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India set to miss key Japan bullet train target

Reuters

A man sleeps on empty chairs after farmers and local activists disrupt a public hearing conducted by the National High Speed Rail Corp. Ltd. (NHSRCL) in Palghar, India, on June 2.

ReutersPALGHAR, India/TOKYO (Reuters) — India is set to miss a December deadline to acquire land for a Japan-backed $17 billion bullet train project following protests by fruit growers, government officials said, likely delaying one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most ambitious projects.

Modi’s office is now monitoring the project week-to-week, as Indian officials seek to reassure Tokyo that the hurdles can be overcome through intense negotiations with sapota and mango growers in the western state of Maharashtra.

Protests, backed by local politicians, have flared up in recent months against attempts to secure sections of a 108-kilometer stretch, which is around one-fifth of the entire bullet train corridor connecting Mumbai with Ahmedabad, the largest commercial city in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.

Protests against land acquisitions are common in India, where tens of millions of farmers till small holdings. A planned $44 billion refinery to be run by a consortium including Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer, is also struggling to secure land in Maharashtra.

“Land acquisition for any project is complex in India,” said Dhananjay Kumar, spokesman for the National High Speed Rail Corp. Ltd. (NHSRCL) that is overseeing the project. “Here also we are facing difficulty because of so much resistance.”

Failure to procure the bullet train land by the deadline would delay disbursal of soft-loans by Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), a government development body, which is reviewing the project next month, said two senior officials with the state-run Indian Railways, declining to be named.

A JICA spokeswoman said that India must create relocation plans for local residents and make them public in order to enter into a loan agreement covering the main part of the bullet train project.

“It is possible that it takes time to sign a contract as India takes proper and careful measures in line with JICA’s guidelines for environmental and social considerations,” she said.

To assuage Japan’s concerns, Indian officials have sought a meeting this month with transport ministry officials in Tokyo, one of the Indian officials said. India wants the project’s completion target to be advanced by a year to 2022, the 75th year of India’s independence.

Japan is majority-funding the train project through a 50-year loan. Japanese companies such as Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp., JFE Holdings, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi are likely to supply at least 70 percent of the core components of the rail line, sources told Reuters in January.Speech

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