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Uddhav Calls Bullet Train Project a 'White Elephant', Blames Modi Govt for Driving Away Investors

File photo of Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray.

File photo of Maharashtra Chief Minister and Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray.

In an interview with party mouthpiece Saamana, the Shiv Sena chief said when resources are limited, priorities for the state’s development must be carefully decided.

Mumbai: Days after union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in her Budget speech that the Narendra Modi government will “actively pursue” the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train plan, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has called the project a “white elephant”. He made the comment in an interview, which appeared on Tuesday, with Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana’s executive editor and party leader Sanjay Raut.

The Rs 1 lakh crore bullet train project, funded principally by a soft loan from Japan, is intended to reduce the travel time between Ahmedabad and Mumbai to a little over two hours, and will be the first such high-speed railway line in the country. Prime Minister Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone for it in Ahmedabad on September 14, 2017. However, critics say India does not need the “vanity” project and investment should instead go into bolstering the existing network.

“When resources are limited, they have to be used with utmost care. The priority for the development of the state has to be decided. Just because someone is giving us loans at cheap rates, we can’t take white elephants as our priority,” said Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief, in an apparent jibe at Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator and former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. The BJP leader had gushed at the low-cost loans that Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had offered Maharashtra for several infrastructure projects.

In the second part of the interview which appeared on the Saamana website on Tuesday, Raut asked Thackeray about several initiatives championed by the BJP that have been either stayed or reviewed by his government.

“It (the bullet train project) may be someone’s dream. But when you wake up, you see the reality, and not the dream,” the CM said.

In the first part of the interview that was out on Monday, Thackeray spoke about snapping ties with the BJP over power-sharing disputes and cobbling together the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance with ideologically opposite Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to form the government in Maharashtra in November. Soon after assuming office, he ordered a review of the bullet train project, which has also faced land acquisition problems in Gujarat. The Modi government had set a deadline of August 15, 2022, the 75th Independence Day, to complete the high-speed rail corridor.

Speaking of agricultural distress in his state, Thackeray said that complete farm loan waiver is the right of all farmers.

In a frontal attack on the Modi government, he partly blamed the Centre for driving away global investors from Maharashtra. “The instability in policies drives away investment. It is not about a specific point. It is about the policies – not just of the state government, but also of the central government. There were uncertainties due to the way GST was rolled out,” he said.

In oblique criticism of the BJP for the row it created over his government’s Mumbai nightlife plan, allowing several restaurants and malls to run 24/7, Thackeray said the policy does not promote any “indecency”. Instead, it gives extra hours to residents to enjoy some moments with family members, he added. “Mumbai is a city that is awake 24 hours. What does it do in all these 24 hours? The working class works throughout. When they get home late, they don't have any time to spend with the family. They should be able to do that,” he said.

Thackeray also rejected apprehensions that the nightlife plan will put additional pressure on law enforcement agencies. The third part of the interview will be out on Wednesday.