Sanjeev Sinha named Adviser for Rs.1.1 Lakh Crore Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train Project

The development comes in the wake of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese premier Shinzo Abe to kick-start India’s first bullet train project on Sept 14, 2017.

MUMBAI: Sanjeev Sinha, former Tata executive in Tokyo and the first IIT-ian from Barmer, Rajasthan, has been appointed as adviser for the Ahmedabad-Mumbai High Speed Rail project by Japan Railways.

The ground-breaking ceremony for the project, estimated to cost about Rs 1 lakh crore, is planned in Ahmedabad on September 14 in the presence of Prime Ministers Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi.

The project, largely funded by low-cost financing from Japan, is planned to be built based on Japanese technology by a consortium of six rail companies under the aegis of Japan International Consultants or Japan Railways Group, along with the National High Speed Rail Corporation, a three-way alliance between the Gujarat and Maharashtra state governments and the urban development ministry.

Japan is a pioneer in high-speed rail networks, and its Shinkansen bullet train is among the fastest in the world. Japan will provide 85 percent of the total project cost of $19 billion in soft loans. The train will reduce the travel time between the two cities from eight to three-3.5 hours, and is expected to complete by December 2023. It will have a capacity of 750 passengers.

With an interest rate of a negligible 0.1% over an exceptionally long 50-year term and repayment moratorium for the first 15 years, the funding from Japan for the High Speed Rail, called Shinkansen in Japan, is almost like a grant based on standard financial valuation calculations.

“I will be the interface between the two governments. This is a prestigious project but extremely complex. Converting the political will into actual execution will take a lot of effort,” Sinha said in a phone interview from his Tokyo home on Sunday, a day before flying out to Hyderabad.

The Indian government expects the 508-km project that will connect Sabarmati, Surat and Vadodara, among other places, to be completed by May 2023. Twothirds of the project will be within Gujarat, Modi’s home state.

“The Japanese agencies have largely worked within the country except for the Taiwan bullet train project. They want to understand the complexities of Indian regulation, the federal structure and how that impacts key issues of land acquisition, tax and fiscal structures and railways. For some of them, even English-speaking human resources is a major challenge. Then comes the massive civil engineering issues,” Sinha added.

Born in 1973 in Rajasthan, Sinha graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, in 1995 after a five-year Integrated MSc course in physics. After working with Indian conglomerate Godrej, he went to Japan to join GenTech Corp. for R&D in Artificial Intelligence in 1996, leading to some of the key technologies for current automated driving systems.

While acquiring another masters in finance, Sinha built a career working with Goldman Sachs, Mizuho Securities and UBS. He then became the chief country representative for Tata Asset Management and Tata Realty and Infrastructure, before becoming a consultant with PwC.

“I plan to meet the new railways minister in the coming weeks… I have been interacting with Suresh Prabhu for a long time. He came to Japan many times and had implemented key takeaways from here, like the privatisation of railway platforms,” said Sinha, who first organised a conference on bullet trains for both sides in Tokyo in 2013. To support the huge technology collaboration efforts, Sinha is setting up an India Japan Technology Collaboration Fund for partnerships on AI initiatives, nicknamed is co-organising a startup Master Class boot camp with the IIT Kanpur Alumni Association of Pune on September 16 to award breakthrough projects in the field. The event is likely to be attended by Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar and Baba Kalyani, Chairman of Bharat Forge and a member of the board of Hitachi, a major conglomerate of Japan involved in the Ahmedabad-Mumbai Shinkansen project. The winners will be flown into Japan for an investment road show later this year. Concerned about the spate of recent railway accidents in India and the loss of lives, Sinha said safety is paramount and the Japanese government is already helping its Indian counterparts with a blueprint.

“I believe Japan International Cooperation Agency that is already involved with Mumbai and Delhi metro projects have been assigned to study safety measures,” he said.

Sinha argues bullet trains, with speeds of 285 km per hour, can’t be built overnight and need “meticulous planning.” He is confident that the railways can work along with the new hi-tech projects and learn best practices.

“India’s rail network is vast but behind several developing nations. I hope the Japanese Shinkansen with a fabulous record of zero fatal accidents in its operations over more than 50 years despite very intricate passenger friendly operations amidst earthquakes, typhoons and a very difficult hilly terrain of Japan, acts as a benchmark. We can’t wait any further.” For over two decades, Sinha has been promoting interaction among industrialists, parliamentarians, bureaucrats and academicians between the two countries with specific work on the Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor, Andhra Pradesh’s new capital project and Japanese financing of about $400 million for IIT Hyderabad, among others.