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.
SURAT/PALGHAR: Bypassing the consent clause under the Land Acquisition Act and a strategic silence by the authorities despite court notices are distinct patterns that emerge when one scrutinises the bullet train project in Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The Gujarat Khedut Samaj, a farmers’ outfit with five lakh members, has approached the high court challenging the state government’s amendment of Section 10A of the Act that exempts the project from social impact assessment. In neighbouring Maharashtra, tribals are thinking of doing likewise.
In the last hearing on September 18, the Gujarat High Court asked the Centre to submit its affidavit in reply to the farmers’ petitions by September 26, else it might provide interim relief to the petitioners.
“The case has been going on for the last two months, but the Centre has remained silent. During one hearing, the additional solicitor general said the reply has been sent to the PMO for approval and will be submitted in court thereafter,” said Jayesh Patel, president, Gujarat Khedut Samaj.
This delay is despite the fact that the Supreme Court directed the high court to expedite hearing as the Gujarat government has initiated the process of land acquisition. “We have again approached the SC regarding the Centre’s delay in filing its reply, which is slowing the high court hearing even as land acquisition process in going at a fast pace. Hearing is likely to come up this week,” said Patel.
About 1,000 farmers filed affidavits against land acquisition and some wrote to the Japan International Cooperation Agency about their grievances. Now, JICA has refused to release further installments of funds for the project till farmers’ issues are resolved.
“In 2015, you enter into a contract with Japan and assure to abide by JICA guidelines, but eight months later you introduce a state legislation diametrically opposite to the very guidelines, and the President gives assent,” said advocate Anandvardhan Yagnik, who is representing the Samaj.
“In the name of the President, the Government of India entered into a contract which contains terms and legislation in consonance with the Central legislation. But later, without changing the terms and conditions of the national contract, you (Gujarat) are changing the state legislation.”
In Maharashtra, Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao issued a similar notification in November 2017, diluting the gram sabha’s consent, saying it was no longer needed for the purchase of tribal-owned land by the state government for vital projects of public interest.
The result: Gram panchayats in 14 of 16 tribal villages in Dahanu tehsil of Palghar district have passed resolutions against land acquisition.
The Gujarat and Maharashtra governments, however, disagree with the farmers and the tribals. While the Gujarat government told the high court that there was no opposition and farmers were willing to give up their land, the Maharashtra government said it was trying to build a consensus on the matter.
Several tribal outfits, meanwhile, are quietly organising themselves for a protracted struggle. Recently, a meeting was held in Dahanu, where about 100 people gathered at the office of the Kashtakari Sanghathana, an umbrella organisation working with the tribals, and discussed ways to protect their land. The CPI(M)-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha’s chief, Ashok Dhawale, was present in the meeting.
“It is not an issue of land acquisition, but resources being spent on a project that is not important for the masses. This project will become a white elephant,” said Brian Lobo of the Kashtakari Sanghathana.
Under the provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, tribal communities have the right to decide on development in their areas. Their consent is mandatory if land is to be taken.
“We have thrown away and burned the chip put for GPS marking by the authorities. We don’t let survey officials enter our village. There is no question of compensation as we don’t want to give our land. The land is our mother, and we don’t sell our mother,” said Anil Zhirwa of Uplat village.
For many labourers, the individual piece of land or house they live in is their only possession. Kanku Ben Ishwar Dhodi of Bori Gaon in Vapi district, a labourer in a sugarcane field, is worried as her house is all set to be razed. “We are emotionally attached to this place. The money we earn from working in the field suffices to get us two square meals a day. Where will we go if this is gone?” said the 70-year-old.
Visits to district collectors, MPs and members of the legislative Assembly are useless. “They told us that they can’t intervene as it is a dream project of the PM, and it is directly being monitored by the PMO. Even senior officers tell us unofficially that they are just being given orders to follow from Delhi. We don’t know where to go and whom to approach,” said Dr Ibrahim Dalba, a general medical practitioner and a resident of Kathor village in Surat.
In Kathor, about 200 residential houses will be demolished to construct an elevated track for the project. Some temples and a Muslim burial ground also fall on the proposed route. Even gods and the dead are unlikely to remain untouched here.