The chances of Sabarimala figuring on the railway map have diminished with the Railways estimating that the new alignment of Sabari Rail, the Rs.1,566-crore Angamaly-Sabarimala railway project, will incur an additional expenditure of Rs.350 crore. Eleven km of tunnels and 6 km of viaducts have to be built on the Thodupuzha-Erumeli stretch under the new alignment, which was released at a recent meeting convened by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. “Initially, there were only five km of tunnels and no viaducts in the route proposed by the Railways. Now, the project is not viable,” a top railway official told.
Moreover, questions have been raised over the movement of Ayyappa devotees who detrain at Erumeli to the hill temple at Sabarimala. Either they will have to trek the 45-km Erumeli-Azhutha stretch through forest or move by road via Elavankal to reach Pampa. The Transport Department is in the dark about the new alignment. Uncertainty prevails over the houses to be demolished and the land to be acquired. Information obtained through RTI says “revised estimate is being prepared and that detailed survey has to be carried out.” Local bodies have come out openly against the new alignment. Thalappalam panchayat has passed a resolution against the stretch passing through the panchayat.
Mum on cost-sharing
A railway official pointed out that the Railway Board had not approved the revised estimate that has gone up from the initial Rs.550 crore to Rs.1,234 crore to Rs.1,566 crore. Also, the State had not responded to the request to contribute 50 per cent cost of building the 117-km rail project. Cost-sharing was mooted as the Railways felt that the project was not remunerative.
Of the 515 hectares of land required, 21.64 hectares from Angamaly, Nedumbassery, Mattor, Vadakkumbhagam, and Chelamattom villages in Ernakulam have been handed over to Railways under the fast track scheme.
In Kottayam district, steps for acquiring 217.1 hectares had to be stopped due to public opposition. Ministers and legislators from Kottayam have been demanding the shifting of the line. Land-acquisition units in Kottayam and Ernakulam district have become defunct and the staff have been shifted for other urgent works.
Around Rs.135 crore was needed for paying compensation to landowners on the Angamaly-Kalady stretch who had surrendered the land years ago. Only Rs.63 crore had been handed over. Sources said the remaining Rs.72 crore could be paid only if the revised estimate was approved by the Board.
The 130-km railway line extending from Angamaly to Azhutha, which was sanctioned in 1997-98, had been hampered by many factors, including land acquisition and paltry allocation in successive budgets. Its initial estimate was Rs.550 crore. The Railways have drastically altered the alignment and decided to terminate the service at Erumeli, instead of Azhutha. The anticipated hurdles in building tunnels between Erumeli and Azhutha and a report of no added advantage in laying the line to Azhutha had forced the Railways to change the alignment.