Kerala Sahitya Parishat.

They advocate the upgradation of the available railway utilities as an alternative. Double-lining and completion of electronic signaling would provide for faster railway travel. The fragile condition of Kerala’s ecology should feature prominently before taking any leap. Unlike other states, the state is already is reeling under severe ecological stress resulting in frequent climate disasters.

Development of Kerala waterways and expansion of public transport are the alternatives to improve the faster mobility demands of the state. Improving the airways is also proposed taking into account the rising middle-class population in the state.

The critics cry for the implementation of the program only through public consultation. The hasty implementation would only result in breeding resentment across the state.

“Government should publish Detailed Project Report as soon as possible, let the people discuss and reach consensus. Left government should never forget Nandigram of West Bengal. We plead the government not to make K-Rail Project another Nandigram”, says MaksoodVattaparamban from Malappuram District.

Instead of forcefully going ahead with the project, government needs to engage in public consultation. While political parties are up in ante against the dictatorial attitude of the government, civil society is left in dark about the project.

*The author is a journalism student at Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, and is currently interning with SabrangIndia

Related:

Nature’s message to planners in Kerala and Uttarakhand
Tribal leader V.K Geetha leads struggle against destructive development

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