Protests likely to derail PM Modi's Rs 1.08 trn bullet train project

According to the Ministry of Railways, of the requirement of 1,396 hectare for the 508.17-km-long project, only 885 hectare, or 63 per cent, has been acquired
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rs 1.08-trillion bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai is likely to see a political storm in the coming months, with more than 25 social and political organisations, under the banner of the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan, have decided to protest against it.


The organisations are trying to rope in the ruling Shiv Sena, which was vocal against the project, with its supreme leader and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray calling it a “white elephant” early this year.


“If someone gives a loan without interest or interest at a minimal rate, that does not mean we take it and snatch land from farmers. This (the project) is a white elephant,” Thackeray had said in an interview to Marathi daily Saamana.


Though the government of Maharashtra is showing discontent, it recently amended state land rules to start the process of acquisition, because direct purchase was taking too long.


On September 25, along with the nationwide protests and road blockade called by the All India Kisan Sangarsh Coordination Committee (a pan-Indian umbrella group comprising 250 farmer organisations) against the three agriculture-related Bills passed in Parliament, farmer outfits organised protests in districts like Palghar in Maharashtra and parts of Gujarat against the bullet train too.


“We are going to start massive protests. There will be processions in all the villages in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Even though the project is coming as an elevated corridor, a large amount of farm land is being acquired and efforts are there to divert it to other uses too. We will rope in the Shiv Sena in this,” said Ashok Dhawale, president of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and Central Committee member, CPI(M).


He said all the social organisations that led the Kisan Long March in March 2018 — from Nashik to Mumbai —  would be spearheading the protests against the bullet train also.


The 508.17-km-long network will pass through three districts (Mumbai, Thane, and Palghar) in Maharashtra and eight districts (Valsad, Navsari, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Kheda, and Ahmedabad) in Gujarat.


According to the Ministry of Railways, of the requirement of 1,396 hectare, only 885 hectare, or 63 per cent, has been acquired. In Gujarat, around 82 per cent of what is needed has been mustered up, while in Maharashtra it is only 23 per cent. Of the small section of 9 hectares falling in the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, it is 7 hectare so far.


“We will not let any further land acquisition in Gujarat. In some parts, farmers are under pressure. This is unconstitutional and we are launching protests in Gujarat too,” said Ramesh Patel, president of the South Gujarat Khedut Samaj. Though the land acquisition pace in Gujarat is quicker than in Maharashtra, it is the slowest in Navsari district of south Gujarat, where less than 10 per cent of the land has been reportedly acquired so far. Over 99 per cent of the land has been acquired in Anand, followed by 98 per cent in Kheda, over 90 per cent in Ahmedabad and Bharuch, and more than 80 per cent in Valsad, Vadodara, and Surat districts.


“The pace of land acquisition in Gujarat is higher because it has the blessings of the state government too, being the prime minister’s home state,” Dhawale added.


In Maharashtra, the highest quantity of land was taken over in Thane (over 40 per cent). According to Railway Board Chairman and Chief Executive Officer V K Yadav, 95-100 per cent of land acquisition in Gujarat will be over in the next three months, and in Maharashtra too, it will improve in six months.


“Various organisations are joining hands now. Last year we had conducted meetings in various parts of the states. Now, meetings, awareness drives, and protests will be launched,” said Krishnakant Chauhan, an office-bearer of the National Alliance of People’s Movements.

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