Bullet train project risks delay due to land acquisition, Covid: Railways

Of the 1,396 hectares needed for the project, only 885 hectare or 63 per cent has been acquired. Representative Image
India’s first bullet train project could be delayed due to the slow pace of land acquisition and the coronavirus pandemic, said the Railway Board on Saturday.

The Board’s statement comes amid reports that the Ahmedabad-Mumbai project could be deferred to October 2028 instead of its December 2023 target. "For any linear project, work can be started and tenders can be invited only when we have over 90 per cent of land in our hand. The entire process got delayed due to the pandemic situation too. We expect clarity on land acquisition within six months time, then only we will be able to re-assess and set a new deadline," said Vinod Kumar Yadav, chairman and chief executive officer of the Railway Board.

Of the 1,396 hectares needed for the project, only 885 hectare or 63 per cent has been acquired. In Gujarat, around 82 per cent of land has been acquired. In Maharashtra, only 23 per cent has been acquired. Out of the nine hectares falling in the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, seven hectares is acquired so far.

"In the next three months, we expect around 95 to 100 per cent of land acquisition in Gujarat to be completed. Covid has affected the joint measurement survey in Maharasthra and that may also improve within the next six months," said Yadav. The Railways has indicated that key components of the project, like design, environment and forest clearances, are complete and works can start immediately after the land issue is solved.

A tender was invited for a 21-km underground stretch, including a 7-km under-sea stretch, but it did not attract interest from Japanese players. "Due to the pandemic situation, international travels were banned. Such kinds of projects require a lot of survey works and hence Japanese companies could not participate. We had advance information about that. As land issues improve, we will start the bidding process again," he said.

The government has already signed a loan agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for providing around Rs 15,000 crore, out of the total loan amount of Rs 88,000 crore. The estimated total cost of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad project is Rs 1.08 trillion, out of which 81 per cent cost is planned for funding through the loan from JICA.

To start 80 trains from September 12

The government has decided to start 40 pairs of new trains starting from September 12 onwards. Bookings for these trains will start on September 10. "The new trains are coming on routes where the occupancy level is high. We will be monitoring the occupancy of all these trains and if required, will start clone trains too," Yadav said. 

He added that exams for 140,640 posts, announced early this year, which got delayed due to Covid will also start from December 15.

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