Bullet train project: stop, stall and scrap?

With BJP out of power in Maharashtra, fate of key international projects in the state turns uncertain

Politics

November 29, 2019

/ By / New Delhi

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The fate of bullet train project has become uncertain

What will be the fate of multi-billion dollar projects in Maharashtra including the bullet train after the recent political quake that decimated BJP out of office? 

The political quake of last week saw the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pushed out of power in Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena led coalition is all set to form the government in Maharashtra, the most populous state in western India. A few international projects that were kicked off by Devendra Fadnavis’ government with the Centre’s blessings have come under cloud. Of course, it is to be remembered that Shiv Sena was the coalition partner. One such project is the million-dollar Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project. Other projects that may be reviewed include Nanar oil refinery and Mumbai metro car-shed at Aarey.

It is feared that the bullet train project may be stalled, stopped and scrapped. It is India’s first bullet train project. The BJP’s ambitious project, inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in Ahmedabad in September 2017, was scheduled to be ready by 2022. Funded by a soft loan from Japan, the INR one trillion project has a track-length of 508 km from the Bandra-Kurla Complex, Mumbai to Sabarmati, Gujarat.

Japan is providing India with a loan of INR 880 billion (USD 12.5 billion) for the project with an interest rate of 0.1 pc.

Why is the Shiv Sena led government opposed to the project?

The most important factor in this is the state’s contribution to the tune of INR 400 billion (almost USD 6 billion) as its share for the bullet train project.

Shiv Sena MLAs Manisha Kayande and Deepak Vasant Kesarkar pointed out that Maharashtra openly opposed the contribution and how it could be used to rejuvenate the rural economy in the state. “We would like to use this money for farm loan waiver,” Kayande said.

Kesarkar, who was minister of state (MoS) for finance in Fadnavis’ government, had opposed the budgetary provision for the bullet train and for his part pointed out that the huge funds required to be provided by Maharashtra for a project that was seen benefiting Gujarat’s diamond cutting and polishing industry has been opposed by the new coalition government. “Our priority is farmers… personally feel don’t need (a) bullet train,” he added.

Another reason as to why the project is being opposed is the bullet train terminus planned at Bandra-Kurla Complex in the city would prevent high-rises being constructed above it. The Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), which owns much of the land at BKC, is raising funds for various infrastructure projects in Mumbai by constructing tall office buildings in the area. Land acquisition for the bullet train project in Maharashtra has been stuck with farmers on the outskirts of Mumbai refusing to part with their land. The project has acquired only 50 pc of the land needed – most of it in Gujarat.

Nanar oil refinery

There is a bleak prospect for the proposed 60-million-tonne capacity mega refinery and petrochemical project proposed by Ratnagiri Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd (RRPCL) in Nanar and other villages. After scrapping the project following Shiv Sena’s opposition, outgoing CM Devendra Fadnavis had hinted at its revival during the state assembly election campaign. Three Indian public sector oil firms and Saudi Aramco had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the INR 3,000 billion project.

The west coast refinery project has been facing several hurdles ever since it was signed last year. It was originally proposed to be built at Nanar in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. But due to severe protests and backlash from local farmers and civil societies, the Maharashtra government shifted the project to Raigad earlier this year. But the acquisition of land even there has turned out to be difficult.

Now, with the Sena at the helm of affairs, the prospects of the project revival are bleak.

Mumbai metro might change track

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’ son Aditya has repeatedly challenged the state government’s stand to construct a metro depot on Aarey land in the western suburb of Goregaon in Mumbai.

Why is he opposed to the construction of metro depot? Aditya  Thackeray who is a legislator from Worli in Mumbai asserts that the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation Limited’s (MMRCL) plans to build a metro depot in the lush green Aarey land, considered the lungs of the city, would be disastrous for biodiversity. There is a glimmer of hope for the farmers and those who are fighting for sustainable development after the political quake in Maharashtra.

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