The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Maharashtra is set to invoke an obscure section of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act 2013 to forcibly acquire land in the the tribal district of Palghar for the bullet train project within two months. This will allow them to take over the remaining land for the project that had been stuck after the locals objected to the price-based ‘private negotiation’ acquisition proceeding.
In a meeting of senior officials with Chief Secretary Ajoy Mehta on Saturday, June 1, Section 96 of the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning Act, 1966, (MRTP) was discussed in detail, reported The Hindu. Section 96 provides for compulsory acquisition of land required for public purposes with respect to planned development or regional plans by the planning authority. “We have discussed giving as much as four times the value of land for the bullet train project even when forcibly acquired. The Government feels it is time for the price-based negotiations to end. We need to move fast to finish the rest of the acquisition proceedings,” a senior official present at the meeting told The Hindu.
For the ₹1.08 lakh crore project, an estimated 312 villages in Gujarat and Maharashtra will have to give up land. Apart from that, 7,974 plots belonging to the forest and railways authorities in both the states will also be acquired by the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL). Earlier this year, an expert appraisal committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFC) approved NHSRCL’s proposal to eliminate 1.5 lakh mangroves spread over an area of 18.92 hectares in the districts of Thane, Navi Mumbai, and Palghar. The move had been met with criticism and protest by environmentalists.
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Acquisition of the land – spread over 73 villages in Palghar, Vasai, Talasari, Dahanu, Wada, and Shahapur villages – is still being held up due to protests from the local villagers. The tribal farmers from Palghar district have been protesting against land acquisition for the project under the banner of Bhumi Adhikar Andolan (BAA) for more than a year now. BAA is an umbrella body of outfits working on land issues. All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the national farmers’ body affiliated to Communist Party of India (Marxist) is also a part of the protest movement.
Ashok Dhawale, all-India president of AIKS told NewsClick, “We will resist the state government’s move to forcefully acquire land with all our strength. We have been opposing the land acquisition for more than a year now, and will continue to do so. Taking away their land is the same as taking away their livelihoods.”
Dhawale said that AIKS had given a call for statewide demonstrations on June 1, which marked the second anniversary of the historic farmers’ strike in Maharashtra that had forced the government to give a ₹34,000 crore loan waiver to 40 lakh farmers in the state. The key issues behind the demonstrations this year were the drought in the state, loan waiver, and the Forest Rights Act. There were huge demonstrations in Talasari, Dahanu, and Palghar, the areas that will be affected by the bullet train project. The farmers protested against the forcible land acquisition process under the banner of AIKS.
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BAA had also sent a memorandum to the Japan government, pointing out the unfair and forceful process being used by the Maharashtra government to acquire land for the project. Following this memorandum, there were rumours of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) stopping the funding for the project. However, JICA and NHSRCL had both denied the rumours. The farmers have decided to write to JICA again.
Dhawale said, “Bhumi Adhikar Andolan will soon hold a meeting to decide the future course of action. However, the government can remain assured of our resistance. We won’t give up our lands like this.”