Ramesh Kumar from Greater Noida
Infra projects and public protest are inseparable. It will be rare to see any mega infrabuild going unchallenged. There are no exceptions: be it a road or rail or coastal shipping yard plans. Not necessarily these agitations lead to the project scrap. Some modifications are conceded to placate the hurt sentiments of the few. The project is finally through.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is faced with such a dilemma now. His 1,500 8 billion American dollar Maya train project to complete before he steps down in 2024 has run into trouble.
The train is intended to connect Caribbean beach resorts to the peninsula’s interior, with large Indigenous populations and ruin sites, in a bid to stimulate economic development around its 15 stations.
Environmental concerns, yes. Regional Indigenous and Popular Council of Xpujil or Cripex for short, a local non-governmental organization, is spearheading the agitation among other groups, wanting the project to be scrapped citing the impact of diesel engines on the rail tracks particularly on the endangered jaguars en route.
An estimated 15,000 jaguars remain in the wild. There are only 6000 jaguars in the north and central America, half of which are found in the Calakmul region, which includes the southern Yucatan of Mexico and surrounding areas of Belize and Guatemala. It is estimated that there 500 jaguars in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. This is the second-largest population north of the Amazon.
Not to be missed out is the architectural treasure through which this rail line would run as and when ready ferrying passengers and cargo. The Mayas formed a sprawling empire of city-states across Yucatan and Central America between 2,000 B.C. and A.D. 900, and their descendants still live on the peninsula.
Experts in Mexico said Wednesday they have detected more than 2,000 pre-Hispanic ruins or clusters of artifacts along the proposed route of the president's controversial "Maya Train" project on the Yucatan peninsula.
Anticipating trouble, Lopez has given the rail line contract to the military on which trains are expected to chug at 160 km per hour linking several tourist spots - the Mayan ruins to be precise.
The project was flagged off three years ago and the old track is being torn off. Ecological crime, antagonists say while a section of govt critics hint at cost overruns. White elephant, say some. Not needed because the passenger and cargo projections are way off the mark.
The felling of trees to make space for a new rail track is being defused by President's Sowing Life program - a tree planting plan at 4,500 pesos a month for everyone.
Agitationists warn of the risk to the karst geohydrological systems of the peninsula, characterized by their fragility and the existence of a subway aquifer, with severe problems of overexploitation and contamination in the most populated metropolitan area of the region.
Diesel engine when the entire world is moving towards electric? ask some. Valid and pertinent question.
This area runs the risk of being fragmented, not only by the construction of the railway facilities but also by the continuous passage of trains for the next 50 years. Besides, this territory is inhabited by a Mayan population that has not exercised its right to self-determination, under international commitments of the Mexican State.
A public hearing under the Escazu Agreement ratified by the Mexican government in January 2021 is demanded.
Meanwhile, Spanish train-operating company Renfe opened an office in Mexico from where it will develop the so-called Maya Train. Renfe was awarded this 13.5mn euro contract at the end of 2020, together with another Spanish company, Ineco, and, DB Engineering & Consulting, a German company, to collaborate in the development of the three-year project.
Mexico's richest man Carlos Slim has invested in this train project to be completed by 2024 looping around the Yucatan peninsula. China Communications Construction Company is also an investor. After more than a decade-long lull of nil investment in Mexico, China is slowly creeping in under the Lopez regime. Former US President Barrack Obama is opposed to any Chinese investment in Mexico. The Joe Biden Administration has so far has not publicly said anything about the Mexican-Chinese investment scenario.
Come 2024, will the controversial Mayan train be on track, enabling Lopez return to power for yet another six year term? Just not Mexicans even the world will be watching, given Mexico's proximity to the United States geographically and the rising Chinese investment in the Central America.