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Kerala high-speed rail: CPI expresses concern, PCC warns Tharoor to mend his ways

Junior partner in the ruling Left Democratic Front, the Communist Party of India, on Sunday expressed concern over growing resentment against the government’s ambitious high speed rail project even as the Congress asked party MP Shashi Tharoor who refused to oppose the project to fall in line.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, however, made it clear that the rail project was in the Left Front’s manifesto and there was no going back on the project but the Congress and other opposition parties said “K Rail will turn into another Nandigram” for the party and government.

The Congress meanwhile has toughened its position on Tharoor. “If you are a party MP you have to follow the party line. Otherwise, you can leave the party, we have told him in clear terms. There is no personal opinion before the collective decision of the party. Hope he will clear the air soon,” said party state president K Sudhakaran.

Two weeks back when 17 MPs from the state wrote to Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnav urging him not to give clearance to the high-speed project ‘K Rail,’ Tharoor abstained from it saying he needed more time to study the project. But he made it clear that not signing the letter does not mean that he supported the project. While attending the inaugural ceremony of Lulu Mall in the state capital on December 16 Tharoor lauded the developmental initiatives of the CM hurting the party leaders again. But the senior leader made it clear that he never shied away from congratulating a person who had done a good job and there was no need to read between lines.

The Congress was forced to go after Tharoor after some allies resented his open defiance and the ruling CPI(M) started praising his “bold position,” said party insiders adding he was asked to clear the air at the earliest. “All must have a personal opinion. But once the United Democratic Front took a decision all leaders are bound to go by it. Tharoor’s indifferent position will weaken the UDF stand,” said Revolutionary Socialist Party leader N K Premachandran MP. Congress MP Rajmohan Unnithan also criticized Tharoor saying, “The party always protected him in critical times, not the CPI(M).” Despite mounting criticism from the party Tharoor is yet to react.

Fissures have also started appearing in the ruling dispensation over the K Rail project. “There is a lot of apprehension among people. The government will have to clear them and release the detailed project report (DPR),” said CPI joint secretary Prakash Babu. Many left-leaning organisations like Sasthra Sahitya Parishad have also opposed the project saying it will be a sure recipe for environmental degradation. When Left MPs met the railway minister last week in Delhi CPI MP Binoy Viswom kept away from it. Though he cited personal reasons, people close to him said he was not happy with the project.

Many environmental activists have also opposed the 63,490-crore proposed project, saying the state is yet to learn lessons from recent natural calamities and early warnings of climate change. They said the government was going ahead with the project without a proper environment impact study.

Unfazed by criticism, the chief minister said his government will go ahead with the project, with his party asking its workers to “expose forces” that are bent on “derailing developmental activities” of the state. “For some it has become a habit to oppose everything. The government will not bend before such forces. People gave us a huge mandate to implement such projects,” said the CM in Pathanamthitta.

The K-Rail project aims at developing a high-speed rail network, connecting north Kerala’s Kasaragod and Thiruvananthapuram in south. The state will need 1,383 hectares of land for the project, of which 1,383 hectares are private land. The state is planning to fund the project using equity funds from the government, foreign lending and railway ministry’s partial funding. The new rail network will bring down the travel time between Kasaragod and Thiruvananthapuram, covering 529.45 km, to only four hours (from 12 hours at present) and it will be completed by 2025, said the Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd, the nodal agency for the proposed project. The Centre is yet to give the green signal to the project.

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