Thursday, July 28, 2005

Much-debated Metro Rail trapped in cobwebs

Much-debated Metro Rail trapped in cobwebs
By D.M. Nanjundappa
The Times of india

Bangalore: Vital policy decisions are being debated in Karnataka in recent times. For want of a public debate, key projects are still hanging fire. Among the major projects, the Metro Rail is hotly debated. In most city centres in India, the surface and rail transport have to be adequate for the growing needs of urbanisation. We have ignored rural transport needs, apart from other infrastructure, and that is one cause of migration of labour from villages to cities in search of employment. Therefore, the Urban Development Project should not be construed as only an urban phenomenon.

Urban infrastructure should be taken to rural areas. This does not imply that a Metro system should be used only by urbanites of that area. These are large investments, which have to be visualised and funds mobilised and appropriate funding, including long-term borrowings, is to be used.

In the 1970s, Karnataka visualised the need for an integrated transport system, which would cover railway, sea, air and road transport. The government repeatedly wrote to the Centre for approval for the Metro Rail keeping in view the development of Bangalore and satellite cities. When the Centre did not agree for the Metro, the state requested it to at least provide for a circular/radial railway.

It is clear that Bangalore’s problem cannot be solved by confining ourselves to Bangalore alone. Satellite towns and bullet trains from neighbouring areas are a better strategy.

Karnataka pressed the Centre for the double-track rail line between Mysore and Bangalore and the electrification between the two stations. The cost would not be more than Rs 160 crore. A bullet train between Bangalore and Mysore could cover the distance in 40 or 50 minutes and most people with businesses in Bangalore would opt to stay in Mysore. We still have no idea as to when these plans will materialise.

The latest development on the Metro Rail is that senior leaders want it to be s c r ap p e d . Only the business community and a few political leaders are trying to organise groups to save it. The Metro can be sustained, by and large, with urban commuters. The Metro should not be used in isolation with a Light Mass Transport System running on elevated platforms for spatial movement. Unless there is a feeder Metro system covering all corners, there will not be enough traffic. There should be planning for the Metro as well as the Light Mass Transport System with the two complementing each other.

The government has been giving the lowest priority for implementation; its euphoria for making announcements without any conscience is deplorable. There is absolutely no sense of time, management and improved productivity, both through efficiency and also through cost inputs. Stricter adherence to targets, completion of projects and use of PERT (programme evaluation and review technique) should help in meeting stipulated targets.

Metro authorities must realise that there is no scope for widening roads or going in for flyovers everywhere. Instead, the Mysore-Bangalore corridor as a toll road was mooted. Any project which is conceived and the project report is not ready in about a year is a nonstarter. Some senior political leaders have now said that the Metro may be dropped because it does not cover rural Karnataka.

Unless the Metro is planned to be ready in about six or seven years, the cost and time components will create problems of funding and technology. The project should simply be started with project completion scheduled for 2013. This decision should not be revocable and the financing should be fully provided for to avoid either the Kolkata or Delhi experience.

(The writer is the former deputy chairman, state planning board, Government of Karnataka)


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