ON June 3, 2018, a large convention against the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, a pet elitist project of the BJP’s Modi government that will lead to disastrous land acquisition from the peasantry in both Maharashtra and Gujarat, was held at Palghar by the Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan (BAA). The joint organisers were the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), Kashtakari Sanghatana, Shoshit Jan Andolan, National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), Gujarat Khedut Samaj, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti and others. All political parties that were prepared to publicly oppose the bullet train project were invited.
The well-attended convention was addressed by Dr Ashok Dhawale and Arun Mehta (Central Committee members, CPI(M), Nawab Malik (former state minister, NCP), Neelam Gorhe (MLC, Shiv Sena), Kedar Kale (Congress), Avinash Jadhav (MNS), Ramakant Patil (Shoshit Jan Andolan), Brian Lobo (Kashtakari Sanghatana), Ulka Mahajan (Sarvahara Jan Andolan), and Krishnakant Chouhan (Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat). It was also attended by many other people’s representatives and leaders of mass organisations.
All the speakers gave a commitment that their parties and organisations would oppose the bullet train project and the Mumbai-Vadodara expressway project tooth and nail and would ask their MPs and MLAs to oppose them in both parliament and assembly. A resolution was passed unanimously by a show of hands that not an inch of land would be given by peasants for these anti-farmer and pro-corporate projects of the Modi regime.
WHY THE OPPOSITION?
The bullet train is being opposed for several valid reasons.
Firstly, 612.19 hectares of good agricultural land in Gujarat, 398.91 hectares in Maharashtra and 7.52 hectares in the union territory of Dadra and Nagarhaveli will be acquired. A considerable part of this land is cultivated by adivasi peasants. This will lead to loss of livelihood of thousands of families.
Secondly, the economics of the bullet train is suspect. The average plane fare from Mumbai to Ahmedabad is around Rs 2000. The bullet train fare has been announced as Rs 3000 but it could well increase. Feasibility studies say that the fare cannot be lower than Rs 5000.
Thirdly, the project has a whopping cost of Rs 1.10 lakh crore, of which Rs 88 lakh crore will be a loan from Japan, of course repayable with interest. This total amount is three times the current health budget of the union government.
Fourthly, it will help only the Indian corporates and their Japanese counterparts and the contractors lobby. The corruption and kickbacks to the ruling party are self-evident. The project is a clear case of collusion between corporate interests and state power.
Fifthly, this white elephant is being proposed when the entire Indian railway system is in crisis. The series of railway accidents, neglect of safety concerns, the lack of modernisation, the privatisation drive, declining amenities show the totally skewed priorities of the rulers.
Lastly, the elitist nature of the project is clear. It will cater only to a small section of the rich, and even that is doubtful given the economics cited above. It is nothing but an attempt to showcase vanity projects and convey a sense of false prestige to cover up the abysmal failure of the BJP government of Narendra Modi on all vital fronts over the last four years.
The opposition to the bullet train and other similar projects has been snowballing during the last one year. On August 9, 2017, a huge joint rally was held at Talasari in Palghar district by different groups against the proposed land acquisition for the bullet train, expressway, Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and so on.
The massive Kisan Long March from March 6-12, 2018, took this up as one of the issues, to which the state government assured in writing that there would be no forced land acquisition for these projects. However, soon after, notices and threats began.
On March 14-15, the first state conference of the BAA was held at Palghar and it resolved to oppose these projects. As per the call of that conference, on May 17, thousands of farmers including adivasis held a protest at Azad Maidan in Mumbai on this and other issues.
One of the biggest protests against the bullet train and the expressway took place last month on May 3 at Dahanu in Palghar district. The CPI(M) and AIKS held a 35,000-strong Nirdhaar rally.
Both in Maharashtra and in Gujarat, peasants from several villages have begun their resistance. Officials coming to conduct surveys for the bullet train have been driven away. The gram sabhas of several affected villages have passed resolutions opposing any form of land acquisition for the bullet train project. This united struggle against the Modi-led BJP regime will surely be intensified in the days and months to come.