In new regime, Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train may be stopped in its tracks
Sena members also slam Aarey shed, Nanar refinery
The Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project could be the first casualty of the bitter regime change in Maharashtra, going by the Shiv Sena’s belligerent mood on Wednesday.
A day before party chief Uddhav Thackeray is sworn in as chief minister, Sena leaders came out all guns blazing against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship project. Sources said senior bureaucrats have “unofficially” been consulted by leaders of the Sena, Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) on the fate of the project.
The project has already found a mention in the alliance’s common minimum programme, which proposes to divert the State’s share of the funds towards a universal farm loan waiver. But it is unclear how and when this would be done, party leaders said.
On Wednesday, two senior Sena members called the bullet train “unnecessary” and said farmers should be the first priority for the government. They said other big-ticket projects would also be reviewed: the Nanar refinery project will stay scrapped and no more trees will be cut in Aarey colony for Metro 3.
Sena spokesperson Manisha Kayande said, “Apart from the trees already cut inside Aarey colony, not a single tree will be cut. Uddhavji has said this government will take decisions in favour of the environment and the people. There will be no changes in the decision to scrap the Nanar refinery project. We had opposed the bullet train in the past also. If one project is causing such losses to people, why do we need it?”
Among other voices coming out openly against the bullet train project was Deepak Kesarkar, former minister of State for home (rural), who said the expense of travelling on the train would be beyond the common man’s pocket. “My opinion is that if the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train travel costs ₹3,500, why not take a flight? When Gujarat and Maharashtra were a single State, this project could have been done. But today, I can’t say if it is needed. We are not opposed to anything, but the first priority should be given to farmers in distress.”
Another Sena leader, when asked if this was the party line and if the State government could take policy decisions on the scrapping the project, said on condition of anonymity, “That has not been decided.”
The bullet train project has seen vociferous opposition from tribal communities in Palghar district, who are against the land acquisition in around 73 villages. The total land required for the high speed rail corridor is approximately 1,400 hectares. Of this, around 353 hectares is in Maharashtra, which will have 155 km of track running through it. The foundation for the ₹1.08 lakh crore project was laid in September 2017 and it has a deadline of August 15, 2022.
In Nanar in Ratnagiri district, the government decided to scrap the country’s largest investment project — a ₹3 lakh crore refinery to be built in coordination with Saudi Arabia’s Aramco — following local protests. In the case of the Metro 3 carshed, the decision to remove 2,700 trees inside Aarey colony had triggered protests. Both protests had found support from the Sena.