Sunday, April 25, 2004

Another infrastructure project hangs fire

It was way back in 1993 that the idea of a mass rapid transit system for the city was proposed in the form of an Elevated Light Rail Transit System(ELRTS). Newspapers splashed artists' impressions of the futuristic system with a train running over MG Road leaving readers fascinated. Soil testing and feasibility studies were conducted and the project was pronounced to be technically feasible. Soon the Bangalore Mass Rapid Transit Limited was formed and a 5 paisa cess was imposed on automobile fuel sold in the city to partially fund the project. Things moved at a lethargic pace with a search for raising a large part of the finance. Tenders for private participation in the project were called and the project was awarded to the UB Group in 1997. Meanwhile the debate over the relative benefits of an underground or overhead transit continued. Several questions were raised about the financial viability of such a project and the UB Group got gradually disinterested. In 2002, the S M Krishna administration commissioned another round of soil testing to keep the project alive.

With the successful commissioning of the Mass Rapid Transit System in Delhi in 2003 by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) headed by the legendary railway man, E Sreedharan, Krishna quickly abandoned the languishing ELRTS project and commissioned the DMRC to perform a feasibility study for a similar system in Bangalore. The DMRC completed the study in double quick time and submitted the report to the state government. The project cost was estimated to be around Rs 4990 crores. The state government put up Rs 500 crore and forwarded the report to the Central Government for its support, sometime in early January 2004.

With elections being called, the project has been on the backburner and is likely to remain so for a couple of months more. After that everything depends on the nature of the new administration both at the centre and the state. There has been an apparent reluctance on the part of the NDA Government in the centre to push any major project floated by the Congress Government at the state or for which the latter could receive credit.

Road traffic in Bangalore has reached the limits and there is absolutely no scope left for widening roads and such other stop gap measures. Flyovers have shown that they do not solve the traffic congestion, only push it further down the road. With a situation where more two-wheelers than all the other metros put together ply on Bangalore's roads, a mass rapid transit system is long overdue for the city. City planning experts recommend that every city with a population of over 4 million should have an MRTS and should begin planning when the population is at 3.5 million. Bangalore today hosts 7 million people. Its high time we put one in place.


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