Bullet train project: 'Will take a bullet, but won't give land'

Updated: Nov 25, 2019, 07:46 IST | Prutha Bhosle | Mumbai

In the concluding part of the series, we speak to 88-year-old Dayabhai Maganbhai of Adas village near Anand, Gujarat, who says he will never give up his fight even though nine other homes in his village have agreed to give up their land

Dayabhai Maganbhai with two of his four sons. Pics/Sneha Kharabe, map/Uday Mohite
Dayabhai Maganbhai with two of his four sons. Pics/Sneha Kharabe, map/Uday Mohite

Adas: At age 88, Dayabhai Maganbhai has suffered two strokes in the last one year. When we meet him at his home in Adas village of Anand district, 100 km from Ahmedabad, he is resting on a charpoy. "I will take a bullet but will not give my land. I don't care if every other family gives their consent for this project, I will not budge," he tells us. Sanjay Parekh, the youngest of his four sons, says, "My father has seen India's struggle for Independence and, 73 years later, he still does not feel free. Why is he being forced to sell his hard-earned land which is the only source of income for the family?"

The bullet train will pierce through Adas village, destroying 10 homes and some farmland. Dayabhai is set to lose the maximum chunk. His duplex home, built only 11 years ago, will be completely demolished for the new rail line. "We grow bananas for a living. Annually, we make about R3 lakh through farming. But now, 3.5 guntha out of the total 44 gunthas is going into the project. This will impact us severely," the eldest son Jitendra says.

The ominous cement marker that was placed in Dayabhai Maganbhai's field one day
The ominous cement marker that was placed in Dayabhai Maganbhai's field one day

The family found out about the project in 2013 when it was announced by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. "In 2015, officials started coming to our property to conduct surveys and take pictures. They warned us that our home and farmland may be acquired for the project, but also added that the route was undecided and so we needn't worry," he adds. But, the local collector summoned the family multiple times. "When we started going to the district office for meetings, we realised they were serious about taking our land. This was when we started to panic."

Besides the Parekhs, the other nine families have given their consent to land acquisition. Now, they are putting pressure on them to sign the papers, too. Krishnakant Chauhan, an activist, says, "It does not matter if the villagers give consent or not, the government will end up forcibly taking it away to make way for the project. When the government offers a meagre amount in exchange of your land, you either accept it quietly or lose both—land and money."

Dayabhai Maganbhai at his home in Ramnagar, Anand
Dayabhai Maganbhai at his home in Ramnagar, Anand

When asked why he thinks this route was planned for the country's first high-speed rail line, Chauhan informs, "It is quite obvious. The corridor is meant to benefit the diamond merchants shuttling between Ahmedabad and BKC. These traders discreetly and efficiently transport high-value goods and cash, often using the railway network. Barring this community, nobody is excited about the bullet. The project is nowhere going to benefit the poor."

Station being constructed under guise of Metro work

Sabarmati: A few hours from Anand, in Sabarmati, amid the hustle and bustle of the city, we get a tip-off that construction of the bullet train station is underway. As we head to the Railway Stadium near Torrent Power House, all we see is the construction of a Metro line. None of the pedestrians know of any high-speed rail construction.

Exclusive photos Ongoing construction work for the bullet train in Sabarmati with the Metro construction in the background
Exclusive photos Ongoing construction work for the bullet train in Sabarmati with the Metro construction in the background

A police officer nearby, on patrol duty, confirms the construction of the bullet train station and guides us there. At the spot, construction work on the bullet train station seems to be ongoing under the guise of Metro work. A cement wall divides the two constructions; a strategy, we believe, to keep the bullet train work out of the public eye. A bullet train official, seated inside the trailer, however, refused to comment.

A board at the bullet train construction site in Sabarmati confirms the project deadline
A board at the bullet train construction site in Sabarmati confirms the project deadline

When asked about the status of the construction of the tracks, an NHSRCL spokesperson said, "The hostel building of the training institute in Vadodara is about to be completed. The construction of the Sabarmati hub in Ahmedabad has started. The test track in Vadodara is completed. The utility diversions have been identified for the alignment and the shifting is in progress. NHSRCL has invited bids for the construction of about 69% (348 km) of total alignment of 508 km, including 21 km of the underground tunnel, five elevated stations and one depot at Surat."

Some serious work going on for the bullet train in Sabarmati. Pics/Sneha Kharabe
Some serious work going on for the bullet train in Sabarmati. Pics/Sneha Kharabe

The proposed Sabarmati Hub which mid-day found is under construction. Pic/NHSRCL
The proposed Sabarmati Hub which mid-day found is under construction. Pic/NHSRCL

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