Suburban rail: now fast-track it

DH Photo/ Savitha B R

Bengaluru saw an exponential growth both in terms of geography and population over the past two decades, but no attention was given to setting up a mass public transport system by successive governments, leading to acute traffic congestion and undue pressure on the crumbling infrastructure. Now, all this is set to change with the much-delayed suburban rail project receiving the green signal. Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Karnataka Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy need to be complimented for cutting the red-tape and putting this project, which was first mooted in 2007, on track. Credit should also go to former chief minister Siddaramaiah who gave it a concrete shape in 2013 by making a budgetary allocation and proposing the setting up of a special purpose vehicle, Bengaluru Suburban Rail Corporation. But Kumaraswamy and Goyal have given it the final push.

With Lok Sabha elections around the corner, the project approval comes as a win-win both for the BJP and the coalition government in Karnataka. The suburban rail, with a capital cost of nearly Rs 20,000 crore, will have 81 stations and cover 161 km along four routes: Kengeri–Bengaluru City–Whitefield; Bengaluru City–Yelahanka–Rajanakunte; Nelamangala– Mathikere–Baiyappanahalli; Heelalige–Yelahanka–Devanahalli. It will also provide direct connectivity to Kempegowda International Airport. The network is expected to have a daily average ridership of nearly a million by 2025 and about 1.7 million by 2041. The Railways will provide Rs 6,000 crore worth of land at a token rent of Re 1 per acre, while about 65 acres of private land will have to be acquired.

While everything appears rosy at the moment, there could always be a slip between the cup and the lip, as is common with government projects. A few months ago, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Kumaraswamy had jointly announced that military land would be transferred immediately to the state government to enable completion of infrastructure projects that have been hanging fire for many years. Nothing has moved so far. The suburban railway should not meet the same fate. The acquisition of land and the clearing of encroachments along the railway line may also pose a challenge, considering that 60% of the alignment would be through the metropolitan area. The state government should ensure that the various clearances required for the project do not face bureaucratic hurdles. The suburban rail is a long-cherished dream of Bengalureans, who are fed up with the daily traffic snarls. The Centre and the state government have made a good beginning, and they should now leave no stone unturned to ensure that it becomes a reality at the earliest.

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