The Japan International Cooperation Agency has denied reports in the Indian media that it has stopped its funding for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Railway, better known as the bullet train corridor between the two cities. The National High Speed Rail Corporation, the Indian government’s nodal agency for managing the project, has also dismissed reports of Japan’s funding freeze.
On September 22, The New Indian Express had reported that the Japanese agency had refused to release further instalments of money to fund the bullet train project, and had allegedly asked the Indian government to first settle farmers’ protests in the project-affected areas. The report also claimed that the central government had set up a special committee to look into the matter.
However, in an email response to Scroll.in on Wednesday, Vini Sharma from Japan International Cooperation Agency’s India public relations team clarified that “we have not stopped any funds for this project”.
Sharma stated that JICA and the Indian government had signed a loan agreement in September 2017 for 10.4 billion Japanese yen (approximately Rs 673 crore), to be utilised for the construction of a “training institute” for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail. However, Sharma said that “the loan agreement for the construction of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail itself has not yet been signed”.
But, there is no mention of a “training institute” in the statement issued by the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited on Tuesday in response to reports that JICA had stopped funding the bullet train. The statement claimed that “the Government of India and JICA have already signed a loan agreement of about 10 billion yen and no payment is pending from JICA as on date.” However, the statement also does not specifically indicate that the loan amount of 10 billion yen is for the construction of the bullet train project.
The bullet train corridor from Mumbai to Ahmedabad is proposed to be an elevated 508-km high-speed rail line meant to benefit diamond merchants, textile traders and other professionals shuttling between the two cities. In the process, the project will cut through at least 312 villages in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Dadra and Nagar Haveli, take over 866 hectares of fertile farmland and cut down more than 80,000 trees. The project is slated to cost Rs 1.1 lakh crore, of which the Japan International Cooperation Agency is slated to fund Rs 88,000 crore.
The project has faced stiff opposition from farmers and land owners in both Gujarat and Maharashtra. Around 1,000 farmers in Gujarat submitted affidavits to the High Court on September 18, many alleging that their land was being acquired without their consent and they were not being provided any rehabilitation or resettlement package. The petitioners pointed out that environmental and social impact assessment reports for the project date back to 2010, and asked the court to consider the cumulative impact of other projects such as the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, the Western Dedicated Freight Corridor and express highways in the region.
With respect to the farmers’ protests, JICA’s India spokesperson Vini Sharma said, “we are aware of it through various articles, but we are currently confirming the facts with the executing agency. Land acquisition is the responsibility of the Indian government, and land acquisition is not scheduled to be funded under the ODA [official development assistance] loan.”