The Maharashtra government’s attempt to speed up the land acquisition process for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is stuck for the past five months.
Acting on a request from the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL), the government sought an exemption from the process of getting mandatory approvals from acquiring grazing land in Thane and Palghar, which comes in the alignment of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, on March 6. The request is still pending with governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao.
The NHSRCL needs over 1.4 acres (57 gunthas) of grazing land covering four gram sabhas in Thane and Palghar districts. A few of them are not keen to give up grazing land for the project. “To deal with it, the NHRCL requested the state revenue department to give exemptions for the project in January,” said a senior revenue official requesting anonymity.
According to section 22A of the Maharashtra Land Revenue Code (MLRC), the state is empowered to acquire grazing land for public as well as private projects, but needs prior approval of the gram sabhas as per Panchayats (Extension of the Scheduled Areas) or PESA Act that regulates the grazing land. The regulation came into effect following an amendment made in section 22A of the Maharashtra Land Revenue Code (MLRC) by the governor on May 9, 2017. The fifth schedule of the Constitution only empowers the governor to take such a decision.
“Exercising the powers conferred by fifth schedule of the Constitution, the governor can exempt the bullet train project from obtaining mandatory approvals as a special case,” the revenue official said.
The revenue official further pointed at another amendment made in section 36A of the MLR Code that no prior sanction will be needed if the grazing land is purchased with mutual understanding for vital government project.
The notification was issued under fifth schedule of the Constitution on November 14, 2017. “The idea behind asking for exemption was to expedite the project, but the delay is defeating our purpose,” said another revenue official. Recently, the governor held a meeting to deliberate on the issue, but didn’t take any decision, said an official privy to the development.
Despite repeated attempts, there was no response on this issue from the governor’s office.
PM Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone for the ₹1.08 lakh crore (17 billion dollar) high-speed rail project on September 14, 2017, which will connect two cities — Mumbai (Maharashtra) and Ahmedabad (Gujarat). It will also be India’s first high-speed rail line.
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