Bullet train project: investigate ‘illegal detention’, say activists

Allege attempt to stop questions on ‘uncomfortable’ issues during consultation

Mumbai: Activists protesting against the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed rail project have condemned the “illegal detention” of farmers and activists just minutes before a consultation for the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited was held in Surat on Monday.

The Bhumi Adhikar Andolan and Shoshit Jan Andolan, organisations based out of Maharashtra and Gujarat, have written to the National Human Rights Commission, demanding an investigation into the detention of Krishnakant Chauhan, an elected local panchayat member, and Jayeshbhai Patel, a senior activist, among others. They have demanded urgent action against those found responsible.

The detainees were released on Monday evening.

‘Violation of rights’

Mr. Chauhan, an activist of Prayavarn Suraksha Samiti, said, “We were picked up without being given any reasons just before the start of the consultation, and taken to Umra police station in Surat. This was to stop us from creating any more awareness about the project.”

Brian Lobo, who is spearheading the organisations fighting for farmers and tribals affected by the project in Maharashtra, said the detention was to ensure that the activists would not raise “uncomfortable” issues during the consultation. “This is in violation of basic human and democratic rights. The administration, falling prey to pressure from the Central government, is trying to muzzle the voices of dissent of those who are fighting to protect their livelihood,” Mr. Lobo said.

Tribal rights activist Ulka Mahajan had earlier said that stakeholders were not given any time to prepare for the previous consultations. “Now, the NHRC must inquire into this detention and take action against all those responsible,” she said.

Project impact

Last month, farmers from the neighbouring states had gathered at a joint meeting in Surat to oppose land acquisition proceedings for the project. About 312 villages in Gujarat and Maharashtra will have to give up their land, while 7,974 plots belonging to the forest authorities and Railways will have to be acquired for the project.

Geotechnical investigations, hydrological survey, utility mapping have already been halted on a 90-km alignment in Palghar due to the protests. Activists have also warned of the potential loss of green cover. “In Palghar alone, the impact of the major highway, freight corridor and bullet train project is going to be massive, both in terms of loss of forest and land,” said Mr. Lobo.

The high speed train, with a capacity for 750 passengers, will travel at speeds between 320 km/hr and 350km/hr and is expected to reduce travel time between Ahmedabad and Mumbai to three-and-a-half hours or less from the present eight. The project is expected to be completed in seven years.