Just over a week after around 800 farmers held a protest march in Navsari, Gujarat, demanding better compensation for their land that had been acquired for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, National Federation of Indian Railways (NFIR), the railways workers’ union has issued a statement opposing the project.
The NFIR has expressed their opposition by urging the government to prioritise work on the existing train routes instead of focussing on the bullet train. At a press conference in Mumbai, Maharashtra, on February 13, M Raghavaiah, General Secretary of NFIR, said, "Before running the bullet train, it is important to undertake repairs and maintenance work of the tracks across the country.”
The union has also put forward their other demands which have been sent to the Ministry of Finance, including exemption of railways from the New Pension Scheme, revision of kilometrage rates of running staff, risk and hardship allowance for employees, and 40 hours a week rest for loco pilots. It has also demanded that the minimum wage for skilled workers be increased to Rs. 22,000 per month and the 2.50 lakh vacant posts in railways be filled.
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The union has threatened to launch a stir in Delhi from March 13, if their demands are not met by the government. Raghavaiah told the media, “The demands which we are putting forth are not new; our government has already agreed in 2014 to fulfil them. We are reiterating and reminding the government to fulfil its promise. It's now or never. If our demands or not met, then we would resort to stop the wheels.”
The union said that two large demonstrations will be held at Jantar Mantar, Delhi, on March 13 and March 23, and if their demands are not met even after that, they will move to protesting outside the Prime Minister’s residence.
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Calling the bullet train project “unnecessary”, Raghavaiah said, "Rather, the government should infuse this Rs. 1 lakh crore fund to strengthen the existing railway infrastructure such as signalling equipment, tracks, amenities, coaches, rakes and improving the precarious condition of railwaymen."
Earlier on February 6, farmers had organised the protest march a day before the Gujarat High Court was expected to pronounce the judgement on several petitions that had been filed challenging land acquisition for the project. It was held under the banner of Gujarat Khedut Samaj, an organisation that has been opposing the project for a long time, and saw participation from a large number of women.
The Gujarat HC, however, reserved its judgement in the matter on February 7. The division bench, comprising of Acting Chief Justice A S Dave and Justice Biren Vaishnav, had earlier said that they will declare the judgement on the day, but the bench clarified that the judgement was incomplete and kept it reserved.
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The farmers and landowners have been vehemently opposing the land acquisition process, because the government is offering compensation according to the 2011 jantri (official) rates. They have repeatedly made it clear that they want compensation as per the market value of the land, and not the rate fixed by the government. The petitioners have also demanded that the state should take care of the rehabilitation and resettlement as mandated by the central Land Acquisition Act 2013.
The total cost for the project has been estimated at Rs. 1.1 lakh crore.