A Cruel Joke on the Poor of India

It is a tragedy in Indian politics that a huge amount of Rs 110 lakh crores being spent on the bullet train project from Ahmedabad to Mumbai is hailed by the Modi government as a great achievement – still more tragic and utter lack of people’s politics is the reaction of other political parties.

Malikarjun Kharge, Congress leader in Parliament also hastened to clarify that the Congress was not against the project but wanted to draw the attention of the public to the motive of the inauguration on the eve of Gujarat polls – and that the project was being used for political gains by the BJP. To leave no one in doubt that the Congress is even more keen on bullet train concept in the whole of India, he openly welcomed the project and emphasized that it was first conceived in 2005 and later in 2013, when Congress was in power. He added that it was the Congress which had ordered a viability survey by the Japanese government and that the Congress was happy that the Japanese government had planned it according to the schedule.

Thus, the Congress objection is not against this project, rather it welcomes it (a project which I consider as disastrously wasteful and amounts to mocking the poor in India)

The position of some other Opposition parties has surprisingly not been made clear, except by the Socialist Party (India), whose president Dr Prem Singh has publicly opposed it. I have not seen any other Opposition party condemning this bullet train project, rather former CM of UP and leader of the Samajwadi Party, Akhilesh Yadav has welcomed the idea of a bullet train, but has said that it should run between Delhi and Kolkata passing through Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, containing the maximum number of unemployed and poor.

Is it not ironic that though extreme poverty line in being highlighted, yet there is no one condemning the aristocratic bullet train concept, rather the grievance is that PM Modi has favoured Gujarat, than UP and Bihar?

It was reported in the press that the Opposition parties were to meet in Jaipur on September 14, 2017 for third edition of ‘Sanghi Virasat’ (shared culture campaign to oppose the NDA government effort to “Create Social Disharmony”) Akhilesh Yadav was one of those who was to attend the meet, apart from other leaders of CPM, TMI, Rashtraya Lok Dal. So far, one has not heard of this group opposing the concept of bullet train – does that mean that the Opposition does not find the whole concept as an assault on the dignity of the poor? Has the Opposition the same priority as billionaire’s favourites of Modi? I am also disappointed that powerful railway unions and others trade unions have not opposed this mad venture.

The bullet train is also expected to pass through under sea. India has no experience in this technology at all. Is our dependence on a foreign country for decades, (however friendly it may be at this time), a wise decision tested on grounds of security and defence? Should this money be not spent on improving our existing railway quality so as to exclude frequent rail accidents which have taken place in the recent past?

If we go on with the bullet train, the impact is going to be severe. It is said that Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was not inclined to allot land unless he got the promise from his own party that there will also be a bullet train from Mumbai to Nagpur (which is his home town). On paper, there is already a programme of bullet train from Delhi – Bombay, notwithstanding the protests by poor farmers, whose lands will be acquired, thus creating a social crisis in the country.

Farmers of Maharashtra have already gone on protest at this wasteful expense while they are groaning under loan repayment which have not been waived off by the state government.

Even from a practical point of view, the concept of bullet train is deeply flawed when looked at from different angles. The fare of the bullet train is such that any government having the welfare of the people in mind would not touch it with a pair of tongs. The fare could be around 2 times the existing A/c first class fare or almost the same as Air fare of over Rs 3000 – 3500.

Bullet train will need 100 trips daily to be financially viable – a study by IIM Ahmedabad has come to the conclusion that this project would be in loss from day 1.

Japan’s government and its rail companies lobbied with the US for years to sell its bullet train technology with little success.

To justify this, PM Modi has given an example by saying it will save the passengers the trouble of going to airport in cars, avoiding traffic and then waiting at the airport. The ironic cruelty of this explanation has been missed by our prime minister – poor in India do not own cars.

According to a World Bank report, India has 224 million living below the international poverty line of around Rs 120 a day. Modi’s bullet train venture is a cruel joke and ridicules the poor of India because the fare of Ahmedabad – Mumbai (one way fare) will not be less than Rs 3000.

The concept of bullet train accepts the vilest of inequality in our country. Thus, the position in India is that richest 1% of Indians own more than 53% of India’s wealth. Further, shameful inequality is reflected in the fact that 57 billionaires in India control 70% of India’s wealth.

The position of India after 70 years of independence is that about 48% of Indian urban population and in rural areas 60% of population remains without access to toilets. It needs to be emphasized that building toilets in rural India was one of the major promises made by Prime Minister Modi during his campaigning.

There is another serious objection to the massive expense on bullet train. Only 44% of rural households have access to electricity.

The project is expected to be completed by 2025 or not earlier then by December, 2023 in any case. PM Modi, whose term expires by mid 2019, has no legal or moral justification to bind the next governments which could be (non-BJP) to such a project.


RAJINDAR SACHAR | Caravan Daily 

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