Speed up suburban rail project

The two-decade-old demand for a suburban rail network for Bengaluru is set to become a reality as both the Centre and the state government appear to have realised its importance and begun to act in tandem. Whether the upcoming assembly elections have finally prompted BJP and Congress leaders to put their heads together for the project is immaterial, because it was ultimately the pressure from the citizens of Bengaluru whose life on the traffic-choked roads of the city had turned into a daily nightmare that seems to have worked. A day before the Union budget, the Siddaramaiah government sanctioned Rs 349 crore for the project, and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, too, made an allocation in budget 2018-19, thus signalling that both governments were ready to put the project on a fast track. In further good news now, the state government has agreed to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal's request for increasing the floor space index on railway land from the present 1:2.5 to 1:5, which would enable Railways to better utilise commercial space. The minister has promised that, in return, the Centre would contribute 50% of the project cost as against the 20% agreed earlier.

In its letter to the Centre, the state government has rightly cautioned that permitting more built-up area along the 161-km route would depend on local conditions and the decision on "each parcel of railway land" would be made independently. The Centre also should be flexible on this issue because it may not be practical to allow excessive commercial development of railway land going through congested localities. The south-western railway has already asked the Rail India Technical and Economic Service (RITES) to prepare a detailed project report and submit it in four months. But, it appears that there are areas of disagreement which need to be quickly sorted out. For instance, the state government is going ahead on its own with the doubling of Baiyappanahalli-Hosur line at a cost of Rs 376 crore and the Yeshwanthpur-Chennasandra line at a cost of Rs 170 crore, which would be part of the suburban rail, saying that they have already been sanctioned. It might lead to unnecessary duplication and delays.

There is an urgent need to constitute a special purpose vehicle (SPV), as already envisaged, for the project to make sure that there is a single agency planning and executing suburban rail. The Karnataka Railway Infrastructure Development Corporation (K-RIDE), which has the necessary expertise, could be roped in to do preliminary work before the SPV becomes operational.

 

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