The PM’s vanity projects: Bullet train, planes and security

NSG budget in 2014 was Rs 289 crore when the special force protected the former PMs, their family members and others. NSG now protects only the present PM but its budget has gone up to Rs 592.5 crore

PM Modi in his private plane (photo courtesy @narendramodi/Twitter)
PM Modi in his private plane (photo courtesy @narendramodi/Twitter)

Bhavin Kakkar

At the G-7 summit meeting at Hiroshima attended by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi as a special invitee, several Indians found it ironic for Japan’s prime minister to highlight food security — because the bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, a vanity project of PM Modi's, is not only funded largely by Japan but is also expected to gobble up 14 sq km of largely agricultural land and displace thousands of farmers and tribal people.

The affected communities have approached the courts to challenge the land acquisition after their initial protests were quelled. The ongoing project, officially inaugurated in 2017 by Modi and his Japanese counterpart, the late Shinzo Abe, has also destroyed forests (including mangroves) and razed commercial and residential buildings.

The Japanese Shinkansen-style trains will ply the 500-odd kilometres in around 3 hours, whereas this sector is already served by 11 pairs of trains that take between 6 and 8 hours, at fares ranging between Rs180 and Rs310 each way. In comparison, the bullet train’s ticket price is expected to go up to Rs3,000, a sum that can fetch a round-trip air ticket at present.

India has been the largest recipient of the Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) loan for the past several decades, and Tokyo views the high-speed shinkansen system as “the flagship project of Japan–India relations”.

The project has raised larger issues, because work on it — as also on the prime minister’s other vanity project, the Rs20,000 crore Central Vista Redevelopment Project that inter alia entails the construction of a new parliament house in place of a totally functional one we already had — continued even during the Covid-19 pandemic, when the government claimed to be running short of funds to expand health services.

Another dream project of the PM's that had forged on during the pandemic was a similar ‘makeover’ of his parliamentary constituency of the living heritage city of Varanasi, which cost the exchequer upwards of Rs600 crore.

Besides, while previous Indian governments requisitioned a Boeing 747 aircraft from Air India’s fleet for air travel by the president, vice-president and the prime minister, the Modi government procured during the Covid-19 pandemic two new and customised Boeing 777-300ER planes at a cost of Rs8,548 crore for their exclusive use.

These aircraft have state-of-the-art missile defence systems that are supposed to render them as safe as the US president’s Air Force One, a Boeing 747-200B. And while questions were being raised in 2020 about social welfare and food security for those driven to the margins of society by the punitive lockdown, the budget for the Prime Minister’s personal security was raised by 11 per cent, to Rs 592.5 crore, or almost Rs1.62 crore a day.

The National Security Guards' (NSG) budget in 2014 was Rs289 crore, when the special force protected the former PMs, their family members and others. The NSG now protects only the present PM — but its budget has gone up to Rs592.5 crore.

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