Bullet Train Project- Maha Guv Rejects State Govt’s Request to Acquire Land in Palghar
Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has reportedly declined the Uddhav Thackeray-led state government’s request to give exemptions sought from mandatory approvals from eight gram sabhas to take possession of grazing land in Palghar district for Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s ambitious bullet train project.
The land covering eight villages fall in the project plan and are regulated under the Panchayats Extension of Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act. As per the PESA Act, Gram Sabhas or Panchayats at the appropriate level shall be consulted before making the acquisition of land in the scheduled areas for development projects and before settling or rehabilitating persons affected by such projects.
Quoting the officials confirming the development, Hindustan Times reported that the Maharashtra revenue department had requested Governor Koshyari to add a provision in PESA Act that important projects of the government like this bullet train or any other be excused from the process, but it was not approved by him.
Nitin Kareer, additional chief secretary, revenue department told HT that the exemption request was given on March 6, 2019 to the Governor, following an appeal made by the National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) to ramp up the acquisition process. ‘The proposal was not approved by the Governor. Now, meetings of the gram sabhas have been scheduled for the same to complete the process. I was told meetings of some gram sabhas were scheduled on August 15 and the proposal may have been discussed there,” he was quoted as saying
HT tried to contact Santosh Kumar, secretary to the Governor, for an official statement but he didn’t respond to calls or messages.
Another senior official explained that in a meeting which was held on October 22, 2019, the Governor had expressed his disapproval of giving exemption and had suggested the Maharashtra government to give compensatory land to the gram sabhas against the acquisition of grazing land.
‘This is because grazing land is very important for the villages. People living in scheduled areas are too poor and their livelihood depends upon grazing land. If there is no land available then they should be compensated as per norms. The governor also suggested checking with the Gujarat government how they resolved issues related to PESA areas, in case alignment, is passing through such areas,” the official was quoted as saying by HT.
Meanwhile, other officials have said that the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, which is scheduled to be completed by December 2023, may fail to meet its deadline due to the coronavirus pandemic that has led to delays in opening tenders and land acquisition. The NHSRCL has already acquired 63 per cent of the land for the project — about 77 per cent land in Gujarat, 80 per cent in Dadar Nagar Haveli and 22 per cent in Maharashtra. Officials said there are still issues in acquiring land in areas like Palghar in Maharashtra and Navsari in Gujarat.
Last year, the company had floated nine civil work tenders which could not be opened because of the coronavirus pandemic, officials said. ‘Because of Covid we had to postpone the opening of a few of the tenders. It is difficult to assess the impact of the pandemic on the project as it is still continuing. We cannot say how the pandemic will affect the project as I don’t know how long it will last,” NHSRCL MD Achal Khare said.
Officially, the NHSRCL spokesperson maintained that the deadline for the project remained 2023. One of the civil work contracts for construction of stations, bridges, viaducts, maintenance depots, and tunnels across the network is to the tune of Rs 20,000 crore. Tenders for civil works for 345 kms out of 508 kms alignment, or 68 per cent of civil works, have already been floated. This includes six MAHSR stations (including one underground station in Mumbai). The works related to utility diversion are progressing well and the construction of Sabarmati passenger hub (a multi modal hub) in Sabarmati, Gujarat has also started. The hostel building of High Speed Training Institute (which is presently being used for Covid patients) and training tracks in Vadodara are also completed.
The 508.17-kilometre long network will pass through three districts in Maharashtra (Mumbai, Thane, and Palghar) and eight districts in Gujarat (Valsad, Navsari, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Kheda, and Ahmedabad). Apart from land acquisition, another major cause for delay could be cost escalation owing to a fall in the rupee against the Japanese yen. The total cost of the project is pegged at Rs 1.08 lakh crore and as per the shareholding pattern, the Government of India is to pay Rs 10,000 crore to the NHSRCL, while the two states involved, Gujarat and Maharashtra, are to pay Rs 5,000 crore each. The rest is to be paid by Japan through a loan at 0.1 per cent interest.
One section of the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high-speed rail corridor is likely to be tendered out within three months after nearly 90 per cent of the land acquisition for the project is completed, an official said.
The bullet train project has already faced stiff opposition from farmers and tribals whose lands are to be acquired.
The introduction of bullet train is expected to mark the country’s shift to an era of high-speed trains capable of hitting a speed of up to 350 km per hour.
Of the 508.17-km-long bullet train corridor, 155.76 km will be in Maharashtra, 348.04 km in Gujarat and 4.3 km in Dadra and Nagar Haveli.
(with inputs from PTI)
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