Collector cancels public consultation following opposition

A heated exchange at the public consultation for the bullet train project in Palghar on Wednesday.

A heated exchange at the public consultation for the bullet train project in Palghar on Wednesday.  

Mumbai: A public environmental consultation called by the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRC) for the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train at the Palghar Collector’s office had to be cancelled on Wednesday following opposition from local tribal population, various organisations, and a political party.

“We wanted to know under which provision of the law this consultation was held? As it turns out, the public hearing is mandatory for the Indian government to seek funds from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA),” Shashi Sonawane of Bhumiputra Bachao Andolan, which has been spearheading the campaign against the bullet train, said.

Earlier, Collector Prashant Narnaware said as per law, public consultations for linear projects (which include bullet train) are not mandatory. “But as the project is being financed by the JICA, it is according to their guidelines that a public consultation be held,” he said, leading to protest.

“Are we sitting here for the Japanese company just to ensure that it gives money for this project? We have repeatedly said bullet train should not be given priority in Palghar, but instead work on developing local train network or addressing water woes,” Ramakant Patil, a local, said.

“The district administration has been saying they will not be acquiring land without the consent of the people. But it is clear to the government that people are not willing to part with their land. Then why are they even organising these public hearings?” Brian Lobo of Kashtkari Sanghatana said.

As the protest turned louder and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena activists got involved, the Collector cancelled the consultation, adding it can be arranged at a later date.

Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Narnaware said Maharashtra is conducting such consultations despite not being mandated by the law. “Gujarat has not conducted any public discussions. But we are doing it because we want people to involve in the process.”

The locals who attended the consultation were irked after officials of the NHSRC reached Sakhra village along with a police team for the centre line marking for the bullet train route, which they alleged was done keeping villagers in dark.

After the consultation was cancelled, the attendees, majority of them tribals, decided to stage a sit-in till the police force was removed from the village. The protest continued for over three hours at the collector office.

In the meantime, women protesters tried to barge into the office seeking his response, but were stopped by the police, leading to confrontation.

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Printable version | Aug 15, 2020 8:32:00 AM |

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