S. Anil Radhakrishnan

Environment Impact Assessment says it is “unviable and superfluous”

Acquiring land a problem; soil degradation likely

Increase in probability of earthquake

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: With land acquisition for the Sabari rail project running into rough weather and the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) terming the project as “unviable and superfluous,” pressure is mounting on Railways to abandon the Rs. 550-crore project aimed at bringing Sabarimala onto the railway map of the country.

The Natural Ecological and Public Interest Local Residents Protection Association and Karshaka Raksha Samithy, among others are, on the warpath to scrap the 130-km Sabari railway line from Angamali to Azhutha. The line goes through Ernakulam, Idukki and Kottayam districts and covers 22 panchayats and four municipalities. As many as seven panchayats in Kottayam and Karimkunnam panchayat in Idukki have passed resolutions demanding that the project be abandoned. The legislators from Kottayam have opposed the project at a meeting convened by Kerala Minister for Railways M. Vijayakumar.

The agitators are hoping that Railways and the State will take a similar decision as in the case of the Kottayam-Erumeli line. Conceived in 1999, the 44-km Kottayam-Erumeli line was abandoned two years ago following severe resistance from the farmers who were to be displaced. The notification under Section 4(1) of the Land Acquisition Act for acquiring land from Karimkunnam village in Idukki had been issued without fixing the alignment of the railway line in Kottayam district.

Those who are to be displaced are placing their hopes on the results of the EIA conducted by the Kerala Forest Research Institute (KFRI).

KFRI recommendation

The KFRI has said that the development of the Chengannur-Erumeli line would serve the pilgrims without causing large-scale environmental and social dislocations. This alignment is much shorter than the current proposal and majority of the pilgrims alight at Chengannur station. The KFRI has estimated that the Sabari project will need Rs. 2,000 crore for completion while the annual returns will be only Rs. 12 crore as the pilgrimage is seasonal. It has been found that 515 hectares will have to be acquired, mostly land rich in cash crops, vegetables and paddy fields. Soil degradation will take place in 55 hectares of agricultural land due to cutting and filling for the line.

The EIA has pointed out that the rail line will increase probability of seismicity due to blasting, cutting and filling. In 2001, an earthquake of high magnitude was reported from the area.