Taking their protest against the proposed Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project, formally called the National High Speed Rail Corridor between the two cities, environment activists and farmer union leaders have jointly written to the President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), seeking proper implementation of the land acquisition process. In their petition to JICA, which has a joint venture with the Ministry of Railways and the National High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd (NHSRCL), activists have claimed that the NHSRC has violated the guidelines for consultation laid down by JICA by disregarding representations of stakeholders.
The activists, in their letter addressed to JICA President Shinichi Kitaoka, have emphasised that their hopes are based on the fact that Japan is known for its conscientiousness. The memorandum states, “We have found Japan to be a country with serious commitments to environment and human rights. However, the way stakeholder consultations for the proposed High Speed Rail Project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad are continued as they are being conducted today, this would seriously reflect adversely on Japan’s commitments to respect human rights and concerns for environment.” The activists have enlisted the grievances of stakeholders in 18 bullet points in the letter.
The letter states, “The consultations are announced on a very short notice to the stakeholders, varying from 24 hours (1 day) to a few weeks. There is no coherent approach to announcement of stakeholder consultations. At
times, they are announced for district level and sometimes they are conducted for taluka levels. There has been an instance of two different public advertisements published by NHSRCL in newspapers for the same venue and same timing, but for different purposes.”
The letter also contends that the NHSRCL has not taken the task of making the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) copies accessible. “These are kept for public viewing at different places which are 100s of km away at offices of NHSRCL. The nearest place being the District Collector office, which in some cases is about 30 km away. The supplementary EIA copies are conspicuously made available only to certain chosen district, while in some districts there is no mention of the EIA or a copy made available for public. Most of the reports are available in English language, while they should be made available in local vernacular language for the public to be able to read through and understand. And make an informed representation and participation. Farmers (who are mostly illiterate or semi-literate) are disallowed to raise questions/queries.”
The letter also states that the NHSRCL has kept environmental activists/experts out of the consultation venue with use of police force. Calling the process a non-transparent one, the letter states, “Even farmers organisations and other social/environment groups are kept out of the process. Elected representatives who can potentially raise uncomfortable queries regarding the project are man-handled and taken away before the start of consultations. The minutes of the consultations are not made public. Neither the video documentation is made public. These are a necessary for a transparent process.”
The letter also cites an advertisement issued by the NHSRCL recently for its stakeholder consultations for the districts of Navsari and Valsad which specified that the “unauthorised people would not be allowed at the consultation”. The activists ask JICA, “We fail to understand what criteria are prescribed under JICA guidelines to segregate attending stakeholders as authorised and unauthorised. From the manner in which the stakeholder consultations are conducted, it appears that these are just paper arrangements, with no serious concern to the society and environment. It be noted that at several places due to the apprehensions of affected people arising out of the high-handed and opaque functioning for the consultation, the atmosphere was vitiated and the consultations had to be postponed/rescheduled.”
Meanwhile, farmers from Karjan taluka in Vadodara district on Thursday submitted a memorandum to Deputy District Collector, opposing the notifications for land acquisition for the ambitious Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project. The farmers are upset that outdated jantris or annual statement of rate (ASR) is being used to compensate them for acquiring their lands for the project. According to the distressed farmers, they are yet to receive a personal notification regarding the acquisition, but rescripts have been published in local newspapers, stating the plot number and the area of land to be acquired. In the memorandum, the farmers have accused that the previous Social Impact Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment has been forged and demand that until and unless a thorough Social Impact Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment is not undertaken by the central government, the notifications of land acquisition should be nullified.
The memorandum stated, “The state government has not revised the 2011 ASR and we oppose the current notification on grounds that price of the land should be finalised based on current prices in the market. The same project is ongoing in Maharashtra as well where farmers are compensated as per market prices.”
Assuring the farmers of a positive solution, KD Bhagat, Deputy Collector and Acquisition Officer, Karjan, said, “The issue of outdated ASRs has already been raised at a higher level and it is being positively looked into. A final round of measurement is yet to happen depending on which the exact area of land to be acquired and the compensation amount will be decided.”
On Monday, notifications were issued in 165 cases for acquiring land under section 11 of the land acquisition law by the Revenue Department of Gujarat government. The owners of the land who were notified can no more sell off or mortgage their land.
With a route of 508.90 km, 349.03 km of the corridor route will pass through Gujarat and 154.76 km through Maharashtra. In Maharashtra, about 7.1 km will pass through suburban Mumbai while the rest of the distance will be through districts – 39.66 km through Thane and 108.1 km through Palghar districts. About 4.3 km will also pass through the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. In order to acquire land for the project, including the creation of 12 stations – eight of which are in Gujarat – the NHSRCL is seeking 612.17 hectares of land in Gujarat and 246.42 hectares of land in Maharashtra as well as 7.52 hectares of land in Dadra and Nagar