SilverLine's Financial Viability Questionable, Track Alignment Not Agreed To; Advisable To Stop Acquisition: Centre Before Kerala HC
In what could possibly throw a spanner in the Left government's ambitious SilverLine project, the Centre on Friday told the Kerala High Court 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 submission was made by the central government in a statement filed in the high court in response to the appeals filed by the state government challenging a single judge's order of January 20 deferring till February 7 the survey being carried out in connection with SilverLine project on several properties in Kottayam district of the state.
In its statement, the Centre has 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)," the statement filed through Assistant Solicitor General S Manu said.
The single judge's January 20 order had come on several pleas moved by the property owners against the laying of concrete poles, with the marking K-Rail, in their respective parcels of land.
The state, in its appeal, had contended that the concrete poles were laid to identify land for carrying out Social Impact Assessment (SIA) study in relation to the project.
The Centre has also said in its statement 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".
Once DPR is made, based upon the details brought out, taking up the project or otherwise is decided. Any project expenditure is incurred once DPR is approved and sanction communicated. In the present case of SilverLine this approval has not been granted so far, Center has said.
"DPR has been submitted by Kerala Rail Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL) and is under scrutiny by the Railway Board. As per proposal, in the patch where proposed line is parallel to existing line no space will remain available for any future expansion of Railways and to accommodate future 3rd/4th line. Sufficient details regarding technical feasibility are not available in the DPR submitted," the Centre has said.
Therefore, KRDCL has been advised to provide detailed technical documents such as alignment plan, particulars of railway land and private land, crossings over existing railway network, duly depicting affected railway asset through zonal Railway for detailed examination of the project and to arrive at conclusion about feasibility of project, the statement has said.
It has further said that "financial viability of this railway project of Rs63,941 crore is questionable".
Since the Ministry of Railways is a joint venture partner in KRDCL, debt component of Rs 33,700 crore will finally come from the Ministry of Railways as debt servicing, which is not possible with mainly passenger traffic. "This will also be examined and firmed up after finalization of technical parameters. Even if the State Government is willing to provide debt repayment guarantee, the Ministry of Railways has to examine whether the project is financially viable per se," the Centre has said.
It has further said that after the Railway Ministry accepts the DPR it would be sent to Niti Aayog for appraisal which has not been done yet.
The Centre has also said that it has been receiving many representations against the project and the major issues raised in them are that thousands of hectares of cultivable land would be ruined, around 20,000 houses, shops and business establishments would be adversely affected and may also lead to demolishing of many religious structures.
"It is therefore advisable that the proceedings of land acquisition for this project shall be stopped at this stage, as even feasibility of the present alignment has not been agreed by the Ministry of Railways," the Centre has said.
A Bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly, on Friday, heard arguments on behalf of the state, Railways and the property owners in a hearing which spanned several hours and then reserved its judgment, lawyers associated with the case said.
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.
With PTI inputs