After years of delay and a near-derailment on account of a scam involving alleged financial irregularities, work on Gujarat’s first ever Metro rail project, called the MEGA (Metro-Link Express for Gandhinagar & Ahmedabad) project is picking up speed rapidly.
A change of guard at the top almost two years ago has led to significant changes in the implementation of the MEGA project, a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi ever since it was conceptualised during his tenure as the Gujarat Chief Minister in 2003. These include a scaling down of the project cost from Rs 19,000 crore to Rs 10,773 crore, a complete switch in the funding pattern from commercial loans to funding from the Centre and state governments and a soft loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and rationalisation of routes to integrate the project seamlessly with other public transport systems.
Says IP Gautam, MD of MEGA Co Ltd, “MEGA aims to create a state-of-the-art Metro rail network not only for Gujarat but also as an example for the whole country.” Incorporated as a wholly owned company of the government of Gujarat, MEGA was restructured into a 50:50 Special Purpose Vehicle of the Government of India and Government of Gujarat on 20th March, 2015.
The Ahmedabad Metro Rail Project Phase-I was sanctioned in late 2014 by the Centre. The total length of Phase-I is 39.259 km, of which 6.335 km is underground and the rest elevated. It will connect the four corners of Ahmedabad city with two corridors—the East-West Corridor and the North-South Corridor, having 32 stations in all.
Gautam, a former bureaucrat who is credited with the implementation of the excellent Bus Rapid Transit System in Ahmedabad, discloses that most of the important tenders for works have been awarded or are at the stage of finalisation, with this expected to be complete by December 2016. Construction work on both the corridors is in full swing. Work on priority reach (6.335 km) is being done at the rate of 3 spans (22-31 m each span) per day and it is scheduled to be made operational by the end of 2017—the remaining portion is expected to be operationalised by the end of 2019.
While the project does face issues of land acquisition in some pockets with locals putting up resistance, the MEGA project has thus far managed to smartly avert major speed breakers on its routes. Gautam says this has been achieved by executing almost 90% of the project on government land, “keeping the need for land acquisition to a minimum.”
However, admitting that “constructing a Metro in an existing city is always a challenge due to the presence of private structures and the public’s expectation of minimum impact on the regular life of the people,” he attributes the relatively glitch-free acquisition of private land to “a generous policy for compensation.” Negotiations are under way at present for acquiring land under this policy. The project is expected to impact approximately 1100 families. “We at MEGA have drafted a comprehensive policy for the rehabilitation and resettlement of these Project Affected Families (PAFs) based on the JICA Guidelines for Environmental and Social Considerations and the RFCTLARR Act, 2013 and the RFCTLARR (Gujarat Amendment) Act, 2016,” Gautam points out.
The Metro project is also being executed in a manner that it causes minimum nuisance to public life. Several steps have been taken to ensure proper traffic management. The underground section in the walled city will be constructed with the help of a tunnel boring machine to ensure that regular life is not disturbed. Furthermore, Metro stations will be built by the Cut and Cover Method for speedy construction.
Factoring in environmental considerations, the Metro-link project is being developed under the Clean Development Mechanism. “DMRC is assisting MEGA in ensuring maximum possible savings in Carbon Emissions. The project has attempted to have minimum impact on the green cover of Ahmedabad and for every tree that is being affected by the construction, 10 new trees will be planted. The design of the project has also given due consideration to the protection of heritage structures in the walled city,” the MEGA MD says.
Attracting people to public transportation systems is also a challenge for the authorities. At present, public transport ridership in Ahmedabad is low in comparison with cities of comparable size like Bangalore and Hyderabad. So demographic profiling of people living in different parts of the city is being done to ascertain their patterns of transport usage. “We need to focus on last mile connectivity which suits most people. For making the MEGA project a success we not only need to integrate it seamlessly with other public transport systems like the railways, the BRTS and AMTS (Ahmedabad Municipal Transport System) but also reduce walkability to make it convenient for people,” he states.
With this in mind, the Metro has been conceptualised in a manner that it will provide interchange facilities with various modes of transport conveniently. The project is expected to greatly ease traffic congestion on the roads and usher in a new era in the life of the commuters of Ahmedabad. Clearly, Gujarat’s twin cities seem all set to acquire MEGA status in the not too distant future.