Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray likened the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project to a “white elephant” on Tuesday, saying a decision on Prime Minister’s ambitious project will be taken after he is convinced it will boost industrial development of the state. In the second part of his interview to Shiv Sena mouthpiece ‘Saamana’, Thackeray said the state which is currently ruled by the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi alliance comprising the Shiv Sena, NCP, and Congress, was not getting its “rightful share” of central funds which could be utilised for helping farmers.
The Sena chief also said the farm loan waiver scheme announced by his government will be rolled out from next month, and assured that not a single industry will be allowed to move out of the state. Referring to the Centre’s ambitious bullet train project, which has faced stiff opposition from farmers and tribals whose lands are to be acquired, Thackeray said there should be a comprehensive discussion on its viability.
“Who will benefit from the bullet train? How will trade and industry in Maharashtra get a boost because of it? If it is useful, convince me and then let’s go before people and decide what to do,” the Chief Minister said. “The bullet train may be a dream project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but when you wake up, it is not a dream, you have to face the reality,” he said.
Developmental projects need to be prioritised considering the state’s financial situation, Thackeray said in the interview to Saamana’s executive editor and Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut.
“We have to see what is urgent and not take up something because we are getting a loan at zero interest or less interest. We acquire farmers’ land for no reason and then look after these white elephants. This is not right,” he said.
Notably, the Narendra Modi government has set the deadline for completing the bullet train project by August 15, 2022, when India marks 75 years of Independence.
The introduction of the first bullet train, which is known as the Shinkansen in Japan, is expected to mark India’s shift to an era of high-speed trains capable of hitting speeds of up to 350 km per hour.
Of the 508.17-km-long bullet train corridor, 155.76 km will be in Maharashtra, 348.04 km in Gujarat and 4.3 km in Dadra and Nagar Haveli. Thackeray said his government was in the process of reviewing the economic situation of Maharashtra. “The work is almost complete. Once it is over, we will place it before people. Let them know how the state functioned earlier,” he said.
“I will not allow a single industry to move out of the state. Maximum locals should benefit in terms of employment from these industries,” he added.
The chief minister further said the state was not getting its “rightful share” of central funds. “In December last year, I wrote to the Centre that Rs 15,000 crore was pending, including the GST refund. Last month, we got around Rs 4,500 crore. Now, again the pending amount will increase. Will the opposition take out a morcha (protest) for this?” he asked. “I will not say if the central funds are deliberately delayed. But there is a delay due to which state schemes are delayed,” he said.
If the central funds are received on time, the state government can utilise them for farmers, Thackeray said. He also said the farm loan waiver scheme announced by his government in December last year will be launched next month and debts up to Rs two lakh will be waived off.
“A separate scheme for loans of more than Rs two lakh and for those who regularly repay their loan will be announced soon,” he said. Loan waiver is a primary step to ease the hardships of farmers, he said, adding that priority is to ensure cultivators are economically empowered. “Efforts will be made to work on the maximum crop (cultivation) in less space, the adequate price for the crops and how it can be marketed well,” he added.