I love to drive. The said statement, though true from heart will become a cliché, if you are living in Kerala. You will, I swear, hate driving, if you dare to drive from Kochi to Trivandrum as it will mercilessly snatch away your precious 6 to 7 hours to travel just 200 Kilometers. I love to drive through roads of Tamilnadu, Karnataka, UP, Gujarat and Maharashtra and shamelessly drooled over the six lane expressways and fantastic flyovers through over those long and relaxing drives. So, I often use the term “ I love to drive” with a tail end statement “through rest of India, except through God’s Own roads”. Kochi and Trivandrum are the major cities of Kerala which are poorly connected and having dilapidated road networks.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is well aware about the said facts and he had made a clear statement that the SilverLine rail project will change the face of Kerala and the LDF government will brush aside the arrogance of those opposing it for political reasons. He admitted in an open statement that it takes at least 12 hours to reach Thiruvananthapuram from Kasaragod and noted that “It causes a lot of hardship. But there is no option now,” he said. Unfortunately, as sole solution for the suffocating travel through the roads, he had mooted the concept of K-Rail, the Silverline Project which is connecting Kasaragod to Thiruvananthapuram, which can arguably reduce the travel time to 4 hours!.
The vision of CM is really impressive and path breaking but I have some difference of opinion on his blunt statement by projecting the silverline as the only solution for easing the choking traffic stream. For a progressive nation, it need well connected cities, by road, rail and air. If you review the plight of Kerala from the said perspective, it can be traced out that, we are maintaining a very poor single lane road infrastructure throughout the state, except exception of Kochi – Palakkad National highways. The land acquisition for expanding the National highways are on snail speed and the proposed 45 Meter width is well below the national average and not sufficient to accommodate even the present vehicular populace. Instead of placing the huge capital intensive project without proper traffic and viability study, the Government should have thought about unchoking the present road infrastructure by widening the same as per national standards by installing flyovers and underpasses across the stretch.
Kerala, unlike other Indian states, is having a disproportionately high number of Airports , which are presently used only to cater the travel requirements of Non-Resident Keralites. The inter connectivity between the four major airport in 650 Km stretch of the state is very poor and unexplored. By operating low-cost ATR flights in every one hour connecting all these five airports will enable cheaper and swifter transport and travel across the state without making huge investments for land acquisitions.
The present rail system in Kerala is having double laned pathways which are not sufficient to accommodate more trains. Similarly, the major railway stations like Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam are having space constraints to accommodate more trains. By simply expanding the number of lanes and acquiring limited space for busy stations, Indian Railways will be able to operate more trains through the state, which will help the travellers to reach their destination on time.
Kerala is blessed with Inland waterways but those are pathetically maintained and hardly explored. The canals and backwaters passing through majority of districts can be converted as regular travel paths which can ease the travel nightmare of the people of the State. Kerala, marketed as God’s Own Country and blessed with scenic mountains, beautiful beaches and stunning backwaters , is maintaining a very dilapidated infrastructure to enable the tourist to reach the desired destination. By expanding the present road base, rail infrastructure and improving the air traffic, Kerala will be able to attract more tourist to the lap of this small and beautiful landscape.
No tourist, who is looking forward to explore the beauty of the State, will be interested to travel through high-speed trains, which are having only very limited stops. Considering the climatic conditions, ecologically sensitive terrains and major tourist attractions, they will love to travel through unclogged and well-designed roads. Well-connected roads will bring more international travellers to the state and also attract industrialist to explore the commercial potential of our seaports.
I am not against the K-Rail as the same is essential as an alternative travel solution for those who are in need of, but insanely arguing for such a massive project without looking out for the options to expand the existing facilities is more of a political stunt rather than urge for imposing development. In a highly complex society like Kerala, where the socio-political-religious mix is playing a dangerous combo, it requires an iron heart and strong will to implement tough decisions and Mr.Pinarayi Vijayan is having that. Any positive steps towards that goal will be welcomed by everyone for sure. But unless and until we learn from the mistakes and correct the same, next generations will curse us for these blunders and thoughtless actions.
Bijoy P Pulipra
Picture courtesy : K-Rail Limited