Green body proposes to divert corporate social responsibility fund

Smash-ups at railway level crossings will be a once-upon-a-time thing in Kerala if the State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC), formed under the State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority, Kerala, has its way.

The committee’s suggestion that the corporate social responsibility (CSR) fund of builders and quarry owners seeking environment impact assessment clearance can be utilised for setting up manned railway gates across Kerala has found many takers. With the idea finding acceptance among builders, the committee and the Department of Environment and Climate Change are planning to write to the government for taking it with the railways.

Frequent accidents at unmanned level crossings of the State give saleability to the proposal. The latest being the accident at an unmanned crossing in Aroor last week, that killed five car persons, including a child.

According to railway sources, it would require around Rs. One crore for setting up a level crossing with interlocking system, which gives green signal for a train to move from a station only when all the crossings in a stretch are closed. The salary and other expenses of person manning the gate would come to around Rs. 25,000 a month, sources said.

Of the 393 level crossings in the Thiruvananthapuram division of the Southern Railway, 73 are unmanned ones. However, all the level crossings in the Palakkad division are manned.

The railways had earlier announced that it will post gatekeepers at all unmanned gates by next year.

The proposal mooted by the SEAC at its meeting held last week was readily accepted by builders and miners who had sought environmental clearance for their projects, said N.G.K. Pillai, chairman of the committee.

Going by the Ministry of Environment and Forest guidelines, the project proponents have to earmark 0.4 per cent of the project cost as corporate social responsibility fund. Some agencies were even willing to spend up to One per cent of the project cost for the cause, Dr. Pillai said.

P. Sreekantan Nair, director of the Department of Environment and Climate Change, said name of agencies that are willing to shell out money for the railway will be displayed on the site, which would give them some mileage. This is one method through which the CSR spending of the corporate agencies can be monitored. Mr. Nair said presently, there was no effective system to track the corporate social responsibility spending and authorities had to go by what the agencies report.

The willingness to spend on gates would in no way influence the environmental impact assessment process, Dr. Pillai said.