Opposition Leader alleges consultancy scam in Kerala's Silver Line Project
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala has raised yet another consultancy scam against the Kerala government. He alleges that the government’s decision to proceed with the land acquisition of Rs 67,000 crore semi-high-speed rail corridor (Silver Line) was without the Centre’s approval and Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan’s objection, aiming to bag huge amount of commission from consultancies.
Chennithala said, “In the cover of this, they appoint consultants and then pocket their commissions from the money given to consultancies.” He added, “This is exactly what happened in the case of the E-Mobility and KFON projects.”
Systra, a Paris based company was given the consultancy for Rs 27 crore. The opposition leader said that the company was prohibited from working in countries like Tanzania and Ghana by the World Bank.
While interacting with the media, Chennithala said that a secretary-level meeting convened by the Chief Secretary on November 20 had decided to continue with the land acquisition proceedings. “If Chief Minister signs the order, then 20,000 families will be evicted from their homes and 50,000 business establishments would have to shut down,” said Chennithala.
Environment impact assessment or social impact assessment studies, one of the major thing in large projects, were not done in this project, claims Chennithala.
On August 18, 2020, the screening committee of the Ministry, following a detailed deliberation had decided to drop the proposal and advised the Kerala government to complete the ongoing rail projects. In an affidavit in the High Court, Kerala’s transport secretary Jyothilal accepted that the Finance Ministry had rejected the proposal and said that the government was moving ahead with the land acquisition on the ‘assumption’ that it could secure the Centre’s approval.
The opposition leader wants to know how the Kerala government could go ahead with a project rejected by the Centre. He claims, “The state government is not least concerned about how money for the project is going to come. They are bothered only about the commission.” The Kerala Cabinet approved the Silver Line, a high-speed rail corridor connecting Kochuveli and Kasaragod, on June 10.
A detailed project report was submitted to the Railway Board for its approval. However, the Railway Board has only approved IPA (In-Principle Approval). A sanction from the Central Cabinet and Niti Aayog is a must to implement this Rs 67,000 crore rail project properly. In the last budget, the Union Finance Minister stressed that no new projects would be considered till March 2021 due to the Covid outbreak. Among the sanctioned six semi-high speed/bullet trains, Silver Line was not one of them. The Kerala government had already begun to acquire land without the Centre’s green signal.
According to a leading media organisation, in a joint venture, Kerala Rail Development Corporation Limited (KRDCL), with the Kerala government and the Ministry of Railways, has pushed forward to acquire land by paying up to four times the market value of the and for this ambitious project.
Earlier, too, Kerala had initiated a similar high-speed rail project. It was finally dropped in 2018, and the company itself was dissolved. It seems that the money spent on the project attained nothing.
Silver Line will run parallel to the existing railway line from Kasargod to Tirur. The trains' operational speed will be 200km per hour, and the Silver Line trains will have stopovers at Kollam, Chengannur, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Tirur, Kozhikode and Kannur en route to Kasargod. It is expected to be operational by 2025.
Earlier, Public Works Minister G Sudhakaran pointed out that the project will greatly support the state government to recover from the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 outbreak and generate job opportunities. If everything goes well, the Silver Line will be the Kerala government’s most ambitious project to date.