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A lot of ground to cover

Many Metro projects are delayed with no improvement in other forms of transport, people’s commuting problems are increasing, reports Srinand Jha. See Graphics

delhi Updated: Jan 06, 2010 01:06 IST
Srinand Jha

The Yamuna Bank-Anand Vihar stretch of Delhi Metro will become operational on Thursday.

This extension in the eastern part of the city can be seen as part of the “metro revolution” in India.

There can be hardly any quarrel about this: Big cities need metro rails — this will help decrease road accidents, and prevent fuel wastage and environment pollution.

Planning Commission estimates are that India’s urban population will grow to about 473 million in 2021 and 820 million by 2051 – as against only 285 million in 2001 – with no great increase in urban area.

From 1981 to 2001, the population of six major metropolises in India (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad) increased by 1.9 times, while the number of motor vehicles went up by over 7.75 times. In the same period, the number of road accidents jumped from 160,000 to more than 390,000 in the six cities.

The national capital of Delhi has experienced phenomenal growth in population in the past decades. Its population has increased from 5.7 million in 1981 to 16.2 million in 2006.

With growth in middle classes’ purchasing power, the number of vehicles in Delhi increased from 540,000 in 1981 to 5.1 million in 2007 and is increasing at the rate of 6.21 per cent per annum. The number of motor vehicles in Delhi is now more than that of Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai put together.

This has made metro imperative. Five major cities — Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Delhi — are executing metro rail projects. About 12 other centres want to join the bandwagon. Investments worth Rs 77,214 crore (the cost of building 19 1,000 MW power plants) have been committed.

Projections are that twice that amount will be pumped in over the next few years as Tier II centres (million plus population) including Pune, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Ludhiana start building metros. Besides Delhi, the Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai metros are at various stages of implementation.

In the metro race, India is about a hundred years behind the developed world including Germany, France and Japan, while lagging far behind China as well. Adding to its existing fleet of 15 metros, China has been working on a plan to run 20 more metro rail lines over the next two years.

Problems remain. According to recent reports, ticketless travel is rampant in Kolkata. The Kolkata Metro was able to earn Rs 60.9 crore in 2007-08 and Rs 64.84 crore in 2008-09. Its operating ratio was 1:1.95. For every rupee it earned, it spent Rs 1.95.

On the other hand, in 2007-08, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s (DMRC’s) revenue was Rs 464 crore, with a profit before tax of Rs 18.5 crore.

“Metros provide for a safe, fast and clean mode of public transportation, while being environmentally friendly also,” said Sumant Chak of the Asian Institute of Rail Transport.

Assessments are that 25 cities with a population of more than 3 million need metros. These include Surat, Kanpur, Patna, Vishakhapatnam, Agra, Varanasi, Meerut and Jabalpur.

So far, DMRC has prepared detailed project reports (DPRs) for the Kochi and Ahmedabad metros, while project reports for the four centres (Lucknow, Jaipur, Ludhiana and Pune) are under preparation. Some state governments have also hired independent consultants to conduct feasibility studies.

“The metro fever has afflicted most state governments, but the project is not feasible everywhere. The scrutiny process does take time,” an urban development ministry official said on condition of anonymity, as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

So, is the country’s public transportation being revolutionised? Reports from across the country do not give too inspiring a picture.

Metro projects in most states continue to struggle with unresolved issues relating to proposed financial and operational models; of pending bureaucratic clearances involving the central and state governments — besides problems relating to personal agendas/ego hassles of the politico-bureaucrat combine.

Sanctioned seven years ago, the Hyderabad metro project has remained mired in procedural hassles. Objecting to the state’s decision to award the contract to the Maytas-led private consortium, DMRC Managing Director and India’s “metro man” Elattuvalapil Sreedharan had referred to the project as a “scandal in the making”.

In July last year, the Andhra government cancelled the Maytas contract and has called fresh bids. Meantime, the project cost has climbed from Rs 4,000 crore in 2002 to Rs 12,132 crore.

Most other metro rail projects have also accumulated huge time and cost overruns. The Kochi project cost has escalated from Rs 3,300 crore to Rs 4,300 crore in the past four years. In the last seven years, the cost of Mumbai metro has jumped from Rs 19,525 crore to more than Rs 50,000 crore.

“What appeared impossible a decade ago was converted into reality by the brilliance of the DMRC and the political will of Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit,” said city resident Saroj Sharma.

“Money invested in metros comes back to society within 6-8 years. Banks are flush with money and DMRC has access to frontline technology for building metros. Delays in sanctioning projects are incomprehensible,” said Sreedharan.

“Projects are being held up because of the attitude of officials of the Planning Commission and finance ministry,” Sreedharan further said, adding, “the irony is that the projects are ultimately getting cleared”.

Former Railway Board Chairman Satish Vaish said there was no denying that major metropolitan centres badly need the metros, while adding that public transportation needed to be looked at in totality.

“The tendency to view the metro projects as the panacea of all ills is misplaced. Metros are needed for big metropolitan centres, but will not work in smaller cities — which are badly planned,” he added.
See Graphics