THE RS 1.08-lakh crore bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai may come to a screeching halt if the Congress and NCP succeed in propping up a Shiv Sena-led government in Maharashtra.
With farmers’ welfare and a blanket farm loan waiver central to the common minimum programme (CMP) drawn up between the three parties, sources said that the three have agreed to withhold the share of expenditure towards the bullet train project. Instead, the funds would be used to roll out a universal loan waiver scheme within the first 100 days of the government assuming office.
“The state will meet the expenses from the share it had earlier committed towards capital expenditure for the bullet train project,” said a former Congress minister, who has been a part of the deliberations with NCP and Sena regarding the CMP.
Promoted by the BJP as a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP-led state government, in which Sena was a partner, had executed an MoU in 2017 with the Railways and the Gujarat government for the 508-km project, which is aimed at cutting the distance between Mumbai and Ahmedabad to just two hours. The trains would run at a speed of 320 km per hour.
As per the arrangement, Maharashtra had committed to a capital expenditure of Rs 5,000 crore, while holding 25 per cent equity in a Special Purpose Vehicle floated for the project. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency had earlier signed an agreement with the Modi government extending a soft loan of Rs 88,000 crore for the project over 50 years at an annual interest rate of 0.1 per cent with repayments required to be made after a moratorium of 15 years.
Besides the capital expenditure, Maharashtra’s share in the cost of the building the entire route had been fixed at 25 per cent. About 150 km of rail line is to be built in the state as part of the project, said sources. At present, land acquisition work for the project is underway.
Ironically, while Congress and NCP had raised some opposition to the project, Sena was heading the transport department in the state, which was a part of the negotiations with the Centre and the Gujarat government for the project.
Senior railway officials admitted that if Maharashtra diverts the funds earlier committed for the project, its implementation will take a hit. A former state NCP minister said: “The move will enable us to raise the required resources to fund the farmer welfare initiatives.”
Sources said that in the CMP document, the parties have also agreed to incur expenses on offering a monthly unemployment allowance to the jobless youth, and setting up 1,000 food chains across the state where a full thali will just cost Rs 10. Besides raising resources for these welfare initiatives, sources added that the new formation also wants to send a political message by pushing Modi’s pet project on the backburner.