Sunday, February 20, 2005

Speed up Metro Rail project before it goes airport way

Speed up Metro Rail project before it goes airport way
H.S. Balram, Resident Editor, The Times of India

To ease Bangalore’s traffic woes, Metro Rail has emerged as the only solution. Thanks to the public outcry, i n d u s t r y threats and media pressure, both the state and central governments have realised this prime need and put the Rs 4,000-crore project on the fast track. The Urban Development Ministry has submitted certain clarifications to the Public Investment Board. Once the board sends its approval, it will be placed before the Union cabinet for clearance. If all goes well, work will begin in two months and the metro will be on the tracks in four years. One only hopes this project does not get caught in the web of political and bureaucratic hurdles, like in the case of the international airport.

The credit must go to chief minister Dharam Singh, who in spite of pressure from coalition partner JD(S) not to give undue importance to Bangalore’s development, convinced the Centre of the urgent need to set right its crumbling infrastructure. He realised that India would be the loser if Bangalore failed to retain its coveted place in the global arena. Foreign investors would move to other cities of the world if they found Bangalore wanting in infrastructure.

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the city the other day, Dharam Singh made a PowerPoint presentation giving him scary details of the IT city’s plight.

Some grim statistics:
City’s population — 6.5 million. Expected to go up to 10 million by 2021.
Number of vehicles — As on March 31, 2004, about 22.3 lakhs. About 28,300 vehicles for 1 lakh people. About 1,000 new vehicles registered every day.
Road accidents — 140.98 for every 1 lakh people, ranking next only to Mumbai (157.29). On an average, two persons die and 18 get injured everyday in accidents.
Pollution: Two-wheelers (2- stroke) — 7.13 gm/passenger-km; Two-wheelers (4-stroke) — 4.76 gm/passenger-km; Cars — 0.93 gm/passenger-km; Buses (diesel engine) — 1 gm/passenger-km.
Highest number of two wheelers in the country - 16.58 lakhs, accounting for 74.4 per cent of total number of vehicles in the city.

Shocking indeed. The Metro Rail will carry, on an average, 2,068 passengers per trip. It will also cause no pollution. Most two- and three-wheeler riders and bus commuters are expected to switch over to the Metro once it is ready. Traffic congestion, road accidents and pollution levels will fall drastically. Of course, the BMTC will have to chip in with better connectivity from metro stations. More flyovers, underpasses, subways and overbridges will ease the situation further.

Had successive governments shown this urgency and sincerity, the Bangalore international airport would have been a reality by now. As Union Civil aviation minister a decade ago, Ghulam Nabi Azad had signed two papers on the same day, sanctioning international airports for Bangalore and Kochi. Work on the Kochi airport started six years ago and it was formally inaugurated in 1999. The Bangalore project got delayed, thanks to lack of political will, political one-upmanship, red tape, vested interests, witch-hunting.... Dharam Singh has now managed to clear the hurdles and towed it to the runway. Hopefully, work on both the airport and the metro rail will take off simultaneously. Bangalore needs them badly.


Will Mysore be Bangalore-II? Right now, all roads are leading to this city. IT companies have suddenly started jostling for space. Infosys has established its world class Global Education Centre there. Wipro is seeking 100 acres of land to put up its own campus. With Bangalore bursting at the seams, Mysore is proving to be the simplest alternative, both in terms of infrastructure and standard of living. If more and more companies move to or expand their operations in cities like Mysore, Hubli and Mangalore, not only will they help them prosper but also decongest Bangalore.


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