In what comes as good news for those who have bemoaned the condition of railway stations in India, a recent review meeting on infrastructure projects saw the Prime Minister’s Office directing the Indian Railways to expedite the targets for the station redevelopment programme for fiscal 2017-18. Being one of the flagship programmes of the National Democratic Alliance, the Narendra Modi government is keen to present a sprucer face on this front when it goes to the polls in 2019.
The 23 railway stations for which expressions of interest (EoIs) have been sought so far have evoked interest from Blackstone, the Canadian Pension Fund, a Malaysian consortium and Chinese funds, among others. Reputed builders such as Tata Realty and Infrastructure, Essel Infra, IL&FS, GMR, Raheja, Prestige and Brigade are already working to submit bids for the purpose.
Progress in the scheme has been slower than was envisaged at the beginning though. When the Centre decided to redevelop 400 stations in three years at the start of the last financial year, the Niti Aayog had pushed for 100 stations being put on the block in the first year. However, the process got underway for only 40 stations, with the list being subsequently trimmed to 23 names due to fears of a tepid response post-demonetisation, among other factors. Work on two stations — Habibganj and Gandhinagar — has already started while the Jammu Tawi and Kozhikkode railway stations are close to being awarded. It is expected that the remaining stations would be ready for bidding by September.
The programme received a boost recently when a Malaysian delegation evinced interest in redeveloping seven railway stations —Udaipur City, Indore, Howrah, Faridabad, Secunderabad, Bandra and Pune — of the 23 on offer. The presence of Dato Sri Zohari Haji Akob, secretary general-works, government of Malaysia, added heft to the delegation. The consortium of Malaysian developers is keen on redeveloping a basket of around 20 stations beyond the 23 on offer at present. The railways has asked it to submit bids for 4-6 of the stations on offer in the current round before this request could be looked into though norms forbid contracts being awarded without a tender process.
On the prospects for station developers, Rajiv Chaudhary, adviser-station development, Railway Board, says, “station redevelopment is a long-term bet wherein viability will fluctuate and developers will have to innovate to adjust to the changing scenarios.” The process of awarding station redevelopment contracts is a lengthy one stretching over at least eight months. Once a station is put up for bidding, developers need to submit a concept along with the cost and premium to be paid to the railways.
Two railway committees and an independent committee then evaluates the bids and makes its recommendations. It is then up to the general manager of the concerned zone to select one bid which, in consultation with the railways, is developed into a detailed project report (DPR). This DPR is put up for Swiss Challenge, leading to the contract being awarded. The railways is hopeful that as more funds and developers start participating, interest in the programme will grow. While it expects contracts for 18 of the 23 stations to be awarded this year, the process is expected to gather steam next year.