Devendra Fadnavis-led panel cleared Bullet train project without meeting even once, reveals RTI

In a shocking revelation, Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis, has overlooked his own orders before approving the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train project.

On 27 February 2017, the home department of the state issued a circular noting the formation of a subcommittee to conduct an “in-depth study” of the bullet train project. The subcommittee, said the circular, would be headed by Fadnavis himself.

More than six months later, On 12 September 2017, the home department issued another circular approving the project. However, an RTI query has now revealed that the subcommittee has not held a single meeting to date, let alone conducting an in-depth study.

 Devendra Fadnavis-led panel cleared Bullet train project without meeting even once, reveals RTI

File image of Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. PTI

Along with Fadnavis, three others on the panel of the subcommittee were Chandrakant Patil (Minister for Revenue, Relief and Rehabilitation, and Public Works), Vinod Tawde (Minister for Education) and Diwakar Raote (Minister for Transport).

Patil did not respond to a message or several phone calls. His associates kept asking this reporter to call later. And there was no response from him till the publishing of the piece.

The state government issued a clarification on 24 December 2018 at 10.20 pm on its website, which was sent to Firstpost the following day after publishing the story. “The decision was taken in the cabinet meeting of 7 September 2017 based on the recommendations of the subcommittee,” it says.

Raote, in a telephonic interview, passed the buck to Fadnavis and said he has no clue about it.

"I am not looking into the bullet train, the chief minister is," he said.

Upon pointing out his name is on the panel, Raote said, "My name may be there, but I have no clue about it. I don't know what this committee is, and I do not recall attending anything pertaining to it."

The RTI revelation and Raote's admission suggests the chief minister had no intention of examining the project with sincerity.

RTI activist Jeetendra Ghadge, who had filed the RTI request, said, “The Maharashtra government has clearly rushed into approving the project under the pressure of the Central Government without even looking at its feasibility or the interests of their own state. It's really shocking that they ignored their own orders to approve such a mega project, which has no practical benefit to Maharashtra, and further, it will add more financial stress to the already loan-burdened state."

Touted as Narendra Modi’s plan to upgrade the infrastructure in India, the 508-kilometre high-speed rail project is estimated at 1.08 lakh crore rupees, with Central Railway footing half of the bill, and the rest of the 50 percent of the expenses to be shared equally between Gujarat and Maharashtra.

However, the clarity ends there.

On 3 January 2017, the transport department of the state home department solicited inputs from others on the bullet train project, in which the planning department said the MoU “should clarify how the revenue would be shared between Centre, Gujarat and Maharashtra after the project is operational".

The revenue department had even more pertinent objections. It noted the project is "likely to make losses, which means one would have to infuse capital repeatedly to keep it afloat".

"In this regard, it is important to know what the responsibility of the state would be," it said, adding, "There is no information or estimate available regarding how much profit or loss this project would make."

In conclusion, the revenue department asked to examine how many people go to Ahmedabad for work from Maharashtra currently, in order to establish the benefits for the state.

Yet, in its circular dated 12 September 2017, the Maharashtra government gave a go-ahead to the project with the subcommittee that was formed to look into it not meeting even once.

"It is a known fact that the project will benefit only Gujarat state and the Gujarati population living in Mumbai. Unfortunately, Maharashtra has to bear an equal share of the cost, which is unfair on the Maharashtra state's taxpayers," said Ghadge.

The RTI query further revealed that the Ministry of Railways has paid more than Rs 18 crores for undertaking a joint feasibility report of the bullet train project.

Both the states involved in executing the project appear to be circumventing the due process and law.

The farmers that are set to lose their land to the project have opposed the acquisition, claiming the Gujarat government has not followed the due process. According to a Hindustan Times report of October 2018, “A year after the project was kicked off, only 0.9 hectares of land have been acquired out of the 1,400 hectares needed.”

At this rate, the project is set to miss the completion deadline of 2023.

The representatives of Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is providing 81 per cent of the loan to India for the project, had visited Surat earlier in December.

Khedut Samaj Gujarat president Jayesh Patel told The Indian Express on 9 December, "We showed all the documents to the JICA officials, including the petitions and affidavits filed by the affected farmers in the High Court.... We informed them that over 2,200 farmers in 192 villages spread across eight districts of Gujarat have been affected by the bullet train project."

He added: “The Gujarat government did not listen to their issues and the declared compensation is so less that with that money they cannot purchase another agricultural land in the nearby area for livelihood. We showed them pictures and newspaper cuttings of the arrest of farmers by the police when the land acquisition officials turned to the fields for measuring land. They (JICA officials) were shocked to find that the government did not hold talks with the affected farmers over land acquisition, and teams were sent directly to the fields for marking the land.”

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Updated Date: Dec 25, 2018 12:11:34 IST