Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Photo: PTI
On January 15, concerned citizens and development professionals in Kerala penned an open letter to state chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan against the controversial SilverLine semi-high-speed railway project, which is yet to begin construction. They have accused the Kerala government of coming out with this “fully debt-funded, foreign technology-based, independent rail system in a unilateral declaratory fashion, without a much-needed political consensus and public debate”.
In the letter, its signatories have asked the state to “freeze” the project’s go-ahead, a white-paper on Kerala’s transportation options, and proper stakeholder discussion on the SilverLine project’s impact.
The letter is published in full below, followed by the list of signatories.
Citizens have a ‘right to know’ before a ‘right to go’ is given for the Silverline
An open letter dated January 15, 2022, to the Chief Minister, Government of Kerala:
As members of a community of concerned citizens and development professionals, we express our earnest apprehension that the proposed independent high-speed railway system called SilverLine will spell disaster to Kerala society in multiple ways. Two areas of exceptional concern are: (1) the state government’s fragile public finance; and (2) the increasing ecological vulnerability of the state.
The two devastating floods of 2018 and 2019 and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic since early 2020 are already presenting scenarios of an existential crisis for which the entire society and the state have to stand in unison to protect the people and the environment. This calls for reprioritizing our developmental agenda away from such massive construction projects as the proposed SilverLine.
What dismays us beyond words is that the Government of Kerala has come out with this fully debt-funded, foreign technology-based, independent rail system in a unilateral declaratory fashion, without a much-needed political consensus and public debate.
Therefore, we appeal to the Chief Minister to urgently take into account the following suggestions, made in the spirit of inclusive democracy.
1) The Government of Kerala should declare a freeze on its decision to go ahead with this massive project, until a diligent articulation of the priorities in the making of a New Kerala is in place.
2) Within this larger vision for a New Kerala, the Government of Kerala should come out with a White Paper spelling out the state of affairs in the transportation system, covering the existing five modes i.e., road, rail, air, inland water and coastal waters. The White Paper should also spell out the relative emphasis, in further developing the transport system, taking into account factors like cost-effectiveness, environmental sustainability and the existing human settlement pattern.
3) While agreeing that the existing railway system in Kerala needs more facilities and speed, we would urge the Government of Kerala to rigorously explore all the options in enhancing the existing Indian Railway system in Kerala, that are more cost effective than the currently proposed system.
4) We would also urge the Kerala Government to discuss the State’s transportation problems and its remedies in the Kerala Legislative Assembly, where even minor projects have been discussed at length ever since its formation. Given the vibrant nature of the public sphere in Kerala with an informed public, we are sure that this will also generate the much-needed creative inputs from the public sphere.
5) We would also appeal to the Government of Kerala to spell out why urgent issues of survival in the context of the heightening spread of the Covid 19 pandemic and the continuing basic developmental and welfare needs of the people are being side-lined by a misplaced concreteness on a massive rail project of a specific kind.
Indeed, the State Government should take cognizance of the deep anxieties and doubts among the sections of Kerala society, who are going to be directly affected and also by the larger population, who nurse fears over its future implications. We would like to remind the State’s decision-makers that the denial of the people’s Right to Know is the denial of the spirit of democratic governance. This would be fraught with serious consequences for future governance.
As development professionals and socially concerned writers and citizens, it is our collective responsibility to remind the esteemed decision-makers of the importance of societal consensus, in reinforcing inclusive, equitable and environmentally sustainable development.
We earnestly retain our hope that all political parties will rise up to this challenge.
Professor MK Prasad, Botanist and Environmental Educator, Former Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Calicut; Former Executive Vice Chairman, Information Kerala Mission, Government of Kerala; and Former President, Kerala Sastra Sahitya President.
Dr. M.P. Parameswaran, Nuclear Engineer and People’s Science Activist and Former Secretary, Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samithi.
Dr. M.A. Oommen, Development Economist and Honorary Fellow, Centre for Development Studies, Former Professor, Institute of Social Studies, New Delhi, Former Chairman, Kerala State Finance Commission.
Dr. C.T.S. Nair, Environmental Expert and Former Vice Chairman, Kerala State Council for Science, Technology and Environment, Government of Kerala, Former Chief Economist (Forestry), Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome and Former Director, Kerala Forest Research Institute, Peechi.
G. Vijayaraghavan, Management Expert, Former Member, Kderala State Planning Board and Former CEO, TechnoPark, Thiruvananthapuram.
Dr. R.V.G, Menon, Writer and Energy Expert, Former President, Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, Former Director, Integrated Rural Technology Centre, Palakkad; Former Director, Agency for Non-Conventional Energy Resources and Technology (ANERT), Government of Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram.
Dr. K.P. Kannan, Development Economist and Honorary Fellow (and Former Director), Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.
Dr. Khadeeja Mumthaz, Writer and Professor, Government Medical College, Calicut.
B.R.P. Bhaskar, Journalist and Social Activist.
M.K. Das, Writer and Former Resident Editor, The Indian Express, Kochi.
M.G. Radhakrishnan, Writer and Senior Journalist.
Dr. K. G. Thara, Former Member of State Disaster Management Authority & Former Head, Disaster Management Centre, Government of Kerala.
Dr. Rajeswari S. Raina, Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Shiv Nadar University, Dadri, U.P.
Dr. T.R. Suma, Scientist, Hume Centre for Ecology and Wildlife Biology, Wayanad, Kerala.
Dr. Tara Nair, Professor, Gujarat Institute of Development Research, Ahmedabad.
Sarita Mohana Bhama (earlier Sarita MohanaVarma), Writer and Journalist, Formerly with The Financial Express.
Dr. K.G. Sankara Pillai, Writer and Former Principal, Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam.
Professor K. Sachidanandan, Poet and Writer, Former Secretary, Kendreeya Sahitya Academy, New Delhi.
G. Raveendran, Former Additional Director General, Central Statistical Organization, Government of India.
Dr. C.P. Rajendran, Geologist and Professor, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.
Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Engineer and Independent Researcher, Environment & Climate Change.
Dr. K.V. Thomas, former Scientist G & Group Head, NCESS, Thiruvananthapuram, and former Dean, Faculty of Climate Variability and Aquatic Ecosystems, KUFOS, Kochi.
Professor K. Sreedharan, Former President, KSSP, Former Director, Integrated Rural Technology Centre, Palakkad and Former Professor of Physics, Devagiri college, Kozhikode.
Professor T.P. Kunhikannan, Former President, Kerala Sastra Sahitya President and Former Head, Department of Economics, Government Arts and Science College, Parambra, Kozhikode.
K.K. Krishnakumar, People’s Science Activist, and Former President, Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti.
Dr. N.K. Sasidharan Pilla, Former Director, Integrated Rural Technology Centre, Mundur, Palakkad.
Dr. S. Srikumar, Former Head, Department of Geology, Christ College, Irinjalakkuda and Former Director, Integrated Technology Centre, Palakkad.
Dr. V. Ramankutty, Public Health Expert and Former Head, Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies, Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology, Thiruvananthapuram.
Dr. John Kurien, Environmental Economist, and Former Fellow, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.
Dr. Srikumar Chatopadhyaya, Geographer and Former Scientist, Centre for Earth Science Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.
G. Madhusoodhanan, IAS (Retd), Writer and Environmental Thinker, Pune.
Dr. J. Prabhash, Former Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Kerala and Former Head, Department of Political Science, University of Kerala.
G. Sajan, People’s Science Activist and Former Dy Director of Programmes, Door Darshan Kendra, Thiruvananthapuram.
Dr. K.T. Rammohan, Economic Historian and Former Dean, School of Social Sciences, MG University, Kottayam.
Dr. N. C. Narayanan, Professor, Ashank Desai Centre for Policy Studies, Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai.
Dr. M. Kabir, Development Economist and Former Head, Department of Economics, Government Women’s College, Trivandrum.
M. Suresh Babu, Professor of Economics, Department of Humanities, Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai.