The Left Democratic Front government in Kerala on Monday directed K-Rail to identify the sites to conduct social impact assessment (SIA) study for the Silverline project, by either the geo-tagging method or by demarcating the boundaries by marking them on permanent structures instead of laying survey stones, which has been receiving stiff resistance from the public.
The direction to Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd (KRDCL), or K-Rail as it is popularly known, was welcomed by Congress-led United Democratic Front opposition as they termed it a victory of the first phase of the struggle against the semi-high speed rail corridor.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is also opposed to the project, said the state government had to bow before public sentiment.
Meanwhile, LDF convener E P Jayarajan made it clear that only the survey method has changed and that the project has not been abandoned.
Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the state assembly V D Satheesan, speaking to reporters in Kochi, said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had to back down from his stand that laying of stones would continue irrespective of the protests against it.
Next, the Chief Minister will have to climb down from his claims that the project would be implemented no matter what, Satheesan said.
Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president and MP K Sudhakaran also termed the state government decision as a victory of the first phase of the struggle by the UDF against the project.
The Lok Sabha member said if the decision was taken to win the upcoming Thrikkakara by-election then it indicates the 'political bankruptcy' of the Left front and would amount to betraying the people of Kerala.
Sudhakaran claimed that the Congress had earlier suggested to the Left government to conduct the SIA study using the Global Positioning System (GPS), but they were not ready to accommodate it.
The Congress MP said the state government should disclose how much money has been spent till date on laying of the stones and initiate proceedings to recover the same from the persons concerned.
Both the Congress and the BJP also demanded that the cases lodged against those who protested against the laying of stones be withdrawn and the fines levied be refunded.
BJP state president K Surendran said the state government decided to stop laying of stones as it realised it would not get the central government's approval for the project.
He said Chief Minister should be ready to give up the project which the people do not want and added that his party would continue the struggle till the concerns of the public regarding the Silverline project are allayed.
The reactions by the political bigwigs in the state came in the wake of a letter from the Revenue department to the K-Rail directing it to 'use either the geo-tagging method using good software or app or through demarcating the boundaries by marking on permanent structures' rather than planting boundary stones.
The K-Rail was also directed to 'assist the SIA team to identify the alignment either by Differential GPS (DGPS) survey equipment or mobile phones with GPS facility as proposed so that the SIA team may identify the project affected persons and collect the data properly'.
The directions were issued subsequent to a letter sent by K-Rail to the government stating that in view of the violent public protests and resistance to stone laying teams, the alignment of Silverline was finalised using LIDAR survey.
LIDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a remote sensing technology which uses light in the form of lasers to measure distances.
K-Rail had also told the government that the alignment can be easily established in the field by GPS coordinates using DGPS survey equipment or mobile phones with GPS facility.
Therefore, it had proposed that the boundary stones can be placed where the land owners consent for the same and at other locations the alignment can be demarcated by marking on permanent structures.
Subsequently, the state government -- which had been for the past several months refusing to budge from laying of the stones despite the widespread opposition to the same across the state -- decided to go with the GPS method.
The decision which comes amidst the Thrikkakara by-election could serve to boost the UDF campaign.
The Pinarayi Vijayan administration had backed the laying of concrete stones in the Supreme Court, which had ruled in favour of the LDF government by saying it had a right to go ahead with the survey process.
Even a division bench of the Kerala High Court had given the state government the green light to go ahead with the survey process against which several pleas were moved in the high court by persons whose lands were expected to be affected.
Subsequently, as the state government tried to lay the survey stones, it received stiff opposition from the locals wherever it tried to install the concrete marks.
Though police force was used to lay the stones, in many places the locals removed and threw them away.
The Congress-led UDF and the BJP were at the forefront of the protests against the project and the laying of the survey stones.
The 530 kilometre long SilverLine semi-high speed rail corridor which starts from Thiruvananthapuram will have stoppages at Kollam, Chengannur, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Tirur, Kozhikode and Kannur before reaching Kasaragod.
The entire journey from one end to the other is expected to take around four hours.