PALGHAR, MAHARASHTRA: Farmers Vow to Derail Modi’s Pet Bullet Train Project

Prachi Hatiwlekar

THE Modi government is hell bent on pushing ahead with its infamous Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet Train project with Japanese collaboration at the earliest. It is trying every trick in the trade to grab the land of poor adivasi farmers in Palghar district, who will never get the chance to use the train. The Modi government is doing this by spreading the white lie that farmers from Gujarat have already sold land to it, or by luring them with hefty compensation, or by dangling the blandishment that the government will build schools, hospitals, roads in their villages and so on. But the farmers who have land as their only source of livelihood, have refused to sell it at any cost.

All these affected farmers from various organisations have come together under the banner of the ‘Bhoomi Adhikar Andolan (BAA)’, a joint platform to oppose the project, to save their land and ultimately their livelihood. On September 11, 2018, a meeting of the BAA was held at Dahanu in Palghar district. It was well attended by leaders and activists of AIKS, CITU, DYFI, AIDWA, Kashtakari Sanghatana, Agri Yuvak Sanghatana, CPI(ML-Liberation) and by the farmers from Dahanu, Talasari and Palghar tehsils who are in danger of losing their land in the project. Their enthusiasm was evident due to the great success of the previous day’s ‘Bharat Bandh’ against the exorbitant fuel price rise.  

Earlier, on May 3, the CPI(M) and AIKS had held a huge 35,000-strong rally at Dahanu to oppose the Bullet Train and Express Highway projects. A month later on June 3, a joint convention was held at Palghar by BAA to oppose this project. Leaders of various political parties including CPI(M), Congress, NCP, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and even the Shiv Sena which is a partner in the current state government headed by the BJP, participated in the convention and publicly opposed the Bullet Train project.

Brian Lobo of the Kashtakari Sanghatana in his introductory remarks, clarified that due to various hindrances in acquiring farm land due to the opposition of the gram sabhas, the government has now decided to buy the land directly from the farmers. Government officials are visiting individual farmers, luring them with good compensation and are falsely promising them schools, hospitals and roads. In such a situation, we who work for the downtrodden must unitedly fight, keeping aside our political differences.

Similar sentiments were shared by other leaders, including Bhagat from Agri Yuvak Sanghatana, Dheeraj Rathod from CPI(ML-L), social activist Pandharinath Gharat, Edward Vartha, Radka Kalangda and Chandrakant Ghorkhana from AIKS, Vinod Nikole from CITU, Vansha Dumada, Laxman Dombre, Ramdas Sutar and Nandu Hadal from DYFI, Lahani Dauda from AIDWA and others.

Many farmers whose land is being surveyed also spoke in the meeting. They shared their experiences of how the government is trying every possible way to ensnare them, by luring, threatening and also trying to create a split in the villages. But the land being their only source of income, is not for sale at any cost. The farmers reiterated their strong resolve not to sell the land and to fight collectively against the rulers under the banner of BAA. They suggested many interesting ways to drive out the surveying officers from their own experience.

This meet concluded with the speech of Ashok Dhawale, president of AIKS. He elucidated various destructive aspects of the Bullet Train and cautioned that this is not the only project that will destroy our livelihood. Other mega projects like Express Highway, Freight Corridor and the most dangerous Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) are in the pipeline. The BJP government is trying to wipe out the entire farmland of not only Thane-Palghar district but many other parts of the country. Farmers don’t want any change in the route of the Bullet Train or the compensation money; they are dead against this entire project. We must create awareness in every affected village. He also called upon the activists to mobilise people in a big way against this disastrous project.

Dhawale also reminded the meet of the inspiring and victorious struggle which the farmers of adjoining Raigad district carried out 10 years ago under the leadership of the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), along with the CPI(M) and many other organisations, against the proposed 30,000-acre gigantic Maha Mumbai SEZ of Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries. This is the time to recreate the same glorious history in Thane-Palghar district.

Many vital decisions were taken in this meeting. Every village conducts a gram sabha on Gandhi Jayanti on October 2. This year a resolution to oppose these projects will be passed in all gram sabhas that have not yet done so. A huge procession will be organised next month to the Palghar district collector’s office and these resolutions will be handed over. Besides, to create awareness about the danger of the Bullet Train and Express Highway projects, two jathas will be taken out along the proposed routes of the projects. Along with these projects, the burning demands to implement the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and other issues of land rights will also be pushed further. In October, there will be a national convention against the Bullet Train in Delhi and the national leaders of parties opposing this project will be invited.

With this clear course of further struggle, the meet ended amidst slogans opposing the Bullet Train and the pro-corporate policies of the BJP government.

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