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Will India get its first bullet train on time? Here's a status check

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious Japan-backed Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project costing $17 billion must speed up to to meet the August 2022 deadline. The biggest challenge for the project is land acquisition. The National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) is acquiring around 1,400 hectares of linear land at a cost of Rs 10,000 crore in 195 villages in Gujarat and in 104 in Maharashtra and a small area in Dadra & Nagar Haveli. It has faced stiff resistance from farmers and tribals, especially in the Palghar district of Maharashtra. How much land has been acquired so far?NHSRCL has to complete land acquisition by December 2018. So far only 0.9 hectares in Bandra-Kurla Complex has been physically handed over, according to a report in The Indian Express. Before the acquisition process, an aerial survey is conducted to identify the land. The results of the aerial survey are verified with a physical survey. After that a joint measurement survey is done by by a team of all stakeholders. The compensation process begins on the basis of this survey. While the aerial survey was completed early last year, the physical survey, started in December, has covered 184 villages in Gujarat and 50 in Maharashtra, according to the report. Legal challenges According to the report, five petitions have been filed in the Gujarat High Court — either challenging a 2013 Gujarat amendment to the Land Acquisition Act, demanding the preliminary notification be quashed, or refusing to part with fertile land. The Godrej group has filed a petition In Bombay High Court challenging acquisition of its 3.5 hectares in Vikhroli. It has offered another piece of land close by.The compensation NHSRCL has adopted different compensation mechanisms in the two states due to different laws. In Maharashtra, the company is paying four times the circle rate of the land, plus a 25% bonus, as well as a one-time payment of Rs 5 lakh, according to the report. If one loses a house, he or she can choose either a new one built nearby (500 sq feet) or money to buy a new house elsewhere at twice the construction cost. For livelihood loss, the offer is Rs 3,600 per month for one year. There is a provision for a one-time, Rs 5 lakh rehabilitation payment to landless agriculture workers, and a one-time. Rs 25,000 to employees of shops on land to be acquired. Even for forest land, the project is paying 50% of land cost to the displaced and the remaining 50% to the state government. For fruit-bearing trees axed, farmers are being offered the amount expected to be earned for the remainder of the tree’s lifetime. Besides, the company pays a 12% interest on the compensation amount to be calculated from the date of noticeIn Gujarat, the report says, the compensation is more than four times the prevailing price. The Gujarat government plans to offer either 4.75 times the existing jantri prices (the state yardstick) or the average rate within a 1.5-km radius, whichever is higher. The company is offering a 25% bonus, and the same livelihood-loss-related sops as offered in Maharashtra.Why are people protesting?Apart from compensation, there are several other issues such as the impact of the project on resources, restrictions on activities and vibrations from the train, says the report. Since bullet train is a high-speed train, its track has to avoid curves and be as straight as possible. That requires splitting of farm land at several places which can disrupt farm operations. The report says farmers have not been given clear information on issues such as permission of movement across the tracks.According to the report, for land being split, the company is paying a special compensation based on the extent — a 50-50 split has a different compensation from, say, 75-25. The land that remains on either side continues to belong to the owner, who can use it as he or she wishes. Only for digging and building a highrise will he need to inform the NHSRCL. The company has responded to the villagers' demands of proving amenities such as healthcare, education, drinking water and sanitation.

Source: ET

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