Kocho Metro: Green concerns take a back seat

KOCHI: Even as the work on Kochi Metro rail is progressing as per schedule, authorities are still in the dark about the environmental impact of the project. While environmental impact assessment (EIA) must be done before starting the project, the Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL) has only completed tender procedures for conducting the EIA recently.

Last week, KMRL awarded the EIA to a Gurgaon-based firm. But the agency will take at least seven more months to complete the study if everything goes as per schedule. “Any project with a cost of above Rs 50 crore can be cleared only after conducting proper EIA. In the case of Kochi Metro rail, authorities have not yet started the study. Even if EIA is completed within the schedule fixed by KMRL, the work on the project would have progressed further by that time. What is the use of conducting an EIA?,” said environmental activist C R Neelakantan. There are reports that KMRL is carrying out the EIA after funding agencies insisted on it.

According to an RTI reply on May 4, 2013, authorities don’t even know how many trees would be cut down for the project. “I had submitted an RTI application seeking information on the number of trees that will have to be cut for the Metro and allied projects. In reply, the public information officer and special tahsildar for the project said that they don’t have any proposal to fell trees as of now. Then how can they take measures for making good the loss caused by felling trees?,” asked Syed Mohammed K H, a resident of Thrikkakara.

However, as per the government order (GO (ms) no. 91/13/RD) issued on March 12, 2013 for transferring 33 acres of land at NGO quarters junction at Kakkanad, the district collector has put the value of trees in the land exactly at Rs 11,58,799! While half the land is being transferred to KMRL for generating revenue for the Metro rail through commercial activities, the other half will be used for constructing the quarters in lieu of the NGO quarters that will be demolished.

To another RTI query, authorities have given a reply that no paddy field will be reclaimed for the project. “But they have already levelled a large extent of paddy fields at Muttom for constructing the repair yard for the project. Most of the 190 acres of land required for setting up the Metro village are paddy fields. They have to also cut down trees along the rail alignment. Even if they complete EIA as per schedule, how will they incorporate suggestions recommended by the study for the project which would have progressed much by then?,” Neelakantan asked.

However, KMRL officials were not ready to divulge any details in this regard. According to the tender floated by KMRL for conducting EIA, the study should take into account all norms from environmental legislations in India, especially

The Environment (Protection) Act-1986, The Conservation of Wetland and Paddy Field Act 2008 and relevant AFD/JICA guidelines.