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Japan-Funded Bullet Train Sparks Protests in India

SNA (Tokyo) – The construction of India’s first bullet train has slowed to a crawl due to land acquisition issues and protests from the affected rural populace whose property lies in its path. Fears of displacement and the loss of their homes, paired with inadequate compensation by India’s government, means that the project is increasingly unlikely to meet its proposed 2022 deadline.

The train, a pet project of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will run from Mumbai to Ahmedabad and is expected to cut travel time down from eight hours to just two hours. The project will mark the first construction of a high-speed railway in India’s history, and would serve to partially address the country’s issues with infrastructure.

Funding for this venture primarily comes from a soft loan granted to India by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) of around US$15 billion with a 0.1% interest rate that is repayable in fifty years. This low interest rate seems beneficial to India at a passing glance, but, given that the value of yen is projected to appreciate against rupees in the future, the agreement may prove to be less than ideal for India.

The Plight of Farmers

For Modi’s bullet train to see the light of day, the National High-Speed Rail Corporation, Ltd. (NHSRCL) must acquire about 1,400 hectares of privately-owned agricultural land in Gujarat.

The main source of opposition to the project is the dozens of indigenous communities that lie in the path of the bullet train, and the estimated 6,000 landowners whose fertile farmland must be acquired for the railway to be built. For many of these people, the arrival of this modern method of transportation marks a significant change in their way of life, and they are hesitant to accept it.

The major issue is that of compensation. While the NHSRCL has offered farmers more than the market price for their land, the majority of those protesting the train believe that it is not enough. For them, their lands and the lives that they have built there are all they have; it is difficult to give those up for a bullet train that they believe will only help those who can afford to ride it.

Additionally, the fear of displacement is a driving factor in the farmers’ refusal to give up their property. Communities who have been displaced to other parts of the countryside in the past due to similar developments have had terrible experiences, with many of their new homes still lacking basic amenities such as electricity or easy access to clean water.

A lack of higher education within small farming communities means that their inhabitants are not qualified to assume well-paying jobs in larger cities, meaning that that would have to resort to menial labor in order to make enough money to survive. As opposed to the quiet life of a farmer, the hectic nature of cities would ensure a jarring change in lifestyle for all of those affected.

In response to these concerns, many farmers have chased surveyors sent by the government off their land and have organized rallies in an attempt to make their voices heard.

Nevertheless, the efforts made on their part have only delayed the construction of India’s first bullet train and, ultimately, the much-needed improvements it will provide to the country’s aging rail system. In a recent statement by the NHSRCL, the majority of the land acquisition needed for the project is likely to occur by December of this year.

Upon completion of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train rail corridor in 2022, the NHSRCL plans to survey other areas of the country for ten more bullet train routes. The cost of improving India’s railways will be immense, and it is doubtful that the farmers of Gujarat will be the last to relinquish their homes in the pursuit of this modernization.

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