State Government of Kerala has been trying to go ahead with the Silver Line rail project. The Silver Line rail project will connect the southern most and the northern most part of the state of Kerala by providing high speed rail connectivity. For instance right now, the travel time by train between Thiruvananthapuram and the Kasaragod district which is in the north part of Kerala is about 12 hours. With this high speed rail project the distance will be converted to just four hours. However, there have been a lot of debate about this project. There are people on the one side who are saying that the project is not needed, it will lead to environmental issues it will also lead to unnecessary expense of the Government of Kerala. On the other hand, the people supporting it say that this is the need of the hour, the state must progress economically and this can be a turning point in Kerala becoming an economic hub for the country.
The Silver Line project is a project that is the need of the hour, which will convert Kerala into economic hub and create a lot of jobs within the state, thus not forcing people to go out of the states to take up new jobs. In the 1950s Japanese government started building the world’s first ever high speed rail called the Shinkansen. Now, at that time in Japan was undertaking such a project, they faced similar kind of criticism that the Kerala government is facing. If you realise at the end of the Second World War, Japan was devastated. Their economy was in pieces and at that time in the 1950s to think about developing world’s first ever high speed rail was not an idea that many people had supported. Many people criticise Japan thinking that this idea would be an epic fail, and Japan would only drown in the debt.
However, that did not happen. In fact, today, the Shinkansen railway Project is a symbol of choice. Japan’s economic resurgence and this technology has been exported to many nations including India as well, which is thinking about using the same technology for the Mumbai Ahmedabad high speed railway project. Since 1980s, Kerala has been at the top position in terms of public health, education in the entire country. So much so, that it is comparable to the East Asian Tiger Economies, which we look up to in India. However, it has not really received a lot of public sector investment due to various reasons. Kerala is one of the largest exporters of skills right now, with somewhere between 10 to 15 lakh of people from Kerala being employed in high skilled jobs including nurses, engineers, teachers, media professional etc. But the reality is that most of them are working outside the state or even outside the country. Meaning that while the people of Kerala have the skills, they have the knowledge but they don’t have the jobs within their state and that is why they would have to move up. That is because of lack of economic activities in Kerala.
Now two main sectors which earn most of the revenue for Kerala, are tourism and information technology. However, these are not enough for accommodating the kind of population that Kerala has. Anyways, in the post pandemic world the companies are now seeking places at a greener and even less congested areas so that they can set up new offices and that is where Kerala offers a great advantage. But for that, to convert into a reality, the state must have an effective public transport system, the Silver Line can resolve that issue, it can turn into what the local train is doing for Mumbai, or what the underground railways is doing for London. Although the maximum speed of this stream can be 320 kilometres per hour. The Kerala government is already planning to use up till 200 kilometre per hour to cover the entire distance from north to the south of the state within four hours, this project will not just modernise the economy, it would create a lot of new jobs.
Regarding the Silver Line project people are saying it will harm the environment. Now in the short term, yes, any construction project will automatically harm the environment, because you would have to cut some trees, you would have to make changes in the landscape etc. However, in the long run, public transport systems such as this will obviously run on renewable energy only, not just this, it would carry more than 10 lakh people every day. Now, since those people would be in the train that means they would not be driving their personal vehicles, that means there would not be any congestion on the road, there would not be any accident on the road, the fuel consumption would reduce. So in the long run, it is a brilliant idea. Over the last decade or so the number of motor vehicles in the states have doubled, and so have the rate of accidents and to accommodate that the government either has to build multi lane highways or such a project. Now if you compare this project with a, let’s say, six lane national highway, such a highway would need double the land that is required for this rail project and would only be able to carry 1/3 of the traffic. The other myth people are propagating regarding this project is that the rail project will be about 7.5% of Kerala’s annual income thus the state will be under a lot of debt after this project. But the problem is that the people here are assuming that the income of Kerala state will remain the same throughout, which is not the case. Even when the central government takes a debt for our budget, we always assume that in the coming years our income will increase and that is how we will be able to pay back the debt and the same will happen too. The economy will not stay where it is right now it will obviously move on and we will be able to repay the debt very easily. The third fear that people have is that it might lead to natural calamities. However, when you see the example of Japan, Japan is a country that is prone to a lot of earthquakes. But still the Japanese high speed rail network has seen no fatal accidents in the last six decades or so, which is a prime example of what can be achieved if your technology is up to date and that is why Kerala should also follow the same idea.
This project is intended to connect Kasaragod district with the Thiruvananthapuram. So from the northern part till the southern part the journey which right now takes 12 hours will be converted to a four hour journey. Now to summarise it. There are pros and cons of this project. The pros include that Kerala’s heavily choked Highways will be eased of, lesser congestion on the roads, lesser accidents, lesser consumption of the fuel. It will benefit the tourism industry also because tourists will be able to travel to more places and they can have a much better experience. It will also help in connecting the IT corridors, techno parks, Info Parks etc. The concerns on the other hand, obviously start from the environmental side, environmental clearances have to be taken because of a lot of land accusation, about 10,000 families will have to be displaced taken to a new area. So the rehabilitation also has to be a top priority.