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After a change in administration, the bullet train project aims to overcome Maharashtra’s hurdles

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Bullet Train
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The change of government in Maharashtra may fast track the bullet train project with railway officials expecting a land acquisition file stuck on the state’s chief minister’s desk to move now, a petrol pump to be shifted to build a tunnel, and a back-and-forth over payment for a “prime land” settled.

The 508-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed corridor is being built at an estimated cost of Rs 1.1 trillion and will have 12 stations in Maharashtra and Gujarat. The officials said 432 hectares of land is needed in Maharashtra for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad project, but implementing agency National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) has acquired 312 hectares till now, and struggling to get the rest primarily due to the stalling tactics of the state.

For instance, they said, the NHSRCL had to cancel tenders floated in November 2019 for the construction of the underground terminus at the Bandra Kurla Complex as the state government allegedly failed to handover the 4.88-hectare land it had promised at the BKC.

Sources said the state asked for Rs 3,500 crore for the “prime land”, and demanded this money be adjusted against the equity contribution of Rs 5000 crore of the state’s share of the project.

Sources said the NHSRCL had given 11 extensions after tenders were floated hoping the state will release the land.

“This was non-negotiable as the cost of the project would have significantly increased if we agreed to give the payment,” an official said.

“The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) which is funding the project is paying for all construction, rolling stock and signalling and not for the day to day expenses of the project,” he said.

Also, a BPCL petrol pump on the BKC site has not been moved despite been given an alternative site, the officials said.

Another roadblock is is small parcel of about 3.92 hectare of land in Vikroli needed for the 21-km undersea tunnel between Thane and Virar.

Sources said a tender for constructing the tunnel was also cancelled because of the non-availability of this land.

However, the most significant bottleneck came from former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s office as the file on 95 hectare of forest land to be used for the project remained stuck there, the sources said.

They said the approval did not come through despite the fact that the NHSRCL has already paid the amount mandatory under the compensatory afforestation rules.

With these issues unresolved, the Railways had given up hopes of working on the Maharashtra section anytime soon and was focusing on completing the 48-km stretch between Surat and Bilimora in Gujarat by 2026.

“It was virtually becoming impossible to get the land required in Maharashtra. While 100 per cent of private land has been acquired, the other land parcels are key. Without them we cannot complete the project. With this change, things will hopefully get better,¿ an official said.

Things, it seems, have started moving already.

In its very first meeting, the cabinet of new Chief Minister Shinde and his deputy Devendra Fadnavis, overturned the previous government’s decision to stay the construction of the Metro 3 car shed in Aarey and shifting it to the 102-acre Kanjurmarg plot.

This, the officials said, raised hopes for the bullet train project.

The project is being developed at an estimated cost of Rs 1.1 trillion, with 81 per cent funding coming from the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The trains will run on special tracks called the “slab track system”, popularly known as HSR technology for construction of tracks, patented by the Japanese.

The trials of the bullet train will be conducted at a speed of 350 kmph, comparable to speed at which airplanes take-off.

So far, the NHSRCL has disbursed Rs 8215.63 crore in Gujarat as compensation for land acquired while in Maharashtra it has paid Rs 2284.78 crore.

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