HANOI, June 20 (bdnews24.com/AFP) – Vietnam's legislature on Saturday rejected a proposed 56-billion-dollar bullet train project, after concerns that more basic needs should take priority over a scheme dismissed as economically unsound.
In a rare decision by the communist-dominated National Assembly, which usually backs proposals from the government, deputies said they had asked for further study of the plan.
"The National Assembly did not approve a resolution on this project," one deputy, Duong Trung Quoc, told AFP after the vote, which was closed to foreign reporters.
He said a slight majority of 20-30 deputies voted against the plan.
Under the communist government's proposal, the train would have linked the capital Hanoi with the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City 1,570-kilometres (975 miles) away, at speeds of 300 kilometres an hour.
On the country's existing single-track railway, the journey takes almost two days.
Plans called for the high-speed link to be built by 2035 at a cost amounting to almost 60 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) last year.
"I think it's a reasonable result that shows the responsibility of the deputies," Quoc said of the rejection.
Although more than 90 percent of the nearly 500 deputies are Communist Party members, they have in recent years become more vocal over the country's major problems.
Assembly president Nguyen Phu Trong said the North-South train was a very important project which became "a particular preoccupation" of deputies and voters.
"The National Assembly examined it in a serious manner, carefully and prudently, and charged the government with continuing to examine the country's transport system," Trong told the assembly.
Le Dang Doanh, a visiting fellow at the Economic College of Hanoi, told AFP ahead of Saturday's vote that most ordinary people would prefer the government focus on more immediate concerns such as healthcare and electricity.
He called the train a "very risky" investment given the country's economic imbalances.
According to the World Bank, Vietnam's budget deficit reached a "very high" 8.4 percent of GDP last year. Public debt accounted for about 47.5 percent of GDP, which the World Bank said was high but sustainable if the government is prudent.
"Our country is still poor," Tran Hung Viet, one of many deputies to criticise the plan during debates, was quoted as saying by VNExpress news website.
Vietnam is developing rapidly, but roughly half the population still works in agriculture, the per capita income is about 1,000 dollars and the minimum government salary is 730,000 dong (38 dollars) per month.
Japanese officials have said the Vietnamese government had agreed to adopt its Shinkansen technology for the railway, if the project were approved.