MUMBAI: In a move that may set his government on a collision course with the Centre, chief minister Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday announced a review of the Rs 1.1 lakh crore Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project. A couple of days ago, he had stayed work on the Aarey car shed for the underground Metro 3 line, another flagship project of the previous NDA government. He also said that his regime will come out with a white paper on the state’s finances and promised a cabinet expansion “soon”.

Addressing a press conference after a two-day special session of the assembly concluded, the CM said, “We have asked for an update on development works currently underway, cost estimates, hurdles, and deadlines. We will then decide on what needs to be done on priority and also if some works that are being done on priority are really needed.”

Thackeray asserted that his government would not work in a vindictive manner, adding, “We will review the bullet train project just like we have not stayed the Metro project.”

In the house

The bullet train is estimated to cost Rs1.1 lakh crore, 81% of which is being funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency through a 50-year loan at an interest rate of 0.1%. The National High Speed Rail Corporation has been set up to execute the project, for which Maharashtra and Gujarat will each contribute Rs 5,000 crore as equity while the Centre’s share is Rs 10,000 crore.

Currently, the project faces land acquisition hurdles, especially in the region immediately to the north of Mumbai, in Palghar. As of now, 548 hectares of the total requirement of 1,380 hectares have been acquired. The project is targeted to be operational by 2023.

Indicating that his government’s priorities may be different from those of his predecessor, Thackeray underscored the value of development without damage to the environment. He took a dig at actor Amitabh Bachchan over his tweet that stressed on the benefits of the Metro saying, “We don’t want Metro rail for people to reach the hospital quickly. We want people to be healthy and happy. Aarey is not just about trees. It is about an ecosystem and only the work on the car shed of the Metro 3 project has been stayed.”

On farm distress, Thackeray said there have been huge farm losses on account of unseasonal weather. He said when government was yet to be formed and he toured various regions, he was the first to demand a compensation of Rs 25,000 per hectare for distressed farmers.

Earlier in the day, opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis had reminded the assembly about Thackeray’s demand and hoped the CM would ensure the amount was paid. In response, Thackeray said, “Opposition should not play games. We expect Fadnavis to talk to the Centre and help Maharashtra get aid. I too shall meet the Prime Minister.”

The chief minister said Mumbai and Maharashtra contribute 40-45% of total revenue from taxes to the Centre. “If taxes were to be waived for two years, Maharashtra’s entire debt could be wiped off. We expect the Centre to help in these difficult times,” he said.

He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had personally called and wished him on assuming office. “I had never dreamed of becoming chief minister. This is completely unexpected. Whatever responsibilities have come my way I have fulfilled them successfully,” Thackeray said.

“The situation in the state has changed, government has changed, the political situation has changed. Foes have become allies and friends are sitting on opposition benches. I do not believe in the term ‘opposition’ as everyone who is elected has come to solve people’s problems. There can be differences of opinion on how this can be done. After all, democracy is about making peoples’ voices heard,” the chief minister said.

Minister Chhagan Bhujbal (NCP), who was also present at the press meet, said Thackeray with 169 MLAs had proved his majority within 24 hours of being sworn in. “The trust vote was conducted as per the Supreme Court’s directive. The Speaker was elected unanimously. Often there is a delay in selecting the leader of the opposition; he (the CM) ensured it was done immediately after the Speaker’s election and also made sure that the opposition leader was provided with an office and staff,” said Bhujbal.





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