Having realized the power of the visual medium, the farmers in Gujarat opposing the ambitious Bullet Train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai have come out with a documentary which they intend to screen village to village.

The documentary entitled ‘BULLET’ has been produced by Gujarat Khedut Samaj and has been made by Dakxin Chara. It is dedicated to eminent lawyer and noted human rights activist in Gujarat Girish Patel. The documentary was released yesterday July 13, saturday in Ahmedabad in the presence of noted filmmaker Anand Patwardhan.

“I have documented the sentiments and viewpoints of the people in the 192 villages in the districts of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Anand, Surat, Vapi and Valsad of Gujarat along with the union territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli whose livelihood stands threatened by the project. I accompanied the activists who have taken out a Kisan Sampark Yatra in August 2018 in these villages as an observer. I was a witness to the people not being aware of their rights as the activists went along appraising them,” Dakxin told The Citizen.

The fight against the ambitious project is being fought by the environment and farmer activists at multiple levels. Many draw a parallel between this movement and the one against the Narmada project.

At the centre of the issue stands the amendment brought in by the Gujarat government in 2016 to Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement Act of 2013 that had been enacted by the centre. Dakxin said the amended law of the state is ‘regressive, unconstitutional and illegal’ as it dilutes several provisions of the central act.

He pointed out, “The state’s law has done away with essential provisions laid down in the central act like Social Impact Assessment along with the necessity to have consent of 80 per cent of the project affected families.”

The Bullet Train or Mumbai - Ahmedabad High – Speed Rail (MAHSR) Project talks of revolutionizing rail travel in India as it would reduce the travel time between Mumbai and Ahmedabad to a little over two hours as compared to the approximately eight hours that the rail travel takes at present with the train travelling at a speed of 320 kilometers per hour. The project was sanctioned for implementation with financial and technical help of the Japanese government in 2015 through Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Dakxin said, “After the screening at Ahmedabad, we want to put the documentary on the internet for people to view. We also intend to hold screenings in the villages that are bearing the brunt of the project. Since the Japanese government is involved in the project we want to tell them how their own guidelines are being violated in the execution of this project. For this we would strive to have a 15 minute screening of the edited version of the otherwise one hour long documentary in the Japanese parliament.”

He said that the Japanese government has a set of guidelines for implementing such projects and in this case the Bullet Train project is being implemented through the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA). “Their lawmakers need to be told how these guidelines are being violated in Gujarat and Maharashtra,” he said.

“It is well known that the visual medium is the most powerful. The people whose lives are going to be impacted must know what is in store for them. Besides the country, the international community must also know the impact of this project. We would also organize screenings of the documentary in prominent educational and social institutions across the country in the days to come,” Dakxin said.

The farmers have been fighting a legal battle in the Gujarat High Court seeking compensation at market rates for their lands acquired for the project. A judgement in the case is expected soon.

A few months ago the farmer and environment activists opposing the project had promised to take their fight to the Japanese side. Last month the environment activists affiliated to Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) had written to Katsuo Matsumoto, the chief representative of JICA asking him to share the report on the project that was submitted to the respective Indian and Japanese governments along with National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRC).

The said report was documented after JICA representatives had visited villages being affected by the project in Gujarat and Maharashtra in December and January with regards to the violations and other related issues.

They claimed that sharing the report would help address concerns of affected and concerned villagers besides social organizations in ‘timely, transparent and comprehensive manner’.

The letter written to JICA head stated, “As you would know, such high impact projects are of grave concern not only to the project-affected local people but also to the entire global community, including citizens of Japan. We must uphold the universal human rights, principles, and laws related to environmental protection and social justice.”

Jayesh Patel of Gujarat Khedut Samaj told this reporter, “The issues pertaining to Social Impact Assessment (SIA), Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and Rehabilitation and Resettlement need to be addressed on priority besides the matters pertaining to land acquisition.” According to him 3600 farmers will be affected by the project in Gujarat alone.

In a second letter written to Matsumoto on July 1, PSS functionaries Rohit Prajapati, Swati Desai and Krishnakant while once again seeking the report had written, “You, as the chief representative of the review team of JICA for the MAHSR Project, are legally and morally responsible for thoroughly reviewing all the procedures and address the concerns raised by us. It is imperative to uphold the applicable laws of the land as well as the principles and rules of your international agency and the international standards. Not doing so, will further weaken democratic principles and our collective responsibilities towards the future generations of humans and all other species. You may take on record that already the process is not working on recognized Prior Informed Consent principles and is not even offering appropriate and adequate compensation to farmers liable to lose land.”

People on the ground have been saying that the project is moving at a slow pace on account of the resistance from the activists and farmers.

Those opposed to the project describe it as an example of a ‘skewed and biased’ idea of development. According to them it has the potential to cause immense damage to the farming and other communities in both Gujarat and Maharashtra besides causing irreparable damage to the environment. Fear has been expressed that thousands would be pushed towards displacement and poverty.