Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train: Why farmers call it unfair

From inadequate compensation to legal irregularities, here are the issues farmers and activists list while deeming the project unjust

By Rohan Gupta
Published: Friday 11 October 2019

Last month the Gujarat high court rejected more than 100 pleas challenging the land acquisition process for Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail (MAHSR) Project. But farmers still deem the process unfair.

They said they were not being paid adequate compensation for their land. Also, the procedure followed by the government is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies, claim activists.

Let’s go into specifics and know more about their complaints:

Inadequate compensation

The project, which is funded from a Japanese Investment Cooperation Agency (JICA) loan, is being carried out by the Centre in collaboration with the Japanese government.

The land acquisition process was initiated without revising the market value of the lands in question, as mandated by Section 26 of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, read a petition filed by Pankajbhai Naranbhai Patel along with other farmers.

The HC order cited a September 11, 2018 resolution by the state government that proposed an indexation formula (using cost inflation index) to calculate the compensation. According to this calculation, the compensation to be paid rose by 50-60 per cent compared to 2011 jantri rates (minimum price). There was also a provision to add 25 per cent to the updated amount.

“The 2013 Act nowhere mentions the indexation formula to be applied and hence it is totally unacceptable. In some cases, a piece of land, the jantri rate of which was Rs 20 per square metre, was sold by the government for Rs 4,000 and the market value was about a crore,” Jayesh Patel, president of Gujarat Khedu Samaj, told Down To Earth.

“This is the very reason why we are fighting for the compensation to be paid at the revised market rates,” he added.

Private firm assessed social impact

The Social Impact assessment (SIA) of the project was exempted in this case, claimed petitioners. They contended that a proper SIA is an essential pre-requisite for all formal rehabilitation packages and its absence contradicts the claims that the project is aimed to further public interest.

In this case, the National High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd had appointed Arcadis Pvt Ltd, a private company, to carry out an exercise similar to SIA, under the supervision of JICA.

The court said Arcadis’ feasibility report took care of all the SIA requirements and so could be used as a substitute.

“For the first time in the history of Independent India, the judiciary accepted an exercise which is exempted under Indian law but follows foreign laws,” Anandvardhan Yagnik, advocate for the petitioners, told DTE.

Also, the Gujarat government amended the 2013 Act in 2016 and added section 10A which exempts infrastructural projects from the requirement of an SIA. The court found it justifiable on part of the government to exercise section 10A.

Legal irregularities

Implementation of MAHSR had to be done according to the JICA guidelines that came into force in 2010. And, according to JICA, if the guidelines are not followed it can even suspend the principal amount of loans or grants.

The environmental impact assessment was conducted in a hasty manner and without adequate public participation, said Rohit Prajapati, a Gujarat-based environmental activist.

According to a 2006 notification issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), there needs to be a 30-day notice period before an EIA public hearing.

In some cases, the advertisements were sent only three days before the hearing, while in some two hearings were held the same day, said Prajapati.

On July 9, 2018, activists had questioned why there was no representative present from the MoEF&CC in the EIA public hearing, while JICA officials turned up. This was in contravention of the Indian laws, the activists said.

According to JICA guidelines, the EIA and SIA reports should be released in a language that locals understand. But, the feasibility report was neither available in Gujarat nor Marathi, the primary languages of the affected stakeholders, said Prajapati. Even the 2013 Central Act mandates this.

The data used for these 2018 hearings was from 2010 despite the fact that multiple development projects were implemented between Mumbai and Ahmedabad including coastal highways, national highways and freight corridors after 2010.

The environmental impact of a new project will naturally be insignificant after these projects in the eight-year period are taken into consideration, he added.

A major source for this legal tussle has its source in the 2016 Gujarat amendment, which allegedly diluted some of the Act’s provisions regarding SIA and land compensation rates. The validity of this amendment was also challenged by the petitioners but the court dismissed the allegations citing that presidential assent had already been given to the amendment under Article 254.

The bullet train project is being called a “vanity project” of the government, which, activists claim, will prove to be detrimental for farmers’ livelihood and the environment.

The project is expected to cover 508 kilometres between Ahmedabad and Mumbai and that requires the state to acquire 966 hectares (including 753 hectares of private land) of land.

“The project will pass through 192 villages in Gujarat itself,” said Gujarat Khedu Samaj president. The project will affect 13,006 households including 8,472 in Gujarat, found the Arcadis report.

This case will soon be heard in the Supreme Court, said Yagnik.

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