Uncertainty over a political decision to fell 330 trees comprising rubber, coconut and areca on railway land near Aryankavu in Kollam district is further delaying the already limping Punalur-Sengottai gauge conversion work being carried out by the Madurai Division of the Railways.
The land on which the trees stand is required by the Railways for constructing the yard for a new railway station, tentatively named “New Aryankavu”, which is a mandatory requirement for completing the gauge conversion between Bhagawatheepuram and Thenmala. The trees stand on railway land encroached by local people.
The encroachers resist felling of the trees on grounds that they had planted and nurtured them as a means of livelihood. The trees targeted to be felled comprise 270 rubber trees.
Though the Railways have agreed to provide financial compensation for the trees, a political decision remains elusive.
As per a 1905 agreement between the then Maharaja of Travancore, Sree Moolam Thirunal Rama Varma and the Railways, all trees standing on railway property along the forest portion of the Sengottai-Punalur railway section will be the property of the Forest Department and can be felled only with permission from the Forest Department even if it is for any railway development work. It was part of the Maharaja’s concern for the environment and the need to protect trees.
In fact there were 485 trees on the area earmarked by the Railway for constructing the yard for the new railway station. The felling of 155 of these trees comprising teak and other valuable timber were given clearance by the Forest Department. These were tendered for Rs. 25 lakh and felled six month ago. But there is resistance when it comes to felling the other trees.
Last week, the Forest Department submitted a report to the State government giving clearance for felling the remaining trees. But a final decision is not being taken. H. Anantharaman, Deputy Chief Engineer (Construction), attached to the Madurai Division told The Hindu that the Railways had been waiting for the clearance since the past one year.
Funds for constructing the new station and its yard are already in hand, he said. The old Aryankavu station will be retained for the convenience of the local people.
But the New Aryankavu station is being constructed 3 kms west of the old station as a crossing station which is a mandatory requirement, he said.
The old station area has a gradient of only 1 in 260 suitable to accommodate meter gauge trains. Broad gauge station yards require a minimum gradient of 1 in 400 and that could be achieved between Thenmala and Bhagawatheepuram only at the site earmarked for the New Aryankavu station, Mr. Anantharaman said.
For essential operating reasons a crossing station is required between Thenmala and Bhagawatheepuram. If the gradient is incorrect, the Railway Safety Commission will not give the green signal for passenger traffic. Incorrect gradient will result in stationary trains rolling away. The trees marked to be felled are standing on the alignment of the yard.
Mr. Anantharaman said that even the railway land beyond the portion required for the yard has been encroached upon. But the Railways do not intend touching the trees planted on land which is not required for the yard alignment.
He said that a lot of work is involved for the construction of the new railway station and its yard. Delay in commencing that work will only further delay the completion of the gauge conversion work on the section, he said.