FACED with continuing opposition to the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) is now attempting to convince affected landowners with infrastructural development, English lessons, digitisation of schools and medical care.
Days after all major political parties barring the BJP came together at a meeting in Palghar city where they reiterated their joint opposition to the project, the NHSRCL announced a ‘Palghar village development corridor’, through which a team of 13 officials has begun visiting every affected family to understand what basic facilities, including clean water, toilets or any household equipment, the railways can provide them.
The NHSRCL — which is still to finalise a Detailed Project Report for the Rs 1.08 lakh crore project — said they have also begun to offer English and Math lessons to villagers. The corporation needs to acquire land from 76 villages in tribal-dominated Palghar district, and at least 23 villages have refused to allow officials access to their land for surveys and measurements, saying they expect little or no benefit from the bullet train and will not part with their agricultural land for the project. At the protest meeting on Sunday, activists said nearly 70 villages’ gram sabhas had adopted resolutions against giving land for the project.
“From Wednesday, our team of 13 officials headed by a social development officer is visiting each of the project-affected families in Palghar to understand their requirements. For example, if a villager tells us that they struggle to get clean water in their house, we would provide them with Aquaguards. We will also hold training sessions to guide villagers on occupations, including poultry farming. We will also teach villagers English or Maths,” a senior NHSRCL official said.
The corporation claimed it is also offering, in consultation with the district collector, basic amenities including roads, power supply to the villagers, improved educational facilities including digitisation of schools, health clinics and kitchen gardens, sports kits and books for youth, and counselling sessions for women on personal hygiene.
“Improving health, education, nutrition facilities for villagers is the goal. We also plan to encourage community workshops which will include skill-based training,” the official said.
The proposed high-speed corridor that includes 12 railway stations in Maharashtra and Gujarat is expected to be inaugurated on August 15, 2022. The corporation is expected to complete at least 70-80 per cent of land acquisition in the next six months. Till now, only 0.9 hectares of land has been acquired at Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) of the total 1,400 hectares of land required.
The corporation has announced a compensation package that has also been termed contentious by villagers. While officials said a price would be fixed after direct negotiation with owners, they are also offering five times the value of land. Activists say mandatory safeguards required by the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act of 2013 have been ignored.
Activist Vinod Dumada, vice president of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad in Palghar, said the government should identify measures that would bring development to Palghar. “They want us to give them our fertile land in place of these namesake development measures,” he said.