Kerala to share cost of Sabarimala rail project

The Angamaly-Sabarimala rail project has got a new lease of life with Kerala agreeing to bear 50% of the estimate of ₹2,815.62 crore.

Bowing to the stance of the Railways and the Centre that the State should share 50% of the cost of the Sabari rail project, the Cabinet on Wednesday decided to make available funds from the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB).

The Railways will be responsible for the construction and maintenance of the 116-km Angamaly-Azhutha Sabari rail, while the en route station development will be through public-private partnership and a special purpose vehicle. The income will be shared 50:50 between the State and the Railways after deducting the expenses, official sources said.

Even after raising it at the Prime Minister level, the Centre and the Railways were of the view that the project can be taken forward only if the State shared 50% of the cost. The possibility of extending the line up to Punalur and chances of extending it to Tamil Nadu also favoured a change in the stance.

The railway line, sanctioned in 1997-98, is one of the 10 stalled infrastructure projects of Southern Railway. The project was kept in abeyance by the Railways in December 2019.

Priority list

The project also failed to figure on the priority list of Kerala Rail Development Corporation Ltd. (KRDCL), the special purpose vehicle set up for executing viable rail projects on a cost-sharing basis with the Railways.

The Transport Department had earlier cancelled a government order issued for cost-sharing citing it as a sanctioned project. Quoting the order, the Railways were adamant that the State should bear 50% of the cost.

“The Railways cannot pay for the huge escalation in project cost due to the inaction of the State government,” Railway Minister Piyush Goyal had said in a letter on January 11, 2020 to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

Toughening the stance, the Minister had said taking forward this project showing 512% increase in project cost solely with railway funds was not possible.

The proposed line would be of help to lakhs of devotees visiting the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple. Though the Railways provided ₹225 crore in the 2017-18 Union budget for the Sabari line, not much headway could be made due to opposition from various quarters. The estimate of the rail line had gone up from ₹550 crore to ₹2,815.62 crore now. In the 2019-2020 budget, only ₹1 core was allocated.

The decision of the State to share the cost of the project will put pressure on the Centre to infuse more funds in the coming Union Budget.

The final location survey and peg marking to fix central line and lay boundary stones in 40 km at Anthinadu in Kaloor panchayat in Kottayam to Erumely have been completed. Work on the seven-km Angamaly-Kalady stretch and long lead works on the 10-km Kalady-Perumbavoor corridor have been taken up.

As much as 470.77 ha is needed for the line which passes through Ernakulam, Idukki, Kottayam, and Pathanamthitta.

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