Skip to main content

Bullet train: Govt of India "ignores" Japanese investor JICA's guidelines on social, environmental impact

By Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant*
The Japanese government investors, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), signatory to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of India (GoI) for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Project (MAHSR), popularly known as Bullet Train Project, in its documents has repeatedly stressed on environmental and social impacts, which must be followed for ensuring assistance in the form of technical cooperation, loan, or grant aid for the projects funded by it.
While the final responsibility for environmental and social considerations for projects lies with the project proponents, JICA lays down certain crucial baseline principles as also a set of guidelines for environmental and social considerations that need to be followed for execution of projects by host country governments, including local governments, borrowers, etc.
If during the execution JICA finds that relevant environmental and social impacts have not been considered in letter or spirit, it will withdraw loan aid, grant aid, or technical support to the project.
There has been much debate about how the Bullet Train Project violates the Indian Constitution, laws, and due processes. At the same time, JICA guidelines for investing in international projects are also being violated as much, if not more. And, to no one’s surprise, these violations are by the GoI and its agencies responsible for carrying out the MAHSR.
The violations are in public domain and known to almost everyone who cares to know. The concerned authorities might have some “explanations” and “excuses” to offer, but they cannot deny certain facts and ground realities.
It is also pertinent to note that the Japan’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) Charter, August 2003 assures fairness and attention to environmental and social impacts while contributing to sustainable development in developing countries.
At the onset, JICA guidelines state: “Japan’s ODA Charter states that in formulating and implementing assistance policies, Japan will take steps to assure fairness. This will be achieved by giving consideration to the conditions of the socially vulnerable and to the gap between rich and poor, as well as the gaps among various regions in developing countries.”
In the absence of such considerations, can JICA offer other sustainable and financially viable options to the Bullet Train? The project proposal submitted to JICA by MAHSR justifies the need for a Bullet Train Project over other inter-regional and multi-modal transit options.
The bullet train route
If such a need study exists, then has it been put in the public domain and discussed with the stakeholders? The Bullet Train venture has been promoted in spite of existing reports calling for the strengthening and upgrading the existing rail system, which have been postponed due to lack of resources.
The JICA Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations explicitly state the significance of environmental and social considerations in extending its support and aid towards any project in a developing country. At various stages in the process, right from inception to implementation, the guidelines clearly and repeatedly suggest ways and means to communicate, incorporate, and mitigate environmental and social considerations and impacts.
In doing so, JICA endeavors to ensure transparency, predictability, and accountability in its support for examination of environmental and social considerations. JICA has a policy of actively supporting the enhancement of environmental and social considerations in developing countries, to achieve its goal JICA provides support to the project proponents in a number of ways to help them abide by its set guidelines.
However, it is clear that there are discrepancies, deviations, and violations observed during the Bullet Train Project planning and decision making process. The following is sections and points highlight and give details of the same.
JICA guidelines commit to the establishment of an Advisory Committee for Environmental and Social Considerations as an independent body comprising of external experts having the necessary knowledge to provide advice regarding support for and examinations of the environmental and social considerations of cooperation projects.
JICA reports to this committee and seeks advice as needed for the environmental and social monitoring of the project. Meetings of the advisory committee are open to the public and minutes of each meeting are duly prepared and disclosed to public.
There has not been an announcement of such an advisory body in the public domain. If this body exists, then details of members, their expertise and deliberations are not available for reference by the stakeholders. No information regarding the meetings is available on websites, nor have minutes been made public.
The Guidelines clearly state that adequate information needs to be provided by project proponents in order for JICA to assess impacts on the environment and local communities. JICA not only assists project proponents to help with this disclosure but JICA itself also discloses information on environmental and social considerations in collaboration with project proponents, in order to ensure accountability and to promote the participation of various stakeholders.
The main project proponent, the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL), a joint venture of the GoI, bears the ultimate responsibility of environmental and social considerations for the project and must disclose all information about the same to JICA as well as to all the stakeholders in public domain.
Gujarat's rural poor: Stakeholders whose view has been ignored
The response by JICA to the reports prepared by the project proponents is not available in the public domain. Hence, there is no transparency in the process of planning and decision-making.
The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment reports of 2010 do not address majority of these factors. Surprisingly, in the Joint Feasibility Study for Mumbai Ahmedabad High Speed Railway Corridor, July 2015, prepared by JICA and Ministry of Railway, Government of India, four chapters -- Chapter 12 - Project Cost of the High-speed Railway System, Chapter 13 - Project Implementation Plan, Chapter - 14 Project Scheme Financial Option, and Chapter 15 - Economic and Financial Analysis -- are missing for reasons best known to them.
Though JICA begins reviewing the project through information disclosed by the project proponents, when necessary it consults with the proponents to conduct field surveys and such and also applies a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) while working out the Preparatory Survey. All final drafts are duly disclosed on its website promptly after completion.
Specifically for Category A projects (Bullet Train falls in this category), whenever JICA concludes preparatory surveys, the final reports and equivalent documents are disclosed on its website. These have not been made public.
As per the guidelines, alternatives to the Bullet Train Project are also to be presented, but details of the same are not available, at least in public domain either in any of JICA’s or GoI’s public document.
Project proponents are supposed to disclose all information well in advance of the meetings with local stakeholders in cooperation with JICA. To achieve this, JICA supports project proponents in the preparation of documents in an official or widely used language and in a form understandable by local people. In response to third party requests, JICA ensures fair disclosure by providing all information related to environmental and social considerations.
In stark contrast to the JICA mandate, the Joint Feasibility Study for Mumbai Ahmedabad High Speed Railway Corridor, July 2015, remains unavailable in Gujarati and Marathi, the primary languages of the affected stakeholders, even on the JICA website.
Additionally, the subsequent impacts of projects, as well as impacts associated with indivisible projects, will also need to be assessed with regard to environmental and social considerations, so far as it is rational. The life cycle impacts of a project period are also to be considered. This information and consideration is also not available in public domain.
---
*Excerpts from paper by Gujarat's senior environmental activists. Contact:  rohit.prajapati@gmail.com, tokrishnakant@gmail.com. Click HERE to read the full paper 

Comments

Uma said…
This project is obviously a matter of personal prestige for the PM and he is not going to give up no matter what the consequences are.

TRENDING

Why do I lend my support to voices protesting world class renovation of Gandhi Ashram?

By Martin Macwan* One would not expect an activist working on Dalit rights to join such a protest. Dalits carry unhealed trauma that Gandhi caused to Dr BR Ambedkar and the Dalit cause of effective political representation by using violent means of his own definition in the event of the Poona Pact. This apart, Gandhi’s ideas in general, which changed often, on caste were orthodox. I have nothing to add to the subject after the sharpest critique offered by Dr Ambedkar.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Inaccurate gender-relevant data 'spoiling' government policy on Covid social impact

By Simi Mehta*  The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been different across vulnerable groups. They were hit by the pandemic at various stages, whether it was accessibility to medical treatment or financial support. The second wave witnessed human suffering at a level where one can never forget the traumatized faces of people due to the inaccessibility and unavailability of essential medical services such as hospitals beds and oxygen. The probability of the third wave has also been one of the major upcoming challenges.

Flamboyant 'demagogues' adjust politics, personality in shadow of democracy

Modi, Erdogan, Bolsonaro By Ajit Singh The terms dictators and demagogues are used interchangeably in various contexts, but there is a difference. The former rule over a totalitarian states where governments are able to exercise complete influence over every aspect of citizens’ life, whereas the latter are a "wannabe dictators" but due to the system of checks and balances they are are not fully capable to create police states.

Vindictive raids? Centre 'retaliates' after Delhi govt child rights body's clean chit to ex-babu

By Our Representative  Over 700 academics, advocates, activists, civil servants, writers, film makers, journalists, musicians and artists have condemned the raids by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on the offices and private home of top IAS bureaucrat-turned-human rights and peace activist Harsh Mander, stating, the aim is nothing but to “harass and intimidate” him.

Protests break out as school going children 'branded Naxalites, taken prisoners'

By Sheshu Babu* Conditions in all spheres of life is going from bad to worse. On September 13, Political Prisoners' Day was observed. On that day, Jatin Das, friend of Bhagat Singh and member of the Hindustan Republican Socialist Association, passed away after 63 days of hunger strike. He demanded 'political prisoners' status to those who have been jailed by the state.

Celebrating birthday amidst image of 'coerced, submissive' India ruled by a strong leader

Pushkar Raj*  As the weeks long birthday festivity of the leadership was being rejoiced India wide, the Covid was still raging in several parts of India. The carnival was in line with the post-Covid decisions and actions of the leadership demonstrating a pursuit of personal power and glory instead of national interest in times of disease and death.

Catholic women warn: Kerala Bishop turning Church into puppet in political games

Counterview Desk A group of Catholic women under the banner Concerned Catholic Women of India has said that they are deeply concerned over "a bishop’s controversial statement" which may threaten communal harmony in India. As many as 89 Catholic women from across India have urged the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and its Kerala unit to take special steps to "foster peace and avoid strife."

Politically-motivated: Global NGO network on ED 'harassment' of Harsh Mander

Counterview Desk  CIVICUS , a top global alliance of civil society organisations seeking to strengthen citizen action and civil society around the world with a claimed membership of more than 10,000, objecting to the alleged harassment of IAS bureaucrat-turned-human rights activist Harsh Mander by the Government in India, has said that the the the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raid on his house and office highlights “an ongoing pattern of baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges brought by the authorities against activists across India”.