Bullet train project to raze 77 hectares of forests

Bullet train project to raze 77 hectares of forests

The bullet train project is expected to run between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. (PTI file photo)

Keen to take the ambitious bullet train project off the ground, the Prime Minister's Office has asked Maharashtra and Gujarat state governments to complete land acquisition – including diversion of more than 77 hectares of forest land – by December 2018.

The two states have also been instructed by PMO to apply for forest clearance through an online portal of the Ministry of Environment and Forest.

The bullet train between Mumbai-Ahmedabad was one of the 10 infrastructure projects reviewed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and PMO officials with state governments through video conference earlier this week.

After the central government's “in-principle” approval for diversion of forest land was reported in a section of the media, former Union Finance Minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram tweeted, “77 hectares of forest land lost. What is the gain? An elitist train in which 99% of the population will never travel.”

No reply

DH's query to PMO on the diversion of forest land elicited no reply till the time of filing this report.

The two states have been told to coordinate with the National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited to speed up the project. The Railway Ministry is learnt to have received a draft of the implementation plan from the Japanese government earlier this month.

Sources said land acquisition would impact 12 districts of Maharashtra and 8 districts of Gujarat. Survey process has started in both states, ruled by BJP governments.

The application for clearance of the 77.45 ha spread across 42 villages was submitted by Maharashtra on February 7, 2018, and Gujarat on April 20, 2018. Most of the forest lands are in Dahanu and Thane districts of Maharashtra and Surat district of Gujarat.

The bullet train, foundation stone for which was laid by Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe last September, is likely to run from 2022-23. Around Rs 1.10 lakh crore will be spent on the high-speed rail project of which Rs 88,000 crore will be funded by a soft loan from Japan.

Forests lost

According to an analysis by the Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, Environment Impact Assessment Resource and Response Centre, the central government on an average diverted 122 sq km of forests for development projects every year between 2014 and 2017, which is equivalent to 63 football grounds being cleared every day for three years.

In 2017 alone, the ministry approved diversion of forest land for 10,000 projects in a clear violation of the existing policy, says the NGO.

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