Ahmedabad: As many as 1,000 farmers affected by the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train submitted affidavits in the Gujarat High Court on Tuesday, voicing their opposition to the project.
A division bench of Chief Justice R Subhash Reddy and Justice V M Pancholi is hearing five petitions challenging the land acquisition process for the high-speed rail project. Besides these petitioners, 1,000 farmers submitted separate affidavits in the high court stating that many more cultivators were affected by the Centre’s ambitious ₹ 1.10 lakh crore project and were opposed to it.
In the affidavit, affected farmers from various districts of Gujarat, from where the bullet train route will pass, said they did not want their land to be acquired for the project. They also said that existing land acquisition proceedings were contrary to the guidelines of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which provided soft loan to the Indian government for the project.
The farmers alleged that the Gujarat government diluted the Land Acquisition Act 2013 after the Japanese government entered into a contract with India for the bullet train project in September 2015, and the state amendment itself violated JICA guidelines.
They told the court that neither their consent was taken, nor any consultations were done with them while initiating the land acquisition. They said the social impact assessment for rehabilitation and resettlement was also not being discussed by the government and that agencies had undertaken “unknown proceedings" (with farmers were not aware of).
During the hearing, the central government sought more time to file a reply.
The Supreme Court had directed the high court on 10 August to expeditiously hear matters of farmers affected by the bullet train project. Farmers’ lawyer Anand Yagnik told reporters that the high court was unable to hear the matter as since the last five weeks, the Centre was constantly seeking time to submit the reply.
“These 1,000 affected farmers will approach the Supreme Court with a prayer to stay the project. We will mention the matter before the apex court on Wednesday for an urgent hearing," Yagnik said.
In their petitions filed in July, the five farmers, all from Surat, said since the project extended to more than one state (Gujarat and Maharashtra), the Centre was the “appropriate government" to acquire land for the same. Another contention of the petitioners was that the market value of the land was not revised, as required under Section 26 of the Land Acquisition Act. The petitioners challenged the Gujarat Amendment Act 2016, which tweaked the 2013 law. It gave “unbridled and unfettered powers" to the state government to exempt any project “in public interest" from the social impact assessment, they said. The state government, in its reply, said since the width of land to be acquired for the project was just 17.5 metres, resettlement issues were minimal.
The project was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe in September last year. The bullet train will run at a speed of 320-350 kmph, with 12 stations across its 500 km stretch. Around 1,400 hectares of land will be acquired in Gujarat and Maharashtra for the project. Around 6,000 land owners will have to be compensated.