When PM Narendra Modi had announced the high-speed bullet train project in India in September 2017, few would have imagined the impact on the ecology of the region around the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad route.
In response to question raised by Shiv Sena legislator ManeeshaKayande in the state Legislative Council, state transport minister Diwakar Raote said Monday confirmed that close to 54,000 mangrove trees spread over 13 hectares would be affected due to the construction.However, he clarified that the number of trees cut down would be far less as the height of the pillars would be well above the trees and the damage to environment would be limited. As a compensatory measure, the Government has also proposed to plant five times the number of trees felled for the bullet train project.
Replying to another question in the legislative council, Raote informed that 1,379 hectares of land acquisition has been proposed for the bullet train project. This includes around 724 hectares of private land in Gujarat and 270 hectares in Maharashtra. In Palghar district, around 188 hectares of private land will be acquired leading to displacement of 3,498 people in the district alone. In Thane district, around 85 hectares belonging to 6,589 farmers has been acquired.
Why are the environmentalists concerned?
Environmentalists are concerned since this news broke out, as they fear cutting down of the mangroves would accelerate occurrence of floods, especially in the low-lying areas. Preceding calamities such as the mangrove deforestation in Myanmar in 2008 – which was partially responsible for exposing the coastal areas to Cyclone Nargis leading to deaths of over 130,000 people – come to mind. Closer home, cities of Mumbai and Chennai have regularly faced the threats of floods due to reckless reclamation of coastal lands as a result of the nexus between the city authorities and property builders.
About the bullet train project
The project expected to cost over Rs. 1.1 lakh crores (US$16Bn), is majorly funded by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), through a 50-year loan at an interest rate of 0.1% excluding a moratorium period of 15 years. JICA will fund 81% of the project while the state governments of Maharashtra and Gujarat will fund the rest. This bullet train project is also expected to give a boost to the ‘Make in India’ initiative as 20% of all components would be manufactured in India while the rest will be supplied by Japan. Japanese steel giants such as Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp, manufacturing JFE Holdings Inc, Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd, Toshiba Corp and Hitachi Ltd etc. are expected to provide their expertise and bid for various contracts under the bullet train project.
Once completed, the bullet train project will connect the cities of Ahmedabad and Surat in Gujarat to the economic capital of India, Mumbai. The construction of this high-speed line began in August 2018 and is scheduled to be completed before 15 August 2022, in time for the celebration of India’s 75th year of Independence.