While Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray recently called the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project a “white elephant”, and ministers and officials of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government indicated there was little chance of the state fulfilling its commitment towards the ambitious railway project, The Indian Express has learnt that the government is making arrangements to acquire land for the proposed high-speed rail corridor.
In the last week of June, the Palghar district administration finalised a draft rehabilitation and resettlement scheme for 2,177 families that would be affected by the project that, when implemented, will pass through the district. Under the railways-JICA agreement for the project, the two state governments’ —Gujarat and Maharashtra — investment in the Rs 1.1 lakh crore project is via land acquisition.
The draft plan was shared by Palghar district collector Dr Kailash Shinde — he is the chairman of the rehabilitation and resettlement committee set up as per provision of RFCTLARR Act 2013 — with the local MP, five MLAs and 33 sarpanches of the affected villages and with others on June 22 asking them to submit their suggestions and objections by July 5.
Shinde told The Indian Express “nothing had come to his notice”about the government reviewing or putting the acquisition on hold, and said he was purely going by the rules.
“The rehabilitation and resettlement plan has to be prepared within one year of publication of the notice for land acquisition. It was published in August last year. The components of the plan, houses that will be affected, compensation to be given were discussed in the meeting with the members of the committee,” Shinde said.
The district collector-helmed committee is tasked with monitoring and reviewing the progress of implementation of the rehabilitation and resettlement scheme and to carry out post-implementation social audits in consultation with gram sabhas in rural areas and municipalities in urban areas.
Officials said since the elected representatives did not submit any suggestions and objections, a meeting was convened through video-conferencing with the local MP, MLAs and sarpanches of the affected villages on July 13 to discuss the draft scheme.
With 155.76 km of the 530-km corridor in Maharashtra, the state has to acquire 273.79 hectares of the total 1,400 hectares required for the project in the Dahanu-Palghar-Talasari belt.
In the video-conference, the majority of the elected representatives expressed their opposition to the land acquisition and to the rehabilitation and resettlement scheme, said officials.
Vinod Nikole, CPI(M)’s MLA from Dahanu, took objection to the meeting and expressed opposition to the project citing the prevalent pandemic. “During the Covid-19 pandemic, the industries have shut down their units rendering many people jobless. The pandemic has underlined the importance of agriculture, which is the only source of livelihood for tribals in the district. How long will the money received as compensation for the land last,” asked Nikole, adding that the expenditure on the bullet train should be used to modernise and strengthen the existing railway network. As details of the draft plan have become public, there is new unrest in Palghar’s tribal villages who have been opposed to the proposed acquisition of their land and houses from the beginning. The Shiv Sena, though part of the previous BJP-led government which had given its assent to the high-speed train corridor, had joined the people’s protests then.
The people in these villages had assumed that with the Shiv Sena in power, the acquisition would not take place. Indeed, Shiv Sena MP for Palghar Rajendra Gavit still voices his opposition to the project.
“Many projects including highways, railway projects, bullet train and Wadhawan port are going through the Palghar district. This has created confusion among the farmers in the district about whether any land will be left with them. So, the people are opposing the project and we are with the people,” said Gavit.
Raghunath Sutar, a resident of Sakhare village, whose house is situated on the land to be acquired, said he does not want to give his house or land for the project. “We don’t want to give anything for it as the project is not meant for us. Rather than providing basic facilities, the government wants to take away our land. That is not fair,” said Sutar, who is 34 years old.
Sutar further said that the locals, displaced due to the Surya dam project around 40 years ago and resettled in two neighbouring villages — Chandranagar in Vanai and Hanumannagar — are yet to get the rehabilitation benefits promised by the government authorities then.
“The government just wants to take away the land from us for rich people. They don’t care about the rehabilitation and resettlement of the people displaced by such projects,” he added.
Ramesh Ahadi (36), from Hanumannagar village, said the government had allotted him one-acre land as part of compensation for the Surya dam project. “Now, the government wants to take part of that land for the project. Then, how can we survive on the remaining land? The government has not done anything for us. Now, the least it can do is not take away our land, and let us live,” said Ahadi.
Ahadi’s views are shared by the people of Chandranagar in Vanai village. “The residents of Hanumannagar and Chandranagar, displaced by the Surya dam project, are yet to get the certificate of project-affected persons to avail benefits of education and government jobs. The authorities are yet to give us the balance 20 per cent of the compensation for that project. The land and house titles are not in our names yet. Ideally, it should have been done within a few years after the resettlement. But, we are still struggling to get the rehabilitation benefits,” said Madhu Chaudhari, a resident of Chandranagar.
As per the draft rehabilitation and resettlement scheme, a total of 2,177 families are likely to be displaced in Palghar by the bullet train project. This includes 453 families who own houses and 1,724 families without their own homes. Of the 2,177 families, 1,876 families are in Vasai tehsil, 169 in Palghar, 87 in Dahanu and 45 in Talasari.
As per details of the draft plan, there are two components of the rehabilitation and resettlement scheme. One, houses or structures affected by the project will be given two times the valuation of the structure, and five times the valuation of the land. Secondly, other compensations will be given to the affected people who lose built-up property.
Families who lose a house in rural areas will be given a house built under Indira Awas Yojana, or Rs 1.65 lakh. Loss of a house in urban areas will be compensated with a house of 50 sqm built-up area as per the norms of Public Works Department or Rs 5.5 lakh.
Besides, the rehabilitation and resettlement scheme also includes a one-time payment of Rs 5 lakh to each project-affected family which has an employable person, Rs 50,000 transportation expenditure for each affected family that will relocate, one-time Rs 25,000 financial assistance to each family with a small shop or animal shed, one-time Rs 50,000 payment for small traders and artisans, one-time restoration allowance of Rs 50,000 after relocation from their house, Rs 3,000 per month subsistence allowance to each affected family for a year and additional Rs 1 lakh to families from Schedule Caste and Scheduled Tribes.
The families, who do not have title of the house or structure and are not eligible to be declared as project-affected families, are proposed to be given one-time Rs 10 lakh in urban areas and Rs 8 lakh in rural areas.
Officials said that there are some slums in Vasai which are built illegally and do not have the title or ownership of the house or structures. They would be eligible for this one-time compensation, said an official.
Under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RFCTLARR) Act 2013, a family, to be eligible to be declared as project affected, requires it to have lived in the house or on the land to be acquired for three years preceding the land acquisition.
“The above mentioned package will be applicable if the affected person gives consent in written format,” says the plan. Officials said that it is a draft rehabilitation and resettlement scheme and it will be finalized after holding consultations with affected people and elected representatives. The compensation to the affected people will be given by the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL), added an official.
Within days of taking office, Uddhav had announced that all big projects, including the bullet train, would be reviewed in the light of the state’s massive debt and its dire financial straits. In an interview to Sena mouthpiece Saamana in February, Uddhav had described the project as a “white elephant”, asking who the beneficiaries of this project would be, and if it would bring in more trade and industry in Maharashtra.
State Transport Minister Anil Parab had told The Indian Express, when asked specifically about the bullet train project last month, “The government has taken a decision that projects, on which work is yet to commence, would be stayed for a year now.”
Parab, whose department would be directly in charge of the state’s role in the project, was not available for comments on the draft land acquisition plan.