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The 'great wall of Kerala'
July 28, 2004 19:25 IST
A proposed highway project in Kerala, connecting the state capital Thiruvananthapuram to its northern tip Kasargod, has hit a roadblock with political leaders and social organisations coming out against it.
An intense debate is on over the Express Highway, that the 'great wall' running from Kazhakkoottam in Thiruvananthapuram to Chalingal in Kasargod would divide the 3.18 crore population, besides causing environmental hazards.
However, those who dream big, including Public Works Minister M K Muneer, say the 507km highway, which would take commuters from the capital to the northern end in around five hours, would accelerate development.
Janata Dal-Secular leader M P Veerendrakumar was the first to call the highway a 'wall', as it is proposed to be built at a height of seven to 10 metres from ground level. "It is another Berlin Wall in the making," he had said.
Amid growing concerns, opposition leader V S Achuthanandan has asked the government to put a halt to all activities in connection with the mega project, estimated to cost Rs 6,400 crore. He said it would be destructive for a state like Kerala with a small geographical area but dense population.
Kerala Shastra Sahitya Parishad, dealing with social and environmental issues, has also come out against the project, dubbing it as "the road that will divide the state into two, and cause environmental hazards".
The KSSP said the road would intercept many streams, which could in the long run result in floods in the eastern side and drought on the western side.
The focus on the 'wall' would also paralyse the development of the existing national highways in the state, a project already neglected. "Transport sector should not be turned into a profitable industry," the KSSP said.
According to social activist and environmental campaigner R V G Menon, the project will not be profitable even if high toll is collected from commuters till 2033.
Instead of dreaming about the highway, works on improving city roads, expansion of existing national highways, construction of bypasses to skip towns on long routes and doubling of railway lines should be taken up to improve the transport sector, Menon said.
Litterateur Sukumar Azhikode said, "The project is absurd and unnecessary. Those who say it is inevitable do not know how to run the state."
The highway, called 'High Speed Corridor', 507km long and 100mt wide, for which a joint venture company has already been floated, is to run through 101 gram panchayats and one municipality in the state.
The project's initial estimated cost was put at Rs 4,642 crore. The government and some private partners were to contribute Rs 696 crore each and the remaining was to be taken as loan from funding agencies like the World Bank.
In addition to this, the state has to spend Rs 1,758 crore for rehabilitation of the displaced families. The government intends to introduce a one rupee cess per litre on petrol and diesel to collect Rs 2,454 crore.
The 2003 estimate, however, put the project cost at Rs 6,400 crore and is expected to be doubled when the actual work is completed.
More reports from Kerala