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 Modis most ambitious projects.
Modis office is now monitoring the project week-to-week, as officials seek to reassure Tokyo that the hurdles can be overcome through intense negotiations with sapota and mango growers in Maharashtra.
Protests, backed by local politicians, have flared up in recent months against attempts to secure sections of a 108-km stretch, which is around one-fifth of the entire bullet train corridor connecting Mumbai with Ahmedabad, the largest commercial city in Modis home state Gujarat.
Ive worked hard for three decades to develop this plantation, and they are asking me to hand over this land, sapota farmer Dashrat Purav, 62, said as he showed his orchard in the town of Palghar, a three-hour-drive north of Mumbai.
I havent worked hard to surrender land for the project. I did that for my children.
Purav said he would sell his land only if at least one of his two unemployed sons was promised a government job.
Failure to procure the bullet train land by the deadline would delay disbursal of soft-loans by Japan International Cooperation Agency, 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.
To assuage Japans concerns, Indian officials have sought a meeting this month with transport ministry officials in Tokyo, one of the Indian officials said. India wants the projects completion target to be advanced by a year to 2022, the 75th year of Indias independence.