161-km Bangalore Suburban route gets Railway nod; Karnataka open to funding

Karnataka agree to Railway Minister’s request for a generous floor space index (FSI) for Railway land in return for the ministry bearing half of the suburban railway project cost.

BENGALURU: The over two-decade-old demand for a suburban railway network for the city has finally been met by the Railways with the project and amount approved for it in the Railway budget 2018-2019. Meanwhile, a 142-km corridor costing Rs 12,061 crore has been approved according to the Pink Book (register of railway projects and costs) made public on Tuesday. An additional 19 km of suburban rail has also been incorporated under its doubling projects thereby bringing the overall suburban network to 161 km.

The 161-km route recently announced for the suburban rail network for Bengaluru has been approved but it has been incorporated under different heads. Nearly 19 km of the suburban route between Banaswadi and Hebbal and that between Channapatna and Karmelaram via Baiyappanahalli has been brought under the doubling project category. A token sum of Rs 1 crore has been released in the budget to carry out survey and other preliminary works pertaining to the suburban project.

Meanwhile the Karnataka state government has also signalled that it would agree to railway minister Piyush Goyal’s request for a generous floor space index (FSI) for railway land in return for the ministry bearing half of the suburban railway project cost.

During his recent visit to Bengaluru, Goyal had set a condition while offering to bear half of the cost of the proposed suburban railway project. He sought additional floor space index (FSI) for development on railway land. A relaxed FSI norm would allow the railways to build more floors beyond what town planning regulations permit.

The railway minister had said that Maharashtra has agreed for a similar deal and he would expect a positive response from Karnataka too.

The suburban railway project is estimated to cost Rs.17,000 crore for a length of 160 km.

“We are open to the proposal. In the interest of Bengalureans, we will agree to the demand on additional FSI for the railway land but only on a case-to-case basis. The state has already signed a memorandum of understanding to grant additional FSI at railway stations,” Mahendra Jain, additional chief secretary, Urban Development Department, told ET.

Giving away additional FSI means intensive development, he said. “We will have to step up infrastructure such as road, electricity and water. Though we have some reservations about giving additional FSI, we are open to the idea because the request is coming from the railways,” Jain said.

The railways is asking for five times the base floor area ratio. While the fixing of base floor area ratio is city-specific and changes based on road width and the zone, the government grants additional FSI for properties that fall within 150 metres of metro stations.

Going by the Railways policy on suburban rail project, the state and Centre will share 20% each of the project cost, while a special purpose vehicle (SPV) will have to raise debt for the rest of the project cost.

“Densification of railway corridors would be environmental disaster as the railway lines pass close to the Bannerghatta National Park and the basin of river Arkavathi on the northwestern side. Though Bengaluru needs a suburban rail, the authorities should not look at commercial viability but raise funds through other sources,” said Leo Saldanha, coordinator at Environment Support Group, a nonprofit.

Urban affairs expert V Ravichandar believed it would be reasonable for the state government to allow additional FSI as both State and the Centre are cash-strapped. “The state government, however, should support the additional development with enough infrastructure,” he said.

Doubling projects

Among other new works approved were 212.54 km of doubling project for a total cost of Rs 840 crore for three doubling lines. The 49-km double line between Baiyappanahalli and Hosur cost Rs 375.67 crore, the 21.7 km line between Yeshwantpur and Channasandra cost Rs 169.95 crore, while the 41.5 km double line between Pennukonda and Dharmavaram cost Rs 294.67 crore.

Electrification Works

Electrification works running to 989 km have been approved and will cost Rs 919.44 crore.

A total of 23 Railway under bridges and 5 Railway over bridges have been sanctioned at a cost of Rs 131.89 crore.

Among other important works are the development of a satellite terminal at Naganahalli for a cost of Rs 789.3 crore. Modernisation of signalling across the South Western Railway has been okayed at a cost of Rs 250 crore.

The budget has earmarked Rs 716.75 crore for new lines and Rs 984.45 crore for doubling works. Of vital importance to the Bengaluru Division are Rs 6 crore earmarked for quadrupling of the Bangalore-Whitefield-Bangalore City-Krishnarajapuram line, Rs 120 crore earmarked for the 120.53 km Yelahanka-Penukonda line.

Fact Sheet

Rs.3,353 cr had been sanctioned in the budget for the current year as against B3,174 crore last year

State Burden Reduced

Rs.12,061 cr  approved for the suburban rail project will be borne on a 50:50 cost sharing basis between the State and the Centre.  Sanjeev Dyammanavar of an online activist forum, Praja.in, said, “The much-awaited   project has become a reality after over two decades. With the equal cost sharing model adopted, it has reduced  burden on the State.”