Mumbai: The Mumbai-Nagpur Prosperity Corridor, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ dream project, took a big step forward with the commencement of land acquisition for the project in his home district of Nagpur on Thursday.

Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) chairman and minister for public works (public undertaking) Eknath Shinde signed the first sale deed for a plot of land at Hingna in Nagpur district. The seller, a farmer by the name of Ram Sahu, will be paid a compensation of Rs59.11 lakh for his 1.25 hectares.

Besides, 120 other farmers from Nagpur district handed in letters of intent to sell 80 acres of land for the project.

The 700-km-long and 120-feet-wide expressway is estimated to cost Rs46,000 crore and needs around 10,000 hectares of land. MSRDC is the nodal agency for the project.

MSRDC vice-chairman and managing director Radhyesham Mopalwar said the Nagpur district collector, who is the revenue authority to decide compensation, will transfer the purchase price to the seller’s account through real-time gross settlement (RTGS) on Thursday. “The MSRDC has already deposited funds for land acquisition with district collectors," Mopalwar added.

The expressway will pass through 10 districts, seven of them in economically backward regions of Marathwada and Vidarbha, and connect 14 most backward districts in the state with ports and national highways. Along the 700-km corridor that aspires to bring down travel time between Mumbai and Nagpur from 16 hours to 6, land will be acquired in and around 380 villages. The Fadnavis government plans to complete the project by 2020.

However, the project is witnessing stiff opposition from farmers and activists in Ahmednagar, Nashik, and Thane districts.

Earlier this month, the Nashik collector notified a minimum of Rs41 lakh per hectare for dry land and Rs84 lakh per hectare for irrigated land as compensation. The MSRDC is paying one-and-a-half times the notified rate for dry land and twice the notified rate for irrigated land. “This is the highest compensation for land a public infrastructure project is giving in India and this is higher than the maximum compensation that is mandatory under the Land Acquisition Act," Mopalwar said.

After a Joint Measurement Survey (JMS) of the entire 700-km stretch, collectors of 10 districts have notified land compensation rates. The minimum rate is Rs15 lakh per hectare (for dry land), which works out to Rs37.5 lakh per hectare using the one-and-a-half times formula, and the maximum rate is Rs85 lakh per hectare (irrigated land), which effectively translates to Rs1.70 crore (twice the notified rate).

Interestingly, Shiv Sena member Shinde signed the first sale deed even though his party chief Uddhav Thackeray has called for opposing the project if “it does not give farmers proper compensation".

A minister from the Bharatiya Janata party, the Sena’s coalition partner in the state, who requested anonymity, said Fadnavis had “deployed great political symbolism" by making Shinde sign the first sale deed.

“This effectively means Shiv Sena is on board. It has virtually become a signatory to the project now. The land rate that is been notified is the highest in the country. Shiv Sena cannot back off now and sabotage the project for political ends," the minister added.