After losing hope from the Indian government, thousands of farmers whose lands and livelihoods are being snatched to build the 508-km Mumbai–Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Corridor for the ‘bullet train’ — costing a stunning Rs. 1.1 lakh crore to transport 750 people between Ahmedabad and Mumbai in two hours instead of six — have turned for justice to Japan.
And after the two-day meeting on December 7-8 with a team from the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA), the Japanese government’s international financing agency that is funding the major part of the bullet train project, farmers and their representatives are confident that their agitation against land acquisition and violations of laws will bear fruit.
Also read: Bullet Train Project: Gujarat and Maharashtra Farmers Write to JICA, Report Violations
The three-member JICA team was visiting Gujarat in response to complaints by the Khedut Samaj Gujarat, the main farmers’ organisation spearheading the protests against the land acquisition for the bullet train since December 2017.
“It was in February-March this year that we learnt about the JICA guidelines for financing development projects,” Jayesh Patel, president of Khedut Samaj Gujarat told NewsClick.
“As per an international treaty that JICA has signed, there exists a set of 42-page guidelines. Whenever the agency is financing projects, it has to ensure that none of the guidelines are being violated,” he said.
JICA is providing a soft loan of around Rs. 88,000 crore for the project.
He added, “We had been writing to JICA for months but there was no response from them so far.”
But JICA took notice after more than 1,200 farmers submitted affidavits in the Gujarat High Court in October stating they did not want to give up their lands for the project, Patel said.
More than 200 affected farmers had filed petitions in the HC in June-July 2018.
During the two-day meeting, farmers and their representatives informed the JICA team — led by Katsuo Matsumoto, the chief representative of JICA’s India office — that the bullet train project was being executed while blatantly violating the Japanese funding agency’s own guidelines regarding Human Rights, indigenous people’s rights, social aspects and environmental aspects.
On December 7, the three-member JICA team met hundreds of farmers from four districts — Navsari, Valsad, Bharuch and Surat — out of the eight districts in Gujarat through which the ‘bullet train’ will run. And on December 8, the team met representatives of farmers’ organisations, NGOs including the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti that is spearheading the battle from the environmental aspect, and legal experts.
Patel said the JICA team also met two Adivasi representatives from the affected villages in Maharashtra — Kaluram Dhondke, president of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad, and Shashi Sonwane.
“The JICA guidelines are rather strict, especially when it comes to indigenous people’s rights, forest conservation, human rights, etc,” Patel said.
“We presented documented evidence of the violations, all of which JICA was not aware of. The team said they were being told something else by the government but clearly the reality on the ground was vastly different and shocking,” he added.
The bullet train will pass through eight districts in Gujarat, three districts in Maharashtra, and a small area of union territory Dadra & Nagar Haveli. Around 3,600 hundred families are being affected in the entire patch, of which 2,300 to 2,400 families are in Gujarat.
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Protests by farmers and village residents have been going on since December 2017, when the Gujarat government initiated the process of land acquisition.
Being developed on an area of more than 1,400 hectares, the high-speed rail corridor will pass through reserved forests and mangroves, besides swallowing fertile lands and water sources, destroying people’s livelihoods and the environment in the process.
BJP Govt. Bypassed Laws
The BJP-ruled Gujarat government has managed to bypass all legal and social obligations in the process of land acquisition by amending the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
Also Read: Bullet Train: Gujarat Farmers Move HC Opposing Forceful Land Acquisition
The government has instead passed the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Gujarat Amendment) Act 2016 — which severely dilutes or entirely scraps provisions regarding social, R&R (rehabilitation and resettlement), compensation, environmental and the food security aspects.
On December 10, the Supreme Court issued notices to five states, including Gujarat, over the validity of the amendments made to the 2013 land acquisition Act of the Centre, on a petition filed by Medha Patkar and other social activists.
“The 2016 law does away with provisions like getting consent of 70 per cent of the affected people for land acquisition, social impact assessment, public consultations with participation of representative local bodies, environmental obligations and even provisions under Food Security,” Patel said.
Patel said the 2016 Act also does away with the need to give the market value for the land being acquired. “The new law allows the government to get away by buying the land at what is called the ‘circle rate’ or the jantri rates, which are at least 100 to 200 times lesser than the market value,” he said.
What’s more, way back in December 2014, the Standing Committee on Railways (2014 – 2015) had said that the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project was financially unviable.
He said the team from Japan was convinced. “After all, how can JICA fund something that violates their own guidelines? And the violations are blatant,” he said, adding, “JICA is going to question the Government of India, the Gujarat government and the Maharashtra government on this.”
He further said, “We will go to Japan and begin a movement there, approach the government, the NGOs, etc. We will also go to international forums. We have hope from JICA, but we will make sure that justice is served in any case.”
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