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.
PALGHAR/VAPI (MAHARASHTRA/GUJARAT): Rupji Dhinde, a tribal from Dehne village in Maharashtra’s Palghar district, is a worried man. His repeated visits to the offices of the district collector and tehsildar to inquire about a land acquisition notice for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project have yielded no results, so far. None of the officials could give him details about land to be acquired and route alignment.
“I will never travel in a bullet (train), so why should I give my land for a project that is being constructed for the rich? The government has technology and money. The entire stretch should be built underground without disturbing farmers,” said Dhinde, signalling towards the concrete markings left behind by a survey team on his small plot.
Dhinde is not alone. The Prime Minister’s dream project is giving sleepless nights to over 5,400 people, one-third of them living below the poverty line, in Maharashtra and Gujarat. Many of them stand to lose either land holdings or houses.
Racing against time are officials of the National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL), the implementing agency of the `1.08 lakh crore project, as the land acquisition deadline of December 2018 nears. As per NHSRCL data, only 0.9 hectares of the 1,400 hectares of required land has been acquired so far.
Beginning from Thane in Maharashtra, The Sunday Standard travelled along the 508-km corridor, passing through Palghar and Boisar in Maharashtra and Vapi, Valsad, Surat, Vadodara and Anand in Gujarat.
The proposed corridor traverses through small villages surrounded by paddy fields in Maharashtra and those falling under the fruit belt in south Gujarat. Dadra and Nagar Haveli lies mid-way.
In villages of Thane district, there is stiff resistance from farmers and landowners. Residents of Bharodi village complained about losing land to multiple projects. The land was already acquired or is in the process of acquisition for other projects, including the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, National Highway 8 expansion, Mumbai-Vadodara Expressway and a dedicated freight corridor.
Another complaint is that there is confusion over the alignment of the bullet train route. They are allegedly not provided with documents or any specific detail about how much of their land will be taken away the compensation in lieu of their acquired land, and rehabilitation.
Often, teams found surreptitiously carrying out land markings and measurements were held up by angry villagers at panchayat offices for hours. This correspondent was witness to one such instance in Bharodi.
“They enter our land without permission. Isn’t it against the law? It seems authorities are testing the patience of the Agari community, forcing us to come out on to the streets,” said Bharodi sarpanch Sunanda Neelkanth Patil as she demanded a written apology from the NHSRCL team which came for electrical work for the proposed track. The incident was video graphed and shown live on Facebook. Villagers even took an apology letter from the team as a proof.
The lack of clarity and threat from government officials and police have led to resentment among villagers. Many gram panchayats have passed resolutions against land acquisition.
“Replies to RTI queries about the project are vague. People don’t know how much land, and whose farms will go. The public hearing was a farce and officials could not answer questions posed by villagers,” said advocate Bhardwaj L Chowdhury, who has lost his land to infrastructure projects in the past.
Advocate Bhardwaj L Chowdhury said: “The two public hearings, held on May 2 and June 2, finished abruptly, with officials assuring to provide more details on social impact assessment. We are still waiting for it. They circulated a 12-page brief which contained no information.”
One-third of affected people are BPL families
The project is giving sleepless nights to over 5,400 people, one-third of them living below the poverty line. Many of them stand to lose either land holdings or houses. The proposed corridor traverses through small villages and paddy fields in Maharashtra and those falling under the fruit belt in south Gujarat.
This correspondent also faced a similar situation as emails to the NHSRCL went unanswered.
However, the Japan International Cooperation Agency responded to queries.
“Land acquisition will need to comply with the JICA guidelines,” it said to a query on the protests. The JICA added that it was “not aware of the delay in land acquisition at this point”. Regarding written representation about grievances, the Japanese funding agency said: “We have responded to whatever query given in writing to the sender of the letter.”
In Gujarat, the only major difference is a change in landholdings — small plots cultivated by tribals give way to big farmlands.
Concerns related to land acquisition are more or less similar. The project is likely to impact 163 villages in eight districts of the state.
Billimora, where one of the 12 train stations will come up, is known for mango and sapota (‘chikoo’) farming. Villagers are clueless as to why a station is planned in the midst of fertile agricultural land at Kesli village in Navsari district, which is far away from the industrial area and 7-8 km away from National Highway-8.
“We all are tense and remain alert to track any team that comes for the survey. The land is our only source of income. Our forefathers have lived here for ages. We are farmers and if they take our land, where will we get it. The price they are offering is the official market rate, which is several times lesser than actual market rates,” said Dharmesh Patel, a Kesli resident who is set to lose seven acres of land on which stands his house and farm.