India: Bullet Train – Train with ‘Bullets’ i.e. ‘A Symbol of Violence, Absolute Force’

16 August by Krishnakant , Rohit Prajapati


Mumbai - India (CC - Flickr - M M)

Our First Few Bullet Questions to the Modi Government:
- Why is MoEF&CC absent while a foreign government agency is participating in Environmental Consultation?
- Ongoing Consultation accepts the need for environmental concerns. Then, why the Environment Laws of India and MoEF&CC have no role in the process?
- Are the MoEF&CC and the Environment Laws of the Land mortgaged to the JICA?

We are supporters of the ‘Public Train Transport System’. Our objection to the “Bullet Train” project is not an objection against ‘Train’ but we are against the ‘Bullet’, which is “Symbol of Violence”. The Bullet Train’s ‘Bullet’ 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. More importantly, it targets democratic processes and common sense for the needs of contemporary and emerging New India.

The ‘Feasibility Report’ for Mumbai – Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR) of Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA) and Ministry of Railways, Government of India, is more about ‘Justifying the Project’ rather than seriously considering its thorough and honest social and environment impact assessments as well as viability and need for the project. Even as per their own report the ‘Bullet’ 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.

Despite all this, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) of the Government of India is not involved in the project’s environmental and social impacts assessment proceedings.

The representatives of foreign government body, in this case JICA - Japan International Cooperation Agency, with which Modi government signed MoU for bullet train project, are found sitting in district - town level public environment consultations with local Indian authorities. This is unprecedented, especially when the MoEF&CC, which should be legally part of this process, is instead completely missing from the consultations the project’s proceedings.

Why the MoEF&CC is absent and a foreign government agency is participating in Environment Consultation? The ongoing Environment Consultation accepts the need for environmental concerns then why the Environment Laws of India and the MoEF&CC have no role in the process. Are the MoEF&CC and the Environment Laws of the Land mortgaged to the JICA?

Presently, the Indian Rail Network is stretched along 67,368 Kilometres, with more than 13,000 passenger trains and 9,200 freight trains. Daily 15,561,613 passengers use the services. Between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, presently 76 trains run daily and average 400,000 passengers use it on daily basis. According to Government of India’s study, Rs. 560,596 crores are required to be spent across ten years for modernization of rail network, i.e. approximately Rs. 9 crores to modernize each km of rail network. While the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train will cost Rs. 212 crores per km. It is neither clear if the bullet train will, in any make, augment indigenous public transport technology nor is it clear if it will in any way benefit Indian industry or common people. It took 50 years for the first bullet train in Japan to mark a break-even. The cost will only increase the per capita debt burden and it will also make it difficult for the Indian Railways to manage its priorities and economics.

Presently, the Indian Government is promoting waterways and air travel. It is establishing airports in two tier towns. All major cities including Ahmedabad and Mumbai are now well connected with air network. In addition to air travel, there are both national highway and express highway between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. In addition, work is in progress for Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC). Why then the Bullet Train is given such a priority and made out to be a prestigious proposition? There are other ways to benefit from Japan-India friendship and socio-economic cooperation.

A simple calculation proves that the Bullet Train Project makes neither economic sense nor puts on priority the pressing multi-modal public transport needs, with last mile connectivity and appropriate and complementary land use planning that will benefit all, in the emerging New India.

In light of all the above, it is apparent that a sincere rethink of the project, with authentic and accountable stakeholders’ participation, is urgently needed.

Many more such questions need answers from the Modi Government. Let the Modi Government first clarify the questions raised here before taking any further action for the implementation of the ‘Bullet’.



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