Traveling experience of train passengers in India is changing thanks to development of new infrastructure by various units of Indian Railways ecosystem. The Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA) is a statutory authority within the Ministry of Railways responsible for railway land development. As part of its development strategy it has four key mandates: commercial leasing sites, colony redevelopment, station redevelopment, and multi-functional complexes. RLDA is engaged in the redevelopment of Railway Station buildings and in developing expertise in consultancy, construction and management services in the field of real estate, developing sound commercial models of development and implementing projects on the model that assures highest revenue return with adequate safeguards among others. Recently, RLDA concluded the first pre-bid conference in connection with re-development of New Delhi and Ahmedabad Railway Stations and construction of associated infrastructure. These stations will be redeveloped using an EPC (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction) model. FinancialExpress.com got in touch with Ved Parkash Dudeja, Vice Chairman of RLDA to discuss everything that it does and their future plans. Excerpts:
Explain the overview of RLDA, its mandate and key projects?
RLDA is a statutory authority created in 2007 as a result of the amendment to the Indian Railway act 2005. Our mandate is to develop commercially sustainable projects on the surplus land in and around railway stations with the Indian Railways. We have our corporate head office in New Delhi and our regional offices are in all major towns like Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bangalore, Jaipur and Lucknow. Currently, we have got over 119 sites at various stages of commercial development, which are either vacant or being developed for various greenfield projects. We have 104 colony redevelopment projects. Railway houses are spread across large areas in all the major towns in the country in the form of single and double-story projects, yet they are highly underutilized. We lease and develop these colonies and deliver premium infrastructure projects. In this way, the railways get a new asset development without spending anything and we generate revenue from these projects. We are doing techno-economic studies for 403 stations redevelopment projects, where major accreditation is envisaged in the near future. At present, we have already invited tenders for 50 central railways of the country including zonal railways. Out of a total of 50 tenders floated by the Indian Railways, we have won the tender for 40 stations. RLDA is contributing towards some of the most prestigious station development projects in Delhi, Mumbai, and Ahmedabad.
In addition to the station, we are also developing significant infrastructure around the vicinity of the station, with the aim to develop these stations as city centers, which act as a bridge to unify the city and boost the local economy. These stations will have all the commercial outlets like food and beverages and retail on the station roof plazas. This will also be very useful for people of the city for crossing from one side of the station to the other side and at the same time they will have some shopping experience over the station. We hope to give a new identity to these railway stations, while also helping the people and communities around the station.
Our self-sustained development models will be geared towards decongesting the local traffic. For example, in New Delhi we are trying to decongest the traffic around Connaught Place (CP) by building elevated floor corridors around the station, which can divert the traffic directly to the station without flowing into CP. On Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg, we are elevating the corridor and building the direct approach to station for passenger coming from South Delhi. We are also constructing 84 multi-functional complexes, which will provide investment opportunities to small traders. We are looking to create cost-effective amenities for the passengers. In fact, we will be allocating the land parcels to the developers who can integrate facilities like some retail shops, budget-friendly hotels, ATM outlets, etc., along with their development plans. These services will not only be useful for the passengers, but will also encourage increase in station footfalls in the form of families and other visitors coming to spend time in and around the station. This will have a cascading effect on the local economy and generate gainful employment opportunity around the station.
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Looking back, how was the year 2022 for RLDA and what are your plans ahead?
The year 2022 has been a very good year for the RLDA. As you know, the global economic slowdown caused due to the unprecedented pandemic has now ended. The spur in economic activity is visible in our balance sheets. In the last 6 months, we have awarded contracts worth Rs. 1800 Crore, which is the best ever performance for RLDA till date. Prior to this, our previous best was seen in the year 2019-20 where we awarded these contracts worth Rs. 1553 Crore.
Can we see more participation of private sector in these redevelopment projects?
Station redevelopment is a highly down-paced process, which involves a solid construction base. Any infrastructure development project based on PPP model needs continual revenue revisions. Consequently, in addition to the construction process, the project investment is not backed by any guaranteed revenue scheme after the construction is complete. If an investor is looking for a guaranteed revenue scheme, then it would require levying a user fee on the passengers comparable to airports. Airports constructed on PPP models, levy substantial sums of money as user fee, which is then collected by the developers. But in railway station development, this model cannot be implemented as 70-80% of our customer base involves people hailing from very low-income groups and the government is highly sensitive towards putting a burden of even 10 rupees on this demographic. Government has a fixed mandate to not put any more financial burden on economical weaker sections of society.
Currently, all station redevelopment ventures are largely government funded. Once the redevelopment process is completed, the surrounding areas around the stations will gain a significant boost in property appreciation and future commercial potential. This will fetch much high revenues for the government in the future. Our plan is to leverage the land around the station to develop and promote economic activities to create new sources of financially sustainable revenue generation.
Recently Indian Railways and railways ministers also shared stunning future design of Delhi, Ahmedabad and CST station in Mumbai. How much progress has been made on the redevelopment of these and other stations?
We have already invited tenders for these three stations. We have had extensive meetings to expedite the New Delhi and Ahmedabad station redevelopment. At present, we are working on getting the Mumbai station fast-tracked. The most competent builders and construction giants are involved in our discussions.
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Can you brief us about how the Two-Dome design for New Delhi Railway station or the sun temple inspired design for Ahmedabad station was reached or how it was finalized? What was the idea behind the designs for these stations?
Our philosophy behind every station redevelopment is to focus on optimizing the project functionality, while also providing a novel experience to our patrons. To do this, we look to highlight the natural heritage of the city. For example, Ahmedabad is known for the famous Sun Temple. Hence, we have chosen this as the theme of the station redevelopment project. On the other hand, Mumbai has various UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We plan to showcase this national heritage by conserving and embracing our culture, while also enriching the passenger experience. To this end, we will incorporate modern techniques to enhance the structural integrity of the façade layout. For example, in the case of the current New Delhi railway station, not all platforms are parallel to each other. While the axis of platforms 1 to 8 are in an oblong alignment to the Desh Bandhu Gupta flyover, platforms 9 to 16 are in a different oblong alignment towards Connaught Place. Hence, to optimize the functional utility of the existing station, an infinity shape was finalized for the foundation of the envisioned station redevelopment. This will provide the redeveloped New Delhi Station with an infinite number of possibilities, both literally as well as figuratively.
What all facilities these redeveloped station will offer to passengers? How will these change the travel experience?
The Government of India is planning to provide world class facilities to the passengers at no extra cost. Our aim is create universally accessible and appealing stations that passengers from every demographic can avail and utilize. Be it low income or high income or persons with disabilities, our station designs will provide ubiquitous accessibility. We will be integrating the various modes of the transportations with the aim of connecting various parts of the city. In New Delhi, we are integrating both lines of the Delhi metro with the railway station. Additionally, we also have a dedicated bus service on the ground floor of our multi-modal transport hub. We are constructing two multi-modal transport hubs. One will be on Paharganj side and the other on the Ajmeri gate side and both will have 91 bus bases on the ground floor and an elevated road network, 10m above all the stations for cab and auto services. This will be augmented by the multi-level car parking. Furthermore, the roof park above will have various facilities catering food and beverages for the people. Passengers, who do not wish to wait at the platform for their trains, can wait in the comfortable ambience of the roof park, while savoring an enjoyable shopping experience across the various retail outlets. This will also provide a space for businesses to conduct meetings and provide a new experience for one and all.
Will these facilities be available only to ticket holders or general public too?
There will be a corridor at every plaza, so that the general public may cross the station free of cost. Like in New Delhi, we are providing such corridor at 19m level and they will also be integrated with all retail and shopping experiences. Going forward, such pedestrian-friendly corridors will be made the standard facility in all our stations.
What are the leasing targets by RLDA for 2023?
For the current year, we are aiming for Rs. 5,000 Crore as our leasing target.