As protests flare up, land acquisition target of December may be missed
India is set to miss a December deadline to acquire land for a Japan-backed $17 billion bullet train project following protests by fruit growers, government officials said, likely delaying one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most ambitious projects.
Mr. Modi’s office is now monitoring the project week-to-week, as Indian officials seek to reassure Tokyo that the hurdles can be overcome through intense negotiations with sapota and mango growers in Maharashtra. Protests, backed by local politicians, have flared up in recent months against attempts to secure sections of a 108-km stretch, which is around one-fifth of the entire bullet train corridor connecting Mumbai with Ahmedabad.
“I’ve worked hard for three decades to develop this plantation, and they are asking me to hand over this land,” sapota farmer Dashrat Purav, 62, said as he showed his orchard in the town of Palghar, a three-hour-drive north of Mumbai.
Mr. Purav said he would sell his land only if at least one of his two sons was promised a government job.
“Land acquisition for any project is complex in India,” said Dhananjay Kumar, spokesman, National High Speed Rail Corp. Ltd., that is overseeing the project.
“Here also we are facing difficulty because of so much resistance,” he said.
To assuage Japan’s concerns, Indian officials have sought a meeting this month with Transport Ministry officials in Tokyo, one of the Indian officials said. India wants the project’s completion target to be advanced by a year to 2022, the 75th year of India’s Independence.
“We will continue to work together with India to bring this project forward with an aim to start operation in 2023,” a Japanese Transport Ministry official said.