JICA shows interest in funding Surat Metro Rail Project

Surat: Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA), the Japanese funding agency, has shown keen interest in financing the Rs 4,000 crore Surat Metro Rail Project. The detailed project report (DPR) of the 35-km-long metro rail, being prepared by Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) along with CEPT University in Ahmedabad, is likely to be ready in next six months.

A five-member team of international management consulting firm Ernst & Young, which functions as financial assessors of JICA, has been camping in Surat to assess demand and possibility of adopting several corridors. After getting the financial assessment report from Ernst & Young, JICA will discuss the same with the state and Central Government, and implementation is expected to begin after the financial loan is granted. JICA is known to be interested in financing metro project of two cities in India, one of them being Surat.

While officials from JICA were in Surat for assessment of the project cost, the agency will take a final call once the DPR is ready by March 2017.

Meanwhile, DMRC and CEPT are conducting a study to check the feasibility of different corridors and making specific demand assessment of each corridor. According to CEPT, the work is going on and more than a dozen corridors are being assessed. The state government has also named Metro Link Express Gandhinagar-Ahmedabad (MEGA) as the nodal agency for implementation of metro projects in the different cities of the state.

Surat – a city with poor connectivity that it is more difficult to reach it from Bangalore than it is to fly to London

Unlike some of the other big cities, like Mumbai, Calcutta, Chennai and even New Delhi, Surat was not built by the British. It was built by Indians and it has a recorded history going back centuries. It was already a big city in the period of the Delhi sultanate and it was the largest provider of tax revenue on entire the subcontinent during the Mughal rule. In 1608, the British first landed here, when it was famous as a big and successful port and trading centre under emperor Jahangir. Three centuries later, though the port shifted to Mumbai, it was still large and famous enough across the world for Leo Tolstoy to write a short story called ‘The coffee house of Surat’. Today Surat is the world’s largest diamond polishing centre (about two thirds of all diamonds found anywhere in the world have passed through Surat). And it is one of the world’s largest textile centres. It has a population roughly the size of London and it has the highest per capita income of any city in India.

From Bangalore, one won’t get a flight to Surat. This is because Surat has an airport that is dysfunctional. No private airline flies to the city. Shortly after this government took over, a buffalo walked into the Surat airport and an airplane crashed into it, damaging its jet engine. This flight, the only private one connecting Surat to Mumbai and Bangalore, was discontinued.

Minister for Civil Aviation Ashok Gajapathi Raju said the beast had come in through a gap in the fence which he ordered would be walled up. But this has not inspired any confidence from the airlines and so they have avoided Surat for the last two years. To get here, I had to first fly to Mumbai and then drive for five hours. The distance is 300 kilometres and the road is part of India’s best highway network, the golden quadrilateral, which connects Mumbai to Delhi. This is a heavily used highway, perhaps the busiest in India, and so the halted cars and trucks form a line many kilometres long.

This is the same route that India’s bullet train is taking. The high speed rail network starts at Ahmedabad and comes to Surat, which is about mid way, and then to Mumbai.