Five reasons why Mumbai-Nagpur super communication highway is not a good move
Mumbai city news: For the past few weeks, farmers in Nashik and some other parts are staging agitation against the proposed Mumbai-Nagpur highway.mumbai Updated: Jun 13, 2017 09:31 IST
While the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government in the state is finding ways to deal with the Opposition Congress-NCP and ally Shiv Sena’s attempts to mobilise farmers over the issue of farm loan waiver, it may have to handle another problem — protests against land acquisition for its ambitious infrastructure projects.
For the past few weeks, farmers in Nashik and some other parts are staging agitation against the proposed Mumbai-Nagpur highway. Titled as Maharashtra Prosperity Corridor, the Mumbai-Nagpur expressway is chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ dream project. Here’s why we think the highway will be a bad political move for the Maharashtra government.
1. Scale of land acquisition
The state government plans to acquire nearly 52,000 acres of land across ten districts for the highway and the 24 ‘nodes’ or cities planned along it. 84 per cent of this land is agricultural. The state has had a turbulent history with land acquisition with one of the biggest Special Economic Zones in Raigad (Reliance led Mahamumbai SEZ) failing to take off due to farmers protests. A majority of the trade enclaves planned a decade back have failed even after land was, in many cases, forcibly acquired from farmers. Farmers in this stretch have also lost land earlier to public projects including road widening, dams and have faced shoddy compensation for this. All of this brings down the credibility of the government vis a vis acquiring land from farmers.
2. Bypassing the law
The state government is using a short cut to acquire the land by bypassing the Land Acquisition Act, 2013 (all provisions except for compensation) and instead is using an amended Maharashtra Highways Act, 1955 to acquire land. By ignoring the more detailed and farmer-friendly law, the government hopes to hasten the project. But, this also means that farmers who lose their lands will not be promised jobs, landless labourers are unlikely to get anything in the bargain, no social impact assessment is carried out before acquiring land and there is no proper procedure to register dissent for the farmers.
3. Political opponents are using the Highway to target Fadnavis-led government
Political opposition as well as ally Shiv Sena (ironically the department handling the project is led by a Sena minister) is targeting Fadnavis’ pet project. NCP chief Sharad Pawar, and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray have both held meetings with agitating farmers and promised to back their demands against the project. To add to the government’s woes, the state’s tallest farmers’ leader, former MP Raju Shetti has announced his opposition to the project. He has also promised that all farmer-led organisations in the state would oppose the project. This has isolated Fadnavis, who has been promoting this project as a game changer.
4. State government being projected as anti-farmer
The Fadnavis-led government has been on the backfoot on the issue of farmers and the agrarian crisis over a year now. The Opposition has consistently demanded a loan waiver for farmers, a demand that the cash strapped government cannot meet. This year, Congress-NCP upped its ante on the loan waiver demand by holding state wide protests. The recent tur dal (pigeon pea) controversy over purchase of pigeon pea from farmers has further painted the government as being anti-farmer. The Mumbai-Nagpur expressway is adding to this perception of the government with farmers taking to roads in protest against the acquisition. The district administration is worsening the picture by using police force to undertake measurement of lands required for the project and by putting cases against youngsters, who protest.
5. The project may turn into a miss more than a hit in the short term
The Mumbai-Nagpur highway is an ambitious project, which is unlikely to yield results for the Fadnavis-government any time soon, especially before the next 2019 elections. While Fadnavis hopes to get the project off the ground this year and complete some stretches before 2019 polls, this seems unlikely, given the nature of opposition on ground.
Raising resources, co-opting farmers opposed to the land acquisition, speedy execution are all mammoth tasks, which are unlikely to be completed within the given time frame.
Instead of being a showcase project, in the short term the Highway could well turn into a big miss for the government.