Ahmedabad: Gujarat farmers, villagers and activists, opposing the ambitious ‘bullet train’ project met the three-member Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) team during their two-day visit and threatened to take their fight to Japan if their demands are not met.

Representatives of Khedut Samaj Gujarat have warned the JICA officials that they will move court in Japan and approach the Japanese government, urging them to not lend money for a project that is ‘anti-farmer’, said three persons in the know of the matter.

The Japanese government’s funding agency will provide close to 88,000-crore soft loan to complete the proposed .1 trillion high-speed rail network between Ahmedabad and Mumbai.

Gujarat farmers have alleged that the policies of the central and state governments violate land acquisition rules. The three-member team led by JICA’s chief representative Katsuo Matsumoto on Friday met hundreds of farmers and protestors from four districts of south Gujarat whose land are set to be acquired for the project. On Saturday the JICA team met representatives of NGOs, farmers’ organizations and legal experts.

“The two-day visit was an ‘eye-opener’, they said. The project provides no rehabilitation or proper resettlement for the affected farmers. There is no provision for social impact assessment. The project is not only about acquiring land, but it takes away the livelihood of the people. If those affected by the Narmada dam project have been provided proper rehabilitation and resettlement package, why not for the bullet train project, which is the bigger in terms of expenditure?" said lawyer Anand Yagnik who is representing the over 1,000 farmers in the high court.

Yagnik informed the visiting team that the state government has been planning to acquire land at the 2011 Jantri rates, which is in violation of law. The state is supposed to notify the 2018 jantri rates and then carry out land acquisition, she added.

About 1200 affidavits and 200 petitions have been filed in the Gujarat high court, opposing the project. The final hearing on these cases is scheduled to start this week.

“While we remain positive about our meeting with JICA officials who heard us very sincerely and seriously, we have told in no uncertain terms that if our demands are not looked into properly by the Indian government, we will take our protest to Japan in a month’s time or so. We will approach the ruling government, opposition, civil rights groups and tell the people of Japan how their funds are causing damage to villagers and farmers in India," said Yagnik.

The 508-km Mumbai–Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Corridor (MAHSR), popularly called the ‘bullet train’, aims to reduce the journey time between Ahmedabad and Mumbai to approximately 2.07 hours from the eight hours it takes at present. This is possible due to the operating speed of 320kmph at which this train will run.

The MAHSR project was sanctioned for implementation with technical and financial assistance of the Japanese government in December 2015.

It promises to revolutionize train travel in India, after the introduction of the first passenger locomotive between then Bombay and Thane in 1853. While the cost of the project has been at the centre of controversy with activists and rival political parties questioning the rationale for such an expensive project, many farmers are not willing to give up their land as they allege that the project will do more harm than good to them.

There are two sets of government norms that the ‘Bullet Train Project’ has to adhere to, one, as per the Indian laws and second, as per the JICA Guideline of the Japanese Government, according to Rohit Prajapati, an environment activist who met JICA officials on Saturday .

“There has been much debate about how the Bullet Train Project violates the Indian Constitution, laws, and due processes. At the same time, the JICA Guidelines for investing in international projects are also being violated as much, if not more. And, to no one’s surprise, these violations are by the Indian government and its agencies responsible for carrying out the MAHSR. The violations are in public domain and known to almost everyone who cares to know. The concerned authorities might have some explanations and excuses to offer, but they cannot deny certain facts and ground realities," he said.

Prajapati said that the JICA team was informed about how the Bullet Train project is targeting fertile lands, environment, water sources, livelihood, biodiversity, economics, sensible priorities for the public transportation, environment laws of land, and the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.

The project is going to pass through reserved forest, mangroves and around 80,000 trees will be felled, and it is going to affect the water sources and biodiversity of the entire corridor and its context, he said.

Gujarat government recently announced giving four times the land prices prevailing in the market however farmers affected by bullet train claim that they are not getting even the basic price.

The farmers are also protesting the recently implemented the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Gujarat Amendment) Bill 2016. The new law moves away from the stringent provisions laid down in the centre’s Land Acquisition Act, 2013. It sidesteps the social impact assessment and consent clauses for acquisition of land for public purposes and industrial corridors.

“The JICA team members admitted to us in the meeting that the information they had received and the ground realities here were very different. They were under the impression that there was no public outcry and everything was media hype. JICA officials will make their submission to their higher authorities and we are confident that the government of Japan and government of India will find out remedies to our issues," said Jayesh Patel, president of Gujarat Khedut Samaj.

Patel, who was also present at the Saturday closed-door meeting, said the agitating farmers are willing to wait to reach at an amicable solution.

“We may wait for 15 days, a month or even bit more. But if we feel that our representations or submissions are not correctly interpreted, we will take our fight to Japan. We will also approach international forums and oppose JICA’s funding for the controversial project," said Patel.

An e-mailed query sent to JICA India representative remained unanswered.

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