Skip to main content

Bullet train: Just one hectare acquired out of 1,400 ha required for the massive project

By Mahesh Trivedi*
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been shouting from rooftops that the 750-seat, 10-coach, 350-km-an hour train linking India’s financial capital Mumbai with Ahmedabad, the largest city of his home state of Gujarat, will cover the 508-km elevated rail line in two hours flat even after halting at 12 stations and will benefit well-heeled textile traders, diamond merchants and other professionals shuttling between the two metros.
However, more than a year after it was rolled off, India’s Rs 1.1-trillion ambitious high-speed bullet train project is chugging along at a snail’s pace, with shortage of funds and farmers’ protests now threatening to derail the country’s first cannonball express.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which vowed to bankroll 80% – about Rs 880 billion – of the total cost has so far shelled out the first instalment of only Rs 55 billion, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned from the Land of the Rising Sun on October 29 after a desperate attempt to ensure the second tranche of the 50-year, 0.1% interest soft loan.
Neither the Union Ministry of Railways nor the governments of the two neighboring states controlled by BJP have coughed up a single rupee for his 24-train dream project under which 18 low-noise, aerodynamically-designed trains based on the Shinkansen technology will be imported from Japan while he wants the remaining six trains manufactured under the Make-in-India program.
No wonder, though railway officials are sweating and slaving to complete the project before the 2023 deadline, they now feel that only a 200-km stretch would be made operational by then to keep the promise made to the people.
To add to their woes, Modi, in a bid to make political capital out of the faster and more comfortable high-tech train ahead of the crucial 2019 general elections, advanced the launch date by a year to have it coincide with 75 years of Indian independence on August 15, 2022, saying the crackerjack Indian engineers will pick up the gauntlet.

Farmers protest

Meanwhile, 8,000-odd angry farmers and landowners affected by the project have put a spoke in the wheel of the train by refusing to sell their land, demanding a better compensation and complaining about human rights violation and environmental damage, and are bent on soon presenting their gravamina before JICA officials.
After all, the bullet train will pass through 1,400 hectares of land in 312 villages of Gujarat and Maharashtra, take over 866 hectares of fertile farmland, dissect multiple reserved forests, and cut down some 86,000 trees.
Not surprisingly, about 1,200 sons of the soil have submitted affidavits in the Gujarat High Court saying they do not intend to part with their land for the project. Not long ago, ryots from Surat, Valsad and Navsari districts in Gujarat filed 40 more petitions in the same court challenging the process of land acquisition.
What’s more, irate tribals, farmers and fishermen living in hamlets around Maharashtra’s Palghar town near Mumbai on October 28 held out a threat that officials attempting to enter their villages would be tied to trees, sending shivers down the spine of bureaucrats. The result is that the authorities have been able to acquire hardly one hectare of the 1,400 hectares required for the massive project.
While many say that the high-end train will be out of the reach of the masses and will isolate the middle class and poor sections of society, others pointed out that by snatching away prime fertile land, the Modi regime is compromising on the country’s food security.
Senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia told this reporter that instead of squandering Rs 1.1 trillion for providing comfort to 4,500 rich commuters, the government should invest the funds for offering better services to the 9,000 million ordinary passengers who travelled by trains every year, adding that evolving technology would cut travel time and obviate the need for acquiring new land.
“The Indian Railways are doing well by speeding up 400 trains in the last four years and converting 120 trains to superfast expresses. So, a bullet train is a wrong priority and a poor country like India does not need one,” he asserted.
Indeed, the growth in domestic air traffic, decrease in jet fuel and improvement in technology have already brought air fares down and the fares for a Mumbai-Ahmedabad flight may go down to below to Rs 3,000, which will be lower than or on a par with the proposed price of Rs 3,000 for the bullet train.
Radheshyam Goswami, a senior journalist and former member of a railway users’ consultative committee, opined that the bullet train was a total waste of money, arguing that by 2023 when the so-called supersonic train would be operational, people would prefer to travel by airplanes with less time and money.
In sum, the National Transport Development Policy Committee had recommended a semi-high speed rail (160-200 kmph) till the time the high-speed rail projects are found commercially justified, and scholars of Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad had concluded that 100 daily trips at full occupancy would be required with a fare of Rs 5,000 between Ahmedabad and Mumbai to make the bullet train financially viable.
But an arrogant Modi wanting to talk about the project till he hits the campaign trail next year has decided to wink at these two important suggestions.
---
*Senior Ahmedabad-based journalist. A version of this article first appeared here

Comments

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.

Iswarchandra Vidyasagar was a 'frustrated' reformer who turned into a conservative

By Bhaskar Sur "If someone says the Manusamhita was written by all wise Manu and the principal scripture of the land and if he asks me to throw it away, I'll say it is nothing short of atrocious audacity." -- Iswarchandra Vidyasagar

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".

Odisha bauxite mining project to 'devastate' life of 2,500 Adivasi, Dalit farmers: NAPM

Counterview Desk  While the public hearing on mining in Mali hills has been cancelled due to protests by Adivasi and Dalit farmers of the Mali Parbat Surakhya Samiti, Odisha, who have been protesting against the proposed bauxite mining project, India’s top civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has said it is “deeply concerned” at the decision of the Government of Odisha to push the project in a Schedule-V Adivasi-belt Koraput district against the interests of the people and environment.

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.

2002 riots: Gujarat assembly 'misinformed' about dereliction of duty, says ex-DGP

By Rajiv Shah  Former Gujarat topcop RB Sreekumar, an IPS officer of the 1971 batch, has alleged that the Gujarat government gave “totally false information” on the floor of the State Assembly regarding the appeal he made to the Gujarat governor for the “initiation of departmental action against those responsible for culpable negligence in maintenance of public order and investigation of genocidal crimes” during the 2002 riots.

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.

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.

'Devastating impact': Rural workers suffer as Govt of India NREGA budget down by 34%

Counterview Desk  A civil rights group, the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha has sent a letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj stating that 34 per cent decrease in the fiscal budget of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) for year 2021-22 has added to woes on India’s rural population, already suffering from “devastating impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic.