Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train: Here's how Palghar women drove away the project

Updated: Dec 06, 2019, 08:54 | Jonita Colaco
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    Tanoj Kumar remembers the morning two years ago when he woke up to find a foot-high cylindrical concrete structure outside his 25-year-old home. Around 100 other homes in the 400-year-old Dungra village —about eight kilomteres from Vapi in Gujarat — woke up to the same inexplicable sight. It was the first time the village learnt about the government's ambitious Bullet Train project and that their homes lay in its path. 

    In photo: Dungra resident Tanoj Kumar with his family at his home. 

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    "We do not know who they were or which government agency they were from. All they told us was that our village lies in the path of the Bullet train and it—or at least parts of it, and especially the homes with the cement structure in front of them—would be demolished to make way for the train," says Kumar who works at a private firm in Vapi. 

    In photo: Dungra resident Tanoj Kumar with his family at his home.

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    With 296 villages and 1,434.28 hectares of land set to be lost, a documentary is making the rounds at the grassroots level, calling villagers to stand up and fight for their rights. Their right to say no to the Bullet and to ask for better compensation. Titled simply Bullet, the 58-minute-long film went online on July 13 this year. 

    In photo: The cylindrical structure that local residents found outside their homes signifying that their house will be demolished to make way for the Bullet Train project. 

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    In Shilte, a village in Palghar, where people have been spending sleepless nights over the bullet train's devastating path through their homes, there is one reason for recurrent mirth. Three years ago, after the news broke, villagers began to stonewall access of officials to the area. Frustrated, the officials sent drones to survey the land. But, on spotting it, a dozen women started chasing the officials. 

    In photo: The tribal women of Shilte village who chased away a drone surveying the area for the Bullet train. It's a memory that still makes the residents laugh.

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    Another time the bullet train officials arrived for a recce in Shilte, the villagers locked them up in the local gram panchayat office. Sagar Sutar (in pic), a member of the Palghar-based association Adivasi Ekta Parishad (AEP), says, "Everyone here, especially the Adivasi women, have pent up anger. When the officials arrived, they placed a wooden table in someone's field. It was monsoon, and also time to harvest crops. Every seed is precious. How did they even think of placing tables on top of them?" Sagar Sutar is a 35-year-old resident of the neighbouring Vedhi village and part of the Bhoomiputra Bachao Andolan that focuses on the many issues plaguing the district. 

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    Of the 1,008 villages in Palghar, 73 fall in the route of the bullet train and will be affected. Palghar is largely inhabited by tribals who live off the land. Mahendra Lahange (in pic), who lives with his parents and wife, isn't sure if his home will be demolished for the bullet train. All that he and others in the village know for sure is that entry of govt officials into their villages must be restricted.

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    An artist's impression of the High Speed Rail Training Institute that is under construction in Alkapuri.

    (Photo: NHSRCL)

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    Fifteen kilometres from Alkapuri town lies Chansad village. It stands out because it is one of the very few villages on the bullet train's path that have given their consent to land acquisition. Located in Padra taluka, Chansad was also the first village to seek the consent award, under which villagers got seven times the land price.

    In photo: Narendra Patel, deputy sarpanch of Chansad village, says 47 families have given their consent to the project. The remaining are said to have given their verbal nod but have not yet signed the papers.

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    A total of 17 hectares of Chansad farmland will be used for the project. It is said that while the main maintenance depot will be constructed at Sabarmati, the second maintenance depot will be located at Chansad.

    In photo: The temple where Chansad villagers assemble every evening.

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    Meanwhile, just two kilometres from Vadodara railway station, Alkapuri is quite the busy and crowded town. Eight years ago, the exit at Alkapuri station underwent a facelift and was designed in ornate Gaekwadi style architecture. Now, a portion of this stands to be demolished for the bullet train project. But, the station isn't the only one to be disfigured.

    In photo: Kadak Bazaar is over 100 years old and will now be razed for the bullet train. While the shopkeepers spoke to mid-day, they refused to be photographed fearing backlash from the government.

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    Krishnakant Chauhan of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) says the entire city may soon be ruined to accommodate two different constructions. There's the bullet train station that has been planned between Alkapuri and Jetalpur railway under-bridges, and then there's the High Speed Rail (HSR) Training Institute which will be built over five hectares at the National Academy of Indian Railways (NAIR) in Alkapuri.

    In photo: Krishnakant Chauhan

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    At the bullet train terminal, the town's 100-year-old Kadak Bazar, about 90 metres from Vadodara railway junction, will be razed. Rupesh Agrawal, 41, who owns a departmental store there, said, "We found out about the project around two years ago, but no official has come here to tell us that the market will be destroyed. If they require a width of 17.5 metres for the train, why do they need to raze our entire market? It makes no sense. We will not vacate the area even if they offer us compensation."

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    Harshadbhai Patel, a local farmer in Jujwa, Valsad, calls the government audacious. The 60-year-old who grows mango, chikoo and sugarcane and owns two acres and 14 gunthas of land, both non-agricultural and agricultural, in a prime area, says the authorities are offering him just Rs28 lakh for 20 gunthas [half acre] that could otherwise fetch him at least Rs 2 crore.

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    The foundation for Sardar Sarovar Dam at Kevadia in Gujarat as part of the Narmada Valley Project was laid in 1961. But, for the past 30 years, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, helmed by activist Medha Patkar, has been highlighting the flawed manner in which the project has been conceptualised and how rehabilitation policies have failed the 41,000 families living near the reservoir. One of the most memorable images of the protests led by Patkar were of the jal satyagraha. The photo of her along with dozens of villagers, submerged in the water, as a mark of protest, continues to be a moving image.

    Photo: Medha Patkar. Pic /AFP

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    Kaluram Dhodade – recognised as the pioneer of the Adivasi movement in Western India said the government claims to be doing only one project, but it is a lie. Dhodade is from Damkhind, a small tribal village in Palghar taluka. The government has assured the villagers compensation and rehabilitation, but they refuse to believe false promises. "They will not be fooled again; they have borne the brunt once, they will certainly not leave their houses for the second time. To even expect this of them is ridiculous"

    In photo: Kalarum Kaka is recognised as the pioneer of the Adivasi movement.

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    88-year-old Dayabhai Maganbhai of Adas village near Anand, Gujarat, says he will never give up his fight even though nine other homes in his village have agreed to give up their land. 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. 

    In photo: Dayabhai Maganbhai with two of his four sons. 

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About The Gallery

The high-speed rail corridor, set to connect Mumbai and Ahmedabad by 2023, has been touted as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pet project. However, in May 2013, the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced the launch of the project in India. In 2014, however, when the NDA government came to power, PM Modi announced that this was his dream project. It was then decided to run the high-speed train between Ahmedabad and Mumbai at a speed of 360 km/hr. While the initial deadline for this project was 2020, it has now become December 2023. In a six-part series to assess on-ground protests against the Bullet Train project, mid-day travelled across and spoke to people who may lose their ancestral land.

(All photos: Sneha Kharabe)