Soon after taking over as Maharashtra chief minister, Uddhav Thackeray held a meeting to review the Mumbai-Ahmadabad High Speed rail project. He had already expressed his disinterest in continuing the project that had met stiff resistance from farmers in Maharashtra’s coastal belt.
In the five-hour long meeting, Thackeray was advised not to rake up the bullet train issue. An official working closely on the project is believed to have told him: “The bullet train is not going to happen in any case. Why do you want to appear to be stalling it?” Thackeray has not raised the issue thereafter.
The Narendra Modi government’s pet project—the agreement for which he signed with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe in September 2017—faces several challenges, the biggest being land acquisition. The project has missed deadlines for work commencement and is likely to miss the next one of April 2020. The new deadline to start “physical work” is end of the year.
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Sources say the project has already overrun its budgeted cost and time. It is now estimated to cost Rs 1.6 lakh crore, as compared to Rs 1.1 lakh crore, the cost established by the feasibility study in 2015. It is also likely to be delayed from its proposed completion date of December 2023.
However, MD of National High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd (NHSRCL), Achal Khare, tells Outlook that the project is on track and that “the issue of cost increase, if any, can only be established after finalisation of tenders”. He adds that over 51 per cent of land has been acquired and that the measurement survey required before initiating the acquisition along the corridor is almost over.
“NHSRCL is approaching land acquisition with care and without harming any person’s or families’ interest,” Achal says, while admitting challenges like disputed land pockets, missing or incomplete land records