India set to miss December deadline for Japan-backed bullet train project

Vastavam web: 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. 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.

“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. Protests against land acquisitions are common in India, where tens of millions of farmers till small holdings. A planned $44 billion refinery to be run by a consortium including Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer, is also struggling to secure land in Maharashtra.

“Land acquisition for any project is complex in India,” said Dhananjay Kumar, spokesman for the National High Speed Rail Corp Ltd (NHSRCL) that is overseeing the project. “Here also we are facing difficulty because of so much resistance. ”A JICA spokeswoman said that India must create relocation plans for local residents and make them public in order to enter into a loan agreement covering the main part of the bullet train project. “It is possible that it takes time to sign a contract as India takes proper and careful measures in line with JICA’s guidelines for environmental and social considerations,” she 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. A Japanese transport ministry official who deals with the bullet train project said that Indian officials had told them that “they can manage” the land acquisition.