NEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD: Protests, court cases, and angry letters by farmers to the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) against “forcible” acquisition of land for the bullet train project has led to an undeclared but certain delay in the implementation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project. Reports that JICA has refused to release further instalments of the soft loan following the protests by farmers have made the round in sections of the media with a phone call from The Citizen to the organisation’s office with a specific question on this eliciting t a “no comment.’ The person at the other end of the phone, however, did not deny the reports.

Just a few days ago the farmers submitted at least a 1000 affidavits against the acquisition of their land. This was followed by an announcement by the now desperate Gujarat government of increasing the compensation four fold. Cases are pending in the Gujarat High Court, even as farmers have been protesting in demonstrations, in the courts, and through resolutions by gram panchayats challenging the government’s efforts to acquire land regardless of consent.

Land is all that the poor farmers, many of them tribals, possess and compensation seems to be a poor substitute for the “land that is our god”, as they say. The government machinery, however, remains poised to take over the land regardless with JICA, however, now worried about the forcible acquisition according to sources. The government, however, remains in a state of denial about the farmers protests and has been claiming that all is proceeding as planned. As per the original schedule, the acquisition of land should be completed by December 2018 for the project to be started and completed bin time.

Aroud 1400 hectares of land is to be acquired in Gujarat and Maharashtra of which 1120 hectares is reportedly privatelky owned. At least 6000 land owners will have to be compensated.

The latest round of affidavits filed by a 1000 farmers at the Gujarat High Court maintained that the existing land acquisition proceedings are contrary to the guidelines of JICA that has provided the soft loan for the government for the bullter train prokect. And that the Gujarat government diluted the Land Acquisition Act 2013 after the India-Japan agreement, with the amendment itself violating JICA guidelines.

The affidavits maintain that the farmers were not consulted, and their consent was not taken for the acquisition of land. The Supreme Court had directed the Gujarat High Court in August to hear matters of the bullet train affected farmers. The farmers are planning to now approach the Supreme Court for a stay on the project.

Incidentally these affidavits are in addition to the original five petitions filed before the Gujarat High Court on the acquisition of fertile land for the bullet train project. A petition was also filed by the Godrej group in the Bombay High Court as 2.3 hectares of its land was to be acquired in Vikhroli. It has since been given alternative land.

Fruit growers have reportedly joined the protests against the $17 billion bullet train, that reports now suggest is being monitored directly by the Prime Ministers office. It is one of PM Modi’s most ambitious projects, after Rafale, and despite protests from even opposition leaders it was flagged by the government as a game changer. Gujarat farmers who joined the protests recently in Delhi were categorical that they would not give up their land, and that this was their only livelihood. A JICA spokesperson is already on record to say that the Indian government must create proper relocation plans. The government claims that it will manage the land acquisition in time and under the laid out guidelines.

Farmers bodies will be holding a Jan Manch, spearheaded by the All India Kisan Sabha, in New Delhi this month to be attended by Opposition leaders.