Inviting an Ecological Disaster
by K P Prabhakaran Nair on 29 Oct 2021 12 Comments

The Kerala State Chief Minister returned from New Delhi after meeting the central railway minister to get the nod for his pet project, the semi-high speed Silverline rail from Trivandrum to Kasargod. The centre offered a token support of Rs 2150 crores plus Rs 975 crores for the purchase of 185 ha. land, but refused to stand as security for any loan the state government might raise from an outsider agency. The total cost is pegged at Rs 63,941 crores. 


The Chief Minister went to New Delhi to get the final sanction for his pet project which will reduce the normal running time from 15 hours to about 5 hours. The argument in its support is that it would attract more tourists, decongest traffic and reduce the carbon footprint. This author believes that these are imaginary benefits, without an understanding of the term “carbon footprint”, leave alone tourist inflow and decongesting traffic.


This is a jargon bandied by people who do not know the actual science behind carbon footprint. In simple language, carbon footprint is the total amount of “greenhouse gases” (GHGs) (including carbon dioxide and methane) generated by human activity. So, if a lot of petrol/diesel is used in locomotion, it can generate a huge carbon footprint. At the same time, if a lot of chemical fertilizers like urea are used in agriculture, as in the green revolution, it can also create a huge carbon footprint due to the emission of nitrous oxide.


Both trap radiant heat in the stratosphere and lead to global warming. This, primarily the effect of nitrous oxide, was overlooked by many scientists, until this author pointed it out (Nair, 2019). However, Prof. Manabe, Princeton University, USA, demonstrated the effect of carbon dioxide on global warming through physics “models”, for which he received the Physics Nobel Prize 2021, along with two other physicists, Prof. Hasselmann of Germany and Prof. Parisi of Italy.


Global warming and unseasonal rainfall


The month of October saw torrential rainfall in Kerala and Uttarakhand. October is the month when the south-west monsoon retreats from India and the north-east monsoon sets in, bringing rain over Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Andhra and Kerala. There have been two rain-bearing “low pressure systems” active in the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal since the past fortnight. The low pressure system in the Arabian Sea contributed to heavy rains in Kerala, whereas western disturbances, which are periodic influxes of moisture-laden clouds from the Mediterranean and common during winter, caused the heavy rain in northern India. The Bay of Bengal is still warm and strong winds from there are reaching as far as Uttarakhand and will contribute to rainfall in several parts of north-eastern India.


It is important to note that both low sea pressure and western disturbances are tangentially connected to the larger pattern of global warming, which substantiates the predictions of Nair (2019) on global warming.


More worrying than the financial implications is whether the government has made a cost-benefit analysis of the project. The ecological price of the project far outweighs the time saved in transportation cost. Keralites are slowly limping back to normalcy after the fury of the third flood within a span of three years. The lives lost and loss of property has been huge. But even after so many disasters, the mindset of politicians is unchanged. Hence the desire for the semi-high speed Silverline rail project. Besides the huge Japanese loan, touted as “interest free”, but in reality cannot be because of the strongly appreciating Yen, there are serious ecological considerations that would be very detrimental to life and land in Kerala.


The project would require the government to acquire close to 1,400 hectares of land and will cut through many of Kerala’s ecologically sensitive and fragile coastal ecosystems. The line will pass through several ecologically sensitive regions like Madayipara biodiversity park in Kannur district, Kadalundi bird sanctuary in Kozhikode, the Ponnani-Thrissur Kole wetlands and historical Thirunavaya ponds, lakes and wetlands in Malappuram. Consequently, the construction and operation of the rail will degrade, fragment and ultimately destroy these ecosystems. Construction activities will also hasten soil erosion and degradation, eventually displacing many. The ecological and human cost for Kerala will be incalculable. 


Mindless consumerism at the cost of nature


With a population density of 860 persons/square km in Kerala, as against the Indian average of 368/square km (almost 300% increase, Census 2011), Keralites are land hungry; hence the scramble for more land: for buildings, tourist destinations, gated-multi-story residences, parks, swimming pools, and so on. The “land mafia” is a living threat to Kerala. The unscientific buildings, both for human residence and tourist destinations, have led to huge landslides in the recent rains and also in earlier years. Add to this the menace of the “quarry mafia”. The Census records that during the decade between 2001 and 2011 while the population of Kerala grew only by 5 per cent, the number of houses built grew by 19.9 per cent!


Kerala’s achievements in human development have been exemplary. However, it can no longer rest on past glory as evidenced by the present state of affairs in the state vis-à-vis the ecological terrain. It is now crystal clear that the loss of lives and destruction of properties has neither elicited an intelligent public policy response nor a citizen’s movement of sufficient strength to contain the gathering ecological insecurity, except stray articles by concerned scientists.


This total absence of opposition to the government’s thoughtlessness will cost the state dear in the years to come if this quixotic Silverline project is allowed to go forward. One must remember that we are in the Anthropocene Age, where human impact on the earth’s ecology and ecosystems, including anthropogenic global warming, can have very deleterious long term effects on human, animal and plant life. Hence, it would be in the fitness of things for the Kerala government to desist from going forward with this project.  



Nair, K.P.P., 2019: Combating Global Warming. The Role of Crop Wild Relatives For Food Security, Springer Nature, Switzerland AG, Springer Climate Series.

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