Metro fever

Written by Shubhra Tandon | Updated: Oct 2 2013, 07:32am hrs
After mass rapid transit systems transformed the way people travel in Indias big cities, starting with Kolkata, then Delhi, and now projects under way in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai, the wave is about to sweep smaller cities of Jaipur, Kochi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Nagpur, Patna, Ludhiana, Indore, Pune and Chandigarh and Ahmedabad.

Of the R2 lakh crore that India is expected to spend on developing metro rail systems in the country till 2019, almost half of that or over R91,000 crore (2013 estimates) will be on metro projects being implemented or planned in these cities.

India, urbanising at one of the fastest rates in the world, had 11.4% of its population reside in cities, according to the 1901 Census. This count increased to 28.53% to 2001 and has crossed 30% in 2011, reaching 31.16% now.

The rise in rural migration and the growing clout of the services sector in the economyservices accounted for 56.5% of the GDP in 2012-13 versus 13.7% by agriculturehave made a case for developing modes of rapid transport in the smaller cities as well. In 2011, Kamal Nath, Union urban development minister, said that all cities that have a population in excess of 20 lakh would get a metro corridor. By 2011 Census, 13 cities qualify under this criterion, of which 10 have already made some headway in either planning or implementing the metro projects.

Jaipurs over R9,700-crore metro project, being implemented by state unit Jaipur Metro Rail Corporation (JMRC), is expected to be the fourth metro rail system in the country after Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore. JMRC has started trial runs on the first four kilometres last month. The 35-km project, implemented in a record 33 months, will run through the Pink City connecting places of historical importance like Chhoti and Badi Chaupar.

The under-construction Kochi metro project, on the other end, is the first tier-II city to be granted a metro under the Union governments scheme allowing cities having population more that 20 lakhs to have a metro rail system. The government of India the Kerala government are equal equity partners in Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL). The over R5,500-crore project covering 25 km on elevated tracks will have 22 stations. KMRL is in talks with Agence Franaise de Dveloppement (AFD), the main implementing agency for Frances official development assistance to developing countries, for getting 180 million euros for the project. The agencys loan carries 2% interest for a 20-year tenure, with a repayment moratorium of five years. The project requires external funding to the tune of R2,174 crore, as of 2013.

Other cities, like Patna has already reached out to Rail India Technical and Economic Service (Rites) for preparing a detailed project report (DPR) on the project, expected to be submitted by December 2013. Though the DPR is yet to be made, reports suggest the project would cost an estimated R8,000 crore. Similarly, cities of Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Kanpur and others are in various stages of planning metro rail systems.

However, Indias tryst with infrastructure projects has been replete with hurdles like delays in land acquisition and clearances, political differences, resistance from local citizens and so on. These projects, too, have not been free from controversies. The Jaipur metro, for example, came under the scanner two years back for safety concerns during construction. In Ludhiana, the metro project still looks a dream after the Delhi government expressed reservations against Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) taking up projects from other states, while the locals blame municipal authorities for dragging their feet on the project. Differences have reportedly cropped up between Kochi Corporation and Kochi Metro authorities over starting civil works without taking the former into confidence.

In 2010, McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) noted in a report, titled Indias Urban Awakening, that the country needs 7,400 km of metros and subways, which is 20 times the capacity added in the last two decades. That means metro projects are only scratching the surface, and will have a long distance to go.