Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laid the foundation for Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project at the Sabarmati railway station in Ahmedabad on Thursday.
The government as well as the national media have been touting the move as a giant leap towards the nation’s rapid progress. The high speed rail project which claims to be able to cover 508 kilometres in three hours between the two cities, is scheduled for completion in 2022. The expense of the project comes to Rs 1, 10, 000 crore. That is, it is equivalent to the total budget allotted to the Railway for the year 2017. Although not completely recovered from economic collapse, PM Modi has particularly thanked Japan that will be sanctioning a loan of Rs 80, 000 crore for India’s bullet train project. However, since a major portion of the amount would be spent for Japanese companies and Japanese skilled personnel hired for the project, in reality, the prime beneficiaries of the bullet train project is Japan itself. The two premiers have also laid the foundation for a High Speed Rail Training Institute that will train 4000 technical staff in Vadodara in Modi’s own Gujarat.
Questions are being raised whether the high speed train project deserves the prime consideration of India’s developmental projects in general and in particular, the development of Railway. Even if it gets completed in five years as anticipated, scepticisms exist whether it would it pave way for revolutionary progress. About forty per cent of the 66, 687 kilometre wide Indian Railway including the parts built during the British rule, is decayed and in poor state, and hence defective. More than a million is required for revamping the ailing Indian Railways alone. The frequent derailments and train accidents lately and the subsequent resignation of Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu shouldn’t be ignored. In 2016, the highest number of train accidents occurred in India. There are 7701 unmanned level crossings which pose a severe threat to rail safety at all times, are still in existence in the country. Gujarat stands first in the number of such crossing-1895. It’s quite normal for the people to wish for at least the usual staff to be posted at the level crossings before training the expert workers for the bullet train.
And what should be done to prevent the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project from plunging into corruption? According to the study report by IIM Ahmedabad, the proposed train should undertake at least 100 trips daily and will have to ferry 88, 000-1,18, 000 passengers in total per day. This seems almost impossible. Initially, the train would have ten coaches with a total seating capacity of 750 passengers. It is later proposed to have 16 coaches with a seating capacity of 1, 250 passengers. Despite these aspects, the advantage is that the seven-hour journey could be completed in three hours. The ticket fare will be Rs 2, 700-3, 500. At the same time, one could travel from Ahmedabad to Mumbai by air in just one hour while the ticket fare depends upon the rates of different airline companies and seasonal charges ranging from Rs 1, 051 to Rs 2, 398.
At present, there are eighteen flights daily. The question that remains is whom the bullet train project, that is least expected to benefit even the rich, businessmen and the VVIPs who travel at the expense of the government, will benefit. It’s then when we are compelled to believe if the project is going to be another version of the note-ban move that landed 125 crore citizens in misery and the nation into severe economic crisis. We couldn’t help but say that the Hindutwa team of Modi and Amit Shah is carrying out an extremely destructive governance that includes stunning the common man by announcing projects worth millions with the support of the corporate giants and the media, backbreaking inflation, housing issues, and unemployment as well as diverting his attention from life issues like the mass infant deaths and carrying out the character assassination of those who voice dissent including Manmohan Singh and Amartya Sen and silencing them. We will just underline the statements of Justice Rajindar Sachar here- In a country where 22 crore citizens live below the poverty line with around Rs 120 a day, Modi’s bullet train venture is a cruel joke.