India’s first bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai will benefit the regional economy tremendously, says Sanjeev Sinha, adviser to Japan Railways for the High-Speed rail project. An ex-IITian, Sanjeev Sinha believes that the bullet train project will help Indian Railways leap frog into the best technology for high-speed rail. In an exclusive interview with Financial Express Online’s Smriti Jain, Sanjeev Sinha elaborates on the ‘Make in India’ benefits of the bullet train project:
What would you say to the critics of the bullet train project?
We are already lagging behind terribly, even other developing countries have railways with much much higher speeds than India. It is time that we leapfrog into the best technology of the world for high speed railways. Japan has the best technology for bullet train not only in terms of speed but also safety. Japanese bullet train technology is the best for India. The idea is to be able to emulate the learnings on other parts of the Indian Railways network as well. It is in Japan’s interest to employ Indian professionals to expand this technology to the rest of the country as well. Japan can fund the expansion as well.
A long study was conducted on the best route. Ahmedabad-Mumbai was identified as the right length because Japan also started the bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka – it was 500-km route. Ahmedabad-Mumbai route is also 500-km and it is a highly industrialised area. A flight only connects you from one point to the other, the intermediate areas are ignored. The idea of the bullet train project is to connect all the dots on the way. All these areas along the route will prosper. Because of the bullet train project, these areas will become one single integrated economic region. A service industry will be created as well. Stations will become big hubs. In Japan, the railway stations have educational institutes, shopping malls, residential, office buildings and hospitals. That helps the economy tremendously.
Any other routes on the Indian Railways network that Japan would be interested in?
Definitely but we have deliver one success story first.
What are the Make in India benefits of the bullet train project?
Japan is looking at a very holistic development in context of the bullet train project. It is not just rolling stock running on the rail. It is about urban development, station development, manufacturing in the region and education development. In the last trip of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Japan in 2016, I was sought for advise on why Japanese companies are not coming to India. One of the challenges is human resource. Japan is a country with a small population and lack of human resource. It is a rich country and the youth does not have incentives to do manufacturing jobs. Japan is facing a shortage of human resource. It is in Japan’s interest to promote manufacturing in India as much as possible. It is different from China where there is a large population and low cost labour. When Chinese companies come to India, they may have an interest to bring their employees and labour along. They may even have an interest to manufacture in China itself and to export. But that is not the case with Japan, which is already short of human resource.
One of the biggest reasons why Japan is interested in India is the human resorurce collaboration. Japan is looking to employ Indian human resource both in India as well as to invite them to Japan as well. So the ‘Make in India’ project is totally in line with the Japanese thought process. Japan has the technology and capital – these two things Japan has in plenty. This (funding of bullet train project) is very very low cost capital. So Japan can invest as much money in India as much as possible, and at very very low cost. Japan can do grants and donations for India – so many projects have happened in the past already. To manufacture, Japan needs human resource to be developed in India. So we need that skill development process.
I told PM Modi that one of the reasons that Japanese companies are not coming is because they don’t have human resource and when they work in India they need Indian human resource that understands Japanese technology, language and practises. That idea was immediately taken up and PM Modi and Abe announced the Japan-India Institute of Manufacturing in India. Another specific initiative was the human resource institute in Vadodara where people will be trained for the bullet train project. It is all aligned for developing human resource in India and generating employment in India. Japan wants to build the manufacturing industry in India so that Japanese companies can have a global footprint and they can export from India to the rest of the world. So the project is very much aligned to the Make in India initiative.
How would you lure people away from airlines to bullet trains? Fares will be comparable…
Fares might be comparable but you see, the bullet train frequency is a plus point. I am an advisor to the Kyoto University, which is near Osaka in Japan. I leave from my home in Tokyo and in 10 minutes I am at the railway station. Every 10 minutes a bullet train runs on the route. In 2.5 hours, I am in Kyoto. So including all the transit, buying tickets etc, it takes me 3 hours. In case of a flight you will need to plan much in advance, there is time required for check-in and check-out etc. And, as I said it is not only about connecting Ahmedabad to Mumbai only, it’s connecting the intermediate areas which you cannot do with a flight. Bullet train will help the local economy and the local people. So all these land acquisition difficulties that are currently being faced will not arise if the benefits of the project are explained properly to the people.
What is your take on Hyperloop?
Hyperloop will not connect the intermediate regions that well. It is very experimental yet, so it is hard to say whether it is suited for India or not.