In a bid to highlight the travesty of Modi’s pet project – the bullet train project – farmers and Adivasis have come together under the umbrella of Jan Manch to oppose the project. The farmers have written to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on 30th October to expose the brazen and consistent flouting of JICA guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations. In both the states through which the train is supposed to run – Maharashtra and Gujarat – farmers are protesting against land acquisition for the MAHSR (Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail). The farmers have alleged that the land for the proposed project has been acquired forcibly, with complete disregard to the human rights of the affected population.
Procedurally, the land acquisition process was to take place only when the owners of the land gave their assent in writing. However, members of the Jan Manch from both Gujarat and Maharashtra narrated instances where the land is being taken over forcibly by the states. An atmosphere of fear prevails, as the state is using deployment of police as a plank to keep the socially marginalised villages out of every stage in the acquisition process. For example, in village Kotbi (Palghar district), notices for joint survey of land were issued to people on October 5, 2018 despite the fact that most of the land owners had not given their consent in writing for the same.
The farmers highlighted that JICA guidelines with respect to indigenous people are being violated. The guidelines clearly state that whatever be the reason, no relocation shall take place without free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous people concerned. Also, viable alternatives are to be explored. However, all these safeguards are being violated in the scheduled area (predominantly inhabited by indigenous people) through which the bullet train passes.
The Jan Manch, which was convened on October 30, 2018, has garnered support from all political quarters led by the left parties – CPI, CPI(M), CPI(ML). The movement of the farmers in the state is being supported by the Congress, Janta Dal etc. as well.
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The farmers are urging JICA to curb the systemic attempts being made to keep the locals out of the consultation process.
One of the protesting farmers said, “The consultations are announced at a very short notice to the concerned stakeholders. The advance notice period has varied from 24 hours (a day) to a few weeks.” The Manch, after an intensive fact-finding on the ground, has concluded that there is a lack of coherent approach towards consultations with the stakeholders. At times, they are announced for district level, and sometimes, they are conducted on taluka level. Confusion is being created purposely, alleged the farmers. Different public advertisements are published at the same venue and at the same timing, but for different purposes.
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Additionally, in case of Environmental Consultations, the supplementary EIA copies are kept for public viewing at different places which are hundreds of kilometres away from the villages – at the offices of National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHRSCL). The nearest place is the District Collector’s office, which, in some cases, is about 30 km away. Even these were not made available during the consultations in most districts of Gujarat. The reports that are made available to the locals are only in English, seemingly, in an attempt to stop the locals from understanding, raising questions or expressing their opposition.
The stakeholder consultations for districts of Navsari and Valsad (both in the state of Gujarat), had gone one step further. The Jan Manch published invitation in local newspapers for the consultations, while mentioning that ‘unauthorized people would not be allowed at the consultation’.