Bullet train "not feasible": To cost whopping Rs 212 crore per km; Indian railways modernization Rs 9 crore per km

By Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant*
Let us make this clear atthe very outset: We are supporters of the public train transport system. Our objection to the Bullet Train project is not an objection against 'train' but we are against the bullet, which is symbol of violence.
The Bullet Train's bullet is targeting fertile lands, environment, water sources, livelihood, biodiversity, economics, sensible priorities for the public transportation, environment laws of land, and the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
More importantly, it targets democratic processes and common sense for the needs of contemporary and emerging New India.
The Feasibility Report for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR) of the Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA) and the Ministry of Railways, Government of India, is more about justifying the project rather than seriously considering its thorough and honest social and environment impact assessments as well as viability and need for the project. Even as per their own report, the bullet is going to pass through reserved forests, mangroves and around 80,000 trees will be felled, and it is going to adversely affect the water sources and biodiversity of the entire corridor and its context.
Despite all this, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) of the Government of India is not involved in the project's environmental and social impacts assessment proceedings.
The representatives of the foreign government body, in this case JICA -- with which Modi government signed MoU for the Bullet Train project -- are found sitting in district and town level public environment consultations with local Indian authorities. This is unprecedented, especially when the MoEFCC, which should be legally part of this process, is instead completely missing from the consultations the projects proceedings.
Why is the MoEFCC absent and a foreign government agency is participating in environment consultation? If the ongoing environmental consultation accepts the need for environmental concerns, then why have the environmental laws of India and the MoEFCC have no role in the process? Have the MoEFCC and the environmental laws of the land been mortgaged to the JICA?
Presently, the Indian rail network is stretched along 67,368 Kilometres, with more than 13,000 passenger trains and 9,200 freight trains. Daily 15,561,613 passengers use the services. Between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, presently, 76 trains run daily and average 400,000 passengers use it on daily basis. 
According to the Government of India's study, Rs. 5,60,596 crore are required to be spent across ten years for the modernization of rail network, i.e. approximately Rs 9 crore to modernize each km of rail network. On the other hand, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train will cost Rs 212 crore per km.
It is not clear that the bullet train will, in any make, augment indigenous public transport technology, nor that it will in any way benefit the Indian industry or common people. It took 50 years for the first bullet train in Japan to mark a breakeven. The cost will only increase the per capita debt burden, and it will also make it difficult for the Indian Railways to manage its priorities and economics.
Presently, the Indian government is promoting waterways and air travel. It is establishing airports in two tier towns. All major cities including, Ahmedabad and Mumbai, are now well connected with air network. In addition to air travel, there are both national highways and express highways between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. In addition, work is in progress for the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC). Why then is the Bullet Train given such a priority and made out to be a prestigious proposition? There are other ways to benefit from Japan-India friendship and socio-economic cooperation.
A simple calculation proves that the Bullet Train project makes neither economic sense nor puts on priority the pressing multi-modal public transport needs, with last mile connectivity and appropriate and complementary land use planning that will benefit all, in the emerging New India.
In light of all the above, it is apparent that a sincere rethink of the project, with authentic and accountable stakeholders participation, is urgently needed.
Many more such questions need answers from the Modi Government. Let the Modi government first clarify the questions raised here before taking any further action for the implementation of the bullet.
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*Environment activists, Gujarat

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