Key players do not seem to share the same views on monorail projects

Hiccups appear to be plaguing the elevated Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS) mooted for Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode cities. Popularly called monorail, the MRTS was mooted to reduce traffic congestion in roads. However, the project’s journey seems to be far from smooth with differences reportedly cropping up among the key players. The government had roped in ‘Metroman’ E. Sreedharan and, through him, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), as the general consultant to expedite the project in the two cities. But, fissures have appeared on the project track with the director board of the Kerala Monorail Corporation Ltd (KMCL), the SPV set up for executing the project, deciding to appoint Kochi Metro Rail Ltd. (KMRL) as consultant for the monorail project. Mr. Sreedharan, who is also member of the State Planning Board in charge of transport, was reportedly kept in the dark about the decision and came to know about it only through media reports. If one were to go by DMRC sources, Mr. Sreedharan and the DMRC are mighty upset about it and have serious reservations about working under a ‘super check’ mechanism. The ‘whys’ and ‘what fors’ of the decision, taken at a meeting chaired by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, is still in the realm of speculation. There is one argument that this was done as a kind of insurance against the possibility of Mr. Sreedharan moving back to the national stage as adviser to the Prime Minister on transport-related issues. But, Mr. Sreedharan and his colleagues at DMRC are annoyed that they were kept out of the whole process. And that cannot be good news for the denizens of Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode.

Unhealthy stalemate

For a long time, Kerala had rued the fact that despite its huge burden of communicable diseases, it did not have proper virology laboratories and diagnostic facilities.

Today, the State has premier research laboratories like the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (RGCB) and National Institute of Virology’s (NIV) wing in Alappuzha, both of which are Grade I laboratories in the Indian Council for Medical Research’s virology laboratory network. So, it beats all logic that instead of joining hands with these labs for diagnostic purposes, the State Health Services is continuing to look the other way, even when the season of epidemics is on.

While all major private hospitals and the medical college in the capital send dengue, H1N1 or possible MERS test samples to RGCB, the Health Department depends on the Virus Research Centre (VRC) at Manipal, another Grade I ICMR lab some 600 km away from the capital, for many tests. The link with VRC Manipal is necessary for the Health Department to manage diagnostics from northern districts. But, today, even throat swab samples to check for H1N1 from government hospitals in the capital are sent by train to Manipal, though both RGCB and NIV are equipped to do the tests.

RGCB does not offer free H1N1 test like it did during the 2010 H1N1 epidemic as it has not been receiving testing kits from the Centre. But, instead of requesting the Centre to provide RGCB with the kits, the Health Department has chosen to depend on Manipal.

This stand-off does not augur well for the public health system. These research facilities were created through efforts by many so that the State can do surveys and outbreak investigations and go beyond mere diagnosis. Now, despite adequate facilitiesbeing available here, the State prefers to go elsewhere. What is more strange is the fact that none wants to take any initiative to end this stalemate.

Road to trouble

When a road connects a village for the first time, it is an occasion to rejoice. But Muthuvan tribesmen living in the remote Edmalakkudy hamlet in Idukki are finding that this need not be the case. The trouble they say is that ‘outsiders’ are beginning to use it to smuggle out forest wealth and there is the possibility of their being caught by the law enforcing agencies for no fault of theirs. A road does help, but when the powers-that-be decide that their work is done by just constructing a road, it could spell trouble for the tribespeople, some of the wiser ones have pointed out.

A district official who is familiar with the terrain says the tribespeople need much more than a road. They need a way to retain their indigenous life and customs, even as they negotiate with the world. The tribes of Edamalakkudy have a wonderful product to sell: organic cardamom which, though small in size and poor in shape, is of high quality and smells better than its pesticide-rich equal from elsewhere. It is development with little touch with the local reality that has pushed Attappady to the precipice and it may not be long before Edamalakkudy goes the same way, say the conscientious ones who care for the tribal population.

No organic connect

Every time the quality of vegetables consumed comes into discussion, organic farming is touted as the panacea for it all. Chief among those who never tire themselves of sermonising on the premium value of organic vegetables are administrators and bankers. But, the experience on the ground, some organic farming enthusiasts say, is a little different. Officials, they say, care little for organic farms until a farm takes shape, becomes a local-level success story, and gets publicity. The same, they say, is the case with fish farms that enthusiastic people try to set up on their own. Loans are hard to come by and even when security is provided, bankers are suspicious about the viability of the projects.

But the farmers themselves admit that it might be too harsh to blame the bankers. For, worried as they are about the mounting burden of non-performing assets, the bankers cannot be expected to dole out loans without counter-guarantees from the government. That is precisely what is lacking on the ground and, unless the government addresses this huge gap, organic farming will remain what it is today: an isolated speck born out of some well-intentioned person’s adventurous journey, which might well turn into a disaster.

With inputs from S. Anil Radhakrishnan and C. Maya (Thiruvananthapuram), Giji K. Raman (Idukki), and R. Ramabhadran Pillai (Kochi)

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