Mumbai: In the two months that have passed since it took over the reins of Maharashtra, the new government of the Eknath Shinde-led rebel Shiv Sena and the BJP has cleared many roadblocks to boost Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s showpiece Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project.
The state government has given its nod to allot forest land in Maharashtra for the project by signing a shareholder agreement with National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL), the implementing agency for the project, and has also taken steps to clear land acquisition-related hurdles.
Chief Minister Shinde held a review of the project Monday and directed authorities to complete all land acquisition for the bullet train by September 30, a statement from the CM’s office said.
An NHSRCL official not wanting to be named said there have been “recent positive developments” related to the bullet train project in the state and “land acquisition has picked up pace”.
The 508-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train will make it possible to travel between the two cities within three hours at a speed of 320 km per hour. The Rs 1.1 lakh crore project, which is being built with financing from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), will have a total of 12 stations, of which eight will be in Gujarat while four will be in Maharashtra.
While the work has progressed rapidly in Gujarat, the project was off to a sluggish start in Maharashtra. The pace of land acquisition was slower in Maharashtra as there was stiff resistance from land owners and a lack of political will, with the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena strongly opposing the project.
The Eknath Shinde-led BJP-Shiv Sena rebel government came to power on 30 June as 40 Sena MLAs walked out of the Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) to forge an alliance with the BJP. The MVA government comprised the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Congress.
A fortnight after coming to power, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, following a cabinet meeting, told the media that CM Shinde has given all the clearances for the project.
The boost to the bullet train, which is Modi’s pet project, comes ahead of the assembly elections scheduled in Gujarat later this year.
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Nod for forest land
One of the first decisions that the Shinde-led government took after coming to power was to grant a preliminary forest clearance for the project to use forest land in Maharashtra, a senior state government official told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
The NHSRCL official quoted earlier said the organisation has now received the final approval for diversion of forest land for the project from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change.
With this approval, the NHSRCL has acquired 97.47 per cent of the land required for the bullet train project. In Maharashtra alone, 94.37 per cent of the required land has been secured.
Overall, the NHSRCL requires 433.82 hectares in Maharashtra for the project.
Maharashtra government authorities have handed over actual possession of 63.44 per cent of the land required for the project in the state to NHSRCL. This also includes forest land.
The Shinde-led government has also been taking steps to hand over lands owned by various government departments that are required for the project. For instance, the NHSRCL had written to the state dairy commissioner in February 2021, requesting to hand over two plots of less than a hectare each in Palghar district for the project.
The dairy commissioner put up a proposal before the state government for the handover of land on 31 May. The proposal was in limbo until the state government issued a government resolution on 11 August, approving the transfer of land for the bullet train project. ThePrint has seen the order.
Meanwhile, private land acquisitions in Maharashtra for the bullet train project picked up pace over the past two years despite the Thackeray-led MVA government not being in favour of the project.
Tender for underground BKC station
Earlier this month, the Shinde-led government cleared the decks to pick up the state government’s share of equity in the NHSRCL, a special purpose vehicle comprising 50 per cent stake of the Union government and 25 per cent stakes each of the Gujarat and Maharashtra governments. The Print has seen the order.
The above-mentioned Maharashtra government official also told ThePrint that the state government has directed the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA), the special planning agency in-charge of Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), to make land available for the construction of a bullet train station. This was a sticky point as the previous government had not handed over any of the 4.82 hectares required for the project in BKC, a key station, as this is where the train will terminate in Mumbai, right into the heart of the city’s business district.
Another senior government official told ThePrint that a Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) fuel pump on the land needs to be moved, for which the MMRDA has already provided an alternate location. “We have given BPCL possession of the alternate plot. We also issued them a notice to speed up the shifting,” he said.
Besides, he added, the MMRDA has also asked the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to shut down a Covid Care Centre that was set up on the land, which is required by the NHSRCL for the project.
With these assurances, the NHSRCL has floated a tender for the construction of the BKC station, which will be the only underground station in the entire corridor. The NHSRCL will open bids for construction of the station on 20 October.
(Edited by Siddarth Muralidharan)
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