Friction on the tracks for Light Metro, DMRC

Thiruvananthapuram (TVC): When the United Democratic Front (UDF) government finally bowed to public pressure and decided to entrust the Light Metro proposed by ‘Metroman’ E. Sreedharan to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd. (DMRC) on a turnkey and nomination basis, there was hope all around that it would now be a smooth ride for the much-awaited project. Perhaps not, if one goes by what is stated to be going on at the Secretariat.

The Oommen Chandy Cabinet is slated to take up the Light Metro proposal at its meeting this Wednesday, but it might not be a smooth sailing for the proposal as, insiders say, riders could be brought into play at the last minute to make it difficult for DMRC to keep its assurances to the government. The government finally agreed to the DMRC’s insistence on executing the project on a turnkey basis, rejecting the Finance Department’s strong pitch for Public-Private-Participation (PPP) mode, only after Mr. Sreedharan had a one-on-one with Mr. Chandy before the two were joined later in the day by five Ministers and officials. With public opinion, including that of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president V.M. Sudheeran, strongly veering towards the DMRC proposals, there was very little that the government could do, howsoever reluctant it was to take that call. Conspicuous by their absence from the discussions was the strong objections and reservations that the Finance Department had earlier aired about the turnkey and nomination option. Key officials of the Finance Department were absent from the meeting and a top honcho of the MRTS project in Kochi, who had earlier come out strongly against the DMRC, pulled out after Mr. Sreedharan wrote to him explaining the rationale of his proposal and issued a public statement against the PPP hybrid mode. The reluctance to stand in the way of DMRC had its reasons: only that morning it had come to light that there was much in common between the points the naysayers had raised and those in an Expression of Interest (EoI) submitted by an Italian firm to the government in November last. That Mr. Sreedharan had to assure the Chief Minister that he would bring Central funding and a really soft loan from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to swing things in DMRC’s way is another related story. The fighter that he is, Mr. Sreedharan met JICA country head within 24 hours of getting the government’s word on the turnkey option. But, now he may have to reckon with fresh costing exercises by the State departments when the Cabinet note finally comes up for consideration. The attempt now, those in the know of things say, is to make it that much more difficult for DMRC to keep its end up.

The strict guidelines laid down by the KPCC leadership for mobilising funds for party programmes have made the party workers a bit wary. While fanning out all over the State to garner resources for the regional rallies organised by the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) to publicise the welfare schemes of the government, they are reportedly finding the going really tough.

In the first place, there is a slump in key sectors of the economy making it difficult for them to seek and get funds from traditional backers of the ruling alliance. On top has come the stringent guidelines, the key diktat of which is that they should not take donations from liquor contractors or those engaged in business operations that border on the illegal like sand-mining and quarrying. The KPCC stand on the subject has won praise from many, but those who have been entrusted with the job of mobilising funds are squirming. One district-level leader is stated to have wondered aloud at one of the coordination meetings why the leaders cannot think of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) option, that of major leaders letting common folks to dine with them or share space with them in return for small contributions. Though everybody present laughed it away, a few were ready to admit that going by their experience, there would be no other option if the party is to go in for such major campaign initiatives.