Not a Hectare of Land Acquired in Gujarat for Bullet Train Project

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s project ‘Statue of Unity’ – the world’s tallest statue honouring Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – was completed within 33 months. The same cannot be said about the Prime Minister’s pet project, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Corridor, which has run into several roadblocks.

The project is moving at snail’s pace thanks to dozens of petitions and at least 1,000 individual affidavits filed by farmers in the Gujarat High Court. Although the land acquisition process began in November 2017, the bullet train project was hit by a bevy of petitions by October this year.

Of the total 1,784 hectares of land needed, only 0.9 hectares has been acquired for the bullet train terminus at the Bandra-Kurla Complex in Mumbai. Despite the delay, the Gujarat government and the Centre are positive that the acquisition process will be concluded by December.

Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said on 25 October that despite the delay, the project may be completed before deadline due to developments in the engineering sector.

It is scheduled to be completed by 2023.

"“The land acquisition procedure for the first bullet train project (Mumbai-Ahmedabad) will be over by December this year. We are taking more time because we engage land owners and hold dialogue for acquisition. We want to take them into confidence.”" - Piyush Goyal, Union Railway Minister

Still, at the current rate of progress, it seems unlikely that the land can be acquired in two months.

Also Read: Indian Govt Signs Loan Agreement With JICA For Bullet Train Funds

Quick Facts

  1. Distance: 508.17 km – 155.76 km in Maharashtra and 348.04 km in Gujarat.
  2. Costing: Rs 1.1 lakh crore – Rs 88,000 crore loaned by Japan at 0.1 percent interest.
  3. 1,434 hectares of land to be acquired from 298 villages in Gujarat, 350 hectares to be acquired from 104 villages in Maharashtra.
  4. 1,120 hectares of land to be acquired is privately-owned.
  5. 6,000 landowners will be compensated for the project.

Petitions Against the Project

About 40 new petitions have been filed by farmers in the Gujarat High Court till October this year. “40 petitions have been filed by affected farmers, and the Gujarat Khedut Samaj intends to file 200 petitions by the weekend, covering more than 150 affected villages," said Anand Yagnik, the lawyer representing the farmers.

He said the petitioners hailed from Surat, Valsad and Navsari districts of South Gujarat. Earlier, 1,000 farmers had submitted individual affidavits in the HC against the land acquisition process.

In their petitions, the farmers have said that since the project extends to more than one state – Gujarat and Maharashtra – the Centre is the “appropriate government” to acquire the land for it. Another contention is that the market value of the land has not been revised, as required under Section 26 of the Land Acquisition Act. The petitioners have also challenged the Gujarat Amendment Act 2016, which tweaked the Land Acquisition law of 2013.

"It (the Gujarat Amendment Act 2016) gives unbridled and unfettered powers to the state government to exempt any project in public interest from social impact assessment (SIA)," said Jayesh Patel, President of Gujarat Khedut Samaj.

Also Read: 1,000 Farmers Oppose Bullet Train, Put Affidavits In Gujarat HC

Centre Gives Acquisition Powers to State

On 18 October, the Centre submitted an affidavit-in-reply before the Gujarat HC along with a railway ministry notification, dated 8 October 2018.

The notification – issued under Article 258(1) of the Constitution – said the acquisition that is to be carried out by the central government has now been delegated to the state government. Moreover, the notification has been accorded retrospective effect, which validates all the actions and decisions issued by the Gujarat government before 8 October 2018.

Yagnik, however, believes that the notification giving acquisition powers to the state government only proves the farmers’ point that decisions were for the Centre to take.

“The delegation in the form of notification is nothing but an admission on part of the respondent that the Central government is the appropriate government, and not the state government,” Yagnik said.

Also Read: Before it Can Fire, Bullet Train Draws Gujarat Farmers’ Ire

Farmers Approach JICA

The Gujarat Khedut Samaj, the farmers’ society, has asked the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Japanese Ambassador to India, Kenji Hiramatsu, to schedule a meeting with the farmers and their representatives.

They have requested JICA to withhold the release of any funds for the project, citing violation of several JICA guidelines. Some of these guidelines include conducting social and environment impact assessments of the project, which have not been conducted.

On October 15, Katsuo Matsumoto, JICA’s Chief Representative in India, responded to the farmers and said a meeting will be scheduled at a mutually convenient date and time.

Patel said that the decision to meet JICA official will be decided after Diwali.

"“The matter is sub-judice in court and will be heard immediately after Diwali holidays. Once the matter is heard and an order is passed, we will immediately move on to meet JICA officials in New Delhi.”" - Jayesh Patel, President of Gujarat Khedut Samaj

JICA has already agreed to provide an Official Development Assistance (ODA) loan of around Rs 5,500 crore (89,547 million Japanese Yen) as Tranche 1 for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail project.

The National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) is gearing up to float more than 20 tenders for the bullet train project by January next year, sources in the railway ministry said. The tenders amounting to Rs 88,000 crore will be for coaches, infrastructure, signalling, technology, among others, the source added.

Also Read: Dear Metro Man, Bullet Trains Can Be Low-Cost if Sensibly Financed

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