Here's a look at the bullet train project that is struggling to take off because of various issues, including land acquisition. The project has already been delayed and its deadline extended by over two years.
THANE/SURAT: Flamingos are not the only birds that frequent the Thane creek. Rough estimates suggest the creek is home to over 95 avian species. Chances are high that the high-speed train corridor may affect these winged creatures despite the best efforts not to disturb the flora and fauna.
“The area is rich in mangroves and birds that may shift base due to noise and vibrations from the project. The creek is already under pressure from massive encroachment and untreated toxic chemicals released by industries. This project can be a death knell for the biodiversity,” said activist Girish Salgaoncar, who works with the local Koli fishing community.
From 100 variety of fish that inhabited the creek some four decades ago, Salgaoncar said, the number was down to 2-3 species due to shrinking wetlands. Apart from the Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary, the proposed high-speed corridor passes through the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and the Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary. It also crosses the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) at seven locations— six in Maharashtra and one in Gujarat—besides highly sensitive fragile areas (category 1A as per CRZ notification).
Moreover, the project needs diversion of over 80.43 hectares of forest land in the two states. Nearly 80,000 trees in government, private and forest lands will face the axe to make way for the project. Though the National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) circulated a 12-page summary of the environmental impact of the project, the affected people claim they were not given a detailed Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report. “During public consultations, we kept asking authorities for the EIA report.
They said it will be provided, but we are yet to get anything. How can a consultation happen without providing us with related documents? Finally, under RTI, what they provided us is just a summary,” said Shashi Sonawane from Bhumiputra Bachav Andolan, who is working in Palghar, where forest lands will be diverted for the project.
The summary lists damage to aquifers, permanent change in topography in some areas, loss of fertile top soil, dust emissions, increase in noise levels and stress on social relations as some of the major environmental impacts of the project. While the NHSRCL did not respond to mailed queries, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the prime lender for the project, claimed that the environment and social impact assessment was available on its website. The project falls under Category A as per the JICA Environmental and Social Guidelines, 2010. Projects with complicated, or unprecedented impacts that are difficult to assess, or projects with a wide range of impacts, or irreversible impact on environment are placed in Category A.
Environmental engineer Sagar Dhara said the impact would be gradual. The project will lead to industrialisation and an influx of human population, exerting pressure on the already stressed natural resources in the region, he said. “There are studies showing that crop yields are impacted due to air pollution. Power plants have caused Rs 500 crore agricultural losses. The region of Vapi and Valsad are mango and chikoo belts. Both fruits are sensitive to air pollution,” Dhara said. The former consultant with the United Nations Environment Programme did an energy analysis of the project which purportedly found energy consumption per passenger per kilometre on a bullet train almost the same as that on an airline and four times that on the existing train on the route.
“There is data to show that Mumbai-Ahmedabad Shatabdis are running 40 per cent below their capacity. We have an expressway and National Highway- 8. Volvo buses run between the two cities. Enough flights connect Mumbai to Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara so where is the need for a bullet train?” In Gujarat, the proposed route will have right stops, including the industrial hub of Vapi, and major cities such as Surat and Vadodara. South Gujarat, the hub of mango and chikoo production, is blessed with rivers such as Tapi, Daman Ganga and Narmada. The region is already a hub of industries.
“Here they (officials) are uprooting the plantations… all our plants will die and what will we do?” said Ketan Bhai, a mango farmer from Acchari village in Vapi district. “Mango plant has a life cycle of 75 years. The first 5-10 years go in investment. Profit starts after 25 years, when trees bear fruits in large quantities. It is like a long-term investment.”
Under the EIA amended notification (Sept. 14, 2006), the bullet train project does not require prior environment clearance as the railway sector is not included in Schedule 1 of the notification. However, other regulatory clearances related to diversion of forest land, mangroves and protected areas, tree felling, and coastal regulation zone will be relevant and applicable to specific sections of the project.
Like Ketan Bhai, Gopal Bhai Patel, a retired professor from the Anand Agriculture University, is likely to lose 1.25 of his 10 acres of land having chikoo and mango plantations. “South Gujarat contributes to about 35 per cent of the state’s horticulture,” he said, ruing the loss of fertile land. (Tomorrow: When the displaced face eviction again)