With the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in power, the fate of the Rs 1.1 lakh-crore Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, placed under “review” by the state government, hangs in balance. While the National High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd (NHSRCL) claims land acquisition is continuing, affected villagers in Thane and Palghar hope the Maha Vikas Aghadi government will scrap the project they had been opposing from the beginning.
“I gave up my land for money once before. The land was taken and put to use for someone else. None of us benefited. I am not going to let go of my land this time,” said Vijay Dhobade (65), of Hanuman Nagar in Palghar.
Dhobade, along with around 50 families of Saava village, were moved to Hanuman Nagar in the eighties for construction of the Surya dam in the region.
“We were told each family would get jobs at the dam and that the water would be routed for us. None of that happened. We were unceremoniously dumped here along with other displaced people,” he said.
The proposed route of the bullet train passes through Thane district’s Kalyan and Bhiwandi and Palghar district’s Palghar and Vasai.
The NHSRCL claims 73 out of 83 villages that will be affected have been mapped and that land acquisition was under way. According to NHSRCL data, of 431 hectares it needs in Maharashtra, 81 hectares have already been acquired.
Local activists, however, disagree with NHSRCL’s claims. “Officials are desperate to uphold the project as there is pressure from the Central government. This is said to be the PM’s dream project. So, everyone is trying to turn it into reality, even at the cost of lives,” activist Sameer Vartak said.
“Not only is the tribal hinterland being sacrificed but even cities, already facing troubles of not having enough space, are being forced to make space for the project,” he added.
Vartak, a Vasai resident, said the project will endanger the green zones across the region. “We are already seeing the repercussions of illegal construction and a steep rise in population. Only a few zones of mangroves and green cover are left, which will be the first to be sacrificed for development projects,” he said.
The opposition to the bullet train is not just limited to Palghar or the initial stages of land acquisition. In Bhiwandi, residents of Barodi village, who had earlier agreed to hand over their land, are now dragging their feet.
“We are not against development projects. We are just asking for time, as the entire region comes under MMRDA and we need to take permission before starting to construct houses. Instead of listening to our problems, NHSRCL, through their lawyers, has been threatening us,” Jayesh Patil, a villager, said. “Without giving us the total promised money, they are throwing us out of our lands. During acquisition, they spoke to us like we were Gods. Suddenly we are worse than animals being pushed out of pens,” he said.
NHSRCL, however, claimed villagers had been informed that they would have to move out by a certain date before they were paid the money.
“We had told them that they would have to vacate their lands within two months after executing the sale deeds. Everything is being done by the book,” said Sushma Gaur, spokesperson, NHSRCL.
“Even in Vasai and Palghar, the land measurement has been done after due procedure and approvals,” she said.
For activists, however, it is not enough. “No procedure is being followed,” Vartak said.
The decision of the Thackeray-led government to review the project has been welcomed by all the affected people. In Thane and Palghar, local Sena leaders claimed the affected people have approached them for solutions.
“We have always been in support of the bhumiputras. The bullet train has been a cause of anguish for no reason, as it doesn’t benefit us at all. The government has decided to review it and we have told anyone who comes to us to give their issues in writing,” a Sena leader from Palghar said.