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Anti-bullet train campaign: Opposition parties seek "personal hearing" with Japanese funding agency

Modi with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe
Counterview Desk
The Bhumi Adhikar Andolan (BAA), in alliance with 12 representatives of major Indian political parties, have submitted a memorandum to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is funding Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train Project, claiming that farmers, Adivasis and other affected communities want the project to be scrapped, as it is being implemented alleged through coercion and impingement on their democratic rights.
Coming close on the heels of Modi's meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister in Tokyo, the memorandum says that the Modi government is attracting foreign investment for the project by diluting the law to acquire land, denying the consent and social impact assessment provisions, which are laid in the central land acquisition act of 2013. Even after being tagged as a national project, th state laws are being used to subvert the democratic rights of people of Gujarat and Maharashtra state using powers of majority in Gujarat assembly, it adds.
Sent to Shinichi Kitaoka, President, JICA, as also Junichi Yamada, board member incharge of South Asia, the memorandum has been endorsed by DP Tripathi (Nationalist Congress Party), Danish Ali (Janta Dal- Secular), Somnath Bharti (Aam Aadmi Party), Manishankar Aiyar (Indian National Congress), Nawalkishore (Rashtriya Janta Dal), Javed Ali (Samajwadi Party), Raagesh (Communist Party of India-Marxist), D Raja (Communist Party of India), Raju Shetty (Shetkari Swabhiman Sangathana), VM Singh (Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan), Prem Singh (Communist Party of India-ML), and Dr Suraj Yadav (Loktantrik Janata Dal).

Text of the memorandum:

The affected farmers, adivasis (indigenous people) and other affected persons came together today in Delhi at a Jan Manch (peoples’ forum) jointly organised with Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan (a group of organisations working on land and livelihood rights of people) at Mavlankar Hall, Constitution Club, Rafi Marg, New Delhi.
Political parties viz. – Indian National Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Samajwadi Party, Janta Dal (Secular), Rashtriya Janata Dal, Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India(M), Communist Party of India (ML), Aam Aadmi Party, Janata Dal (Loktantrik), SUCI, Swabhiman Shetkari Sanghatana, Rshtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, were represented by their senior members.
During the Jan Manch affected people presented their concerns and experiences regarding implementation of the Mumbai – Ahmedabad High Speed Railway project (popularly known as Bullet Train).
The major issues highlighted during the Jan Manch were that the JICA guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations are being consistently flouted by the project implementers. As per the said Guidelines, JICA is to assure fairness to the socially vulnerable, reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, reduce the gap among various regions, ensure democratic decision making and information transparency and most importantly, respect for human rights. However, all these are being violated as listed below:
1. The acquisition of land for the Project is taking place forcibly and thus by disregarding the Human rights of the affected population. The excessive use of police force at all levels – during consultations, during land measurement surveys, discussions etc. vitiates the atmosphere and puts tremendous pressure on the affected population.
2. In Maharashtra, despite the stated position that land will be obtained only through a process of mutual negotiation and that joint measurement of land will take place only after the affected person assents in writing, in reality, a process of forcible take-over is taking place. In Village Kotbi (Palghar district), Notices for Joint Survey of land were issued to people on 5/10/2018 despite the fact that most of them had not given their consent in writing for the same.
3. The JICA guidelines with respect to Indigenous Peoples are being violated. The JICA guidelines specifically mention that the rights of the Indigenous People in relation to land and resources in accordance with the spirit of the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples shall be respected. Art 10 of the Declaration states that Indigenous People shall not be forcibly removed from their land. Whatever be the reason, no relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous People concerned. Also, viable Alternatives are to be explored. However, all these safeguards are being violated in the Scheduled Area (predominantly inhabited by indigenous people) through which the Bullet Train passes. India may not be a signatory to the UN Declaration, but for JICA, failing to fulfill the provisions of the UN Declaration is a non-negotiable.
4. Environmental and Social Consultations as mandated by the JICA guidelines are carried out in a manner as to ensure that people are unable to participate in an informed manner:
  • The consultations are announced at a very short notice to the concerned stakeholders. The advance notice period has varied from 24 hours (1 day) to a few weeks.
  • There is no coherent approach to announcement of stakeholder consultations. At times they are announced for district level and sometimes they are conducted at Taluka levels.
  • There is no clarification to the stakeholders invited to the consultation whether they should represent on Social concerns or on Environmental issues. In fact, purposely confusions are created. Different public advertisements are published by NHRSCL at same venue and same timing, but for different purpose.
  • In case of Environmental Consultations the Supplementary EIA copies are kept for public viewing at different places which are hundreds of kms away at offices of NHRSCL. The nearest place is the District Collector office, which in some cases is about 30 kms away. Even these were not made available during consultations in most districts of Gujarat.
  • Most of the reports are available in the English language, while they should be made available in the local vernacular language for the public to be able to read through and understand, and subsequently participate through an informed representation.
  • Farmers/ affected indigenous population (who are mostly illiterate or semi-literate) are disallowed to raise questions/queries.
  • Environmental activists/experts are deliberately shunned out of the consultation venue with use of police force. This is violation of basic human rights of the people. And stakeholders are left with no choice to consult or assist during the consultation.
  • Even farmers and local civil society organisations and other social/environment groups are kept out of the process.
  • Elected representatives who can potentially raise uncomfortable queries regarding the project are man-handled and taken away before the start of consultations. The Surat consultation is one such example.
  • The queries raised during the consultations are very casually addressed and there is no written response to the submissions or oral queries raised at the consultations.
  • The minutes of the consultations are yet to be made public. Neither has the video documentation been made public. These are necessary for a transparent process. Letters seeking copies of the minutes are yet to be responded to.
  • In Maharashtra the consultations on 2/5/2018 and 2/6/2018 in Palghar district were organised but cancelled by the district administration itself due to lack of proper organising and non-availability of necessary information/documents respectively NO consultation has been held subsequently. However, the district administration has sent a report to the concerned authorities that the Public Hearing has been completed. This is a blatant lie and misrepresentation of facts.
  • As if it was not enough the recent announcement for the Stakeholder consultations for districts of Navsari and Valsad (both in the state of Gujarat), went one step further. They published invitation in local newspapers for the Consultations specifically mentions that ‘unauthorized people would not be allowed at the consultation’. We fail to understand what criteria are prescribed under JICA guidelines to segregate attending stakeholders into authorized and unauthorized categories.
  • From the manner in which the stakeholder consultations are conducted it appears that these are just paper arrangements, with no serious concern to the society and environment seems that in the case of these consultations for the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail project, Participation, Transparency, Respect for basic Human Rights of people etc. are just words to be bandied around, but not seriously considered.
  • Trampling of basic Human Rights through police force seems to be a part and parcel of the conducting of stakeholder consultations.
  • It be noted that at several places due to the apprehensions of affected people arising out of the high-handed and opaque functioning for the consultation the atmosphere was vitiated, and the consultations had to be postponed/rescheduled.
5. JICA’s guidelines also lay down that the intervention must reduce the gap between rich and poor and among various regions. We fail to understand how this is being addressed through this Project. The Bullet train will be accessed by only a miniscule percentage of the entire population. The needs of the poor and the middle class will not be met by the bullet train. In fact, the opportunity cost of the expense incurred on the Bullet Train, will impact the availability of funds for social sector spending in the field of health, education etc. The transportation needs of the poor and the middle class will be met if the large outlay on the Bullet Train will be used for the modernization of the present rail system including increasing safety standards and improving facilities. Regional imbalances are not being reduced by the Bullet Train either.
6. The JICA guidelines state that JICA will actively support projects that promote environmental conservation and to projects that contribute to global environment eg. attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the claim that the Bullet train will be “clean and green” has also not been substantiated in the light of “embedded emissions” of CO2 and other pollutants, energy-intensive machinery and construction, per-passenger-km energy consumption etc.
The Jan Manch today resolved to continue its opposition to the proposed Bullet Train project. All the attending political parties who came to show their support and solidarity with farmers, indigenous people and other project affected people have endorsed their support to the affected population
We request a personal hearing from the JICA team at the earliest.

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