Maharashtra government to review bullet train project
Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray ordered a review of the Rs 1.2 lakh crore Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project on Sunday as part of a wider audit of infrastructure projects in the state to determine the priorities of the new administration.
The 59-year-old also said his government will withdraw all cases against people protesting in September against the felling of trees to make way for a metro car shed in Mumbai’s Aarey Milk Colony, and reiterated his commitment to an unconditional farm loan waiver.
“The power dynamics in the state have changed,” said Thackeray, whose party, the Shiv Sena, has opposed the Japan-backed project and supported farmers protesting against the acquisition of their land for the project.
But Thackeray clarified that his government was not suspending the 508-km project immediately, a day after stopping construction at Aarey.
“In this [review] all [projects] will be covered. I will tell you one thing though, nowhere will this government act in a vindictive
manner... This government is of the common man. Yes, we will review the bullet train. Have I stayed the bullet train project like Aarey car shed, no I haven’t,” he added.
The chief minister also said that his government will bring in a white paper on the financial condition of the state government that has a debt of nearly Rs 5 lakh crore.
When asked if the review was because the priorities of the previous government were misplaced, the chief minister said, “I have not said that. Our government has begun on a fresh note. If what was going was acceptable then what was the need for a new government?”
The prestigious bullet train project was considered a priority of the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone of the project in 2017.
“It is his prerogative to initiate a review. Let them review it, but we hope their review is to see how the projects can be expedited rather than stopped,” said Ram Kadam, BJP legislator and spokesperson.
Achal Khare, managing director of the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL), which is executing the project, said he was not aware of the latest development on the review of the project.
The bullet train project aims to reduce travel time between the two cities to under two hours from the current eight hours. The government has set an ambitious deadline of August 15, 2022, when India marks 75 years of Independence. The NHSRCL expects to open one portion of the network by then, and complete the entire Mumbai-Ahmedabad stretch by December 2023.
Of the 508.17km corridor, 155.76km will be in Maharashtra, 348.04 km in Gujarat and 4.3km in Dadra and Nagar Haveli.
But the project ran into rough weather when local farmers and tribespeople in Maharashtra’s Palghar district launched protests and refused to allow officials to carry out surveys for land acquisition. As a result, only around 40% of the land required for the project has been acquired so far. In the past, the Sena – which was part of the coalition government with the BJP -- has argued that if the locals are against giving up their land, the project should be scrapped.
Senior Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and minister Chhagan Bhujbal said the CM has ordered a review on the state’s financial status. “We will take a review and we will bring out a white paper,” said Bhujbal.
In his press conference, Thackeray dismissed reports that construction was still continuing in Aarey.
“The work on Aarey car depot is not going on. I have not stayed work on any metro project except the car shed. The issue is about the well being of people of Mumbai. Destroying the environment and then installing air purifiers everywhere is useless,” he said.
The chief minister said farmers suffered huge losses due to the unseasonal rain and called on the opposition parties to cooperate with the government on the issue. Thackeray also responded to leader of Opposition Devendra Fadnavis’s demand of Rs 25,000/hectare compensation for farmers. “The opposition should not play games. We expect Fadnavis to meet the Centre and help Maharashtra get aid. I too shall meet the prime minister about it,” he said, but didn’t clarify when he would meet Modi.