Tracking the future: 2 reasons behind new Metro policy and major pie for Metro links

KOLKATA: The first was that on December 6, 2016, the works directorate of the Railway Board announced a new draft policy for suburban railway systems where it made the states the prime mover behind the construction of such projects

The announcement by finance minister Arun Jaitley about a new Metro rail policy as well as a new Metro rail Act comes on the back of two important issues facing the sector, railway officials told.

The first was that on December 6, 2016, the works directorate of the Railway Board announced a new draft policy for suburban railway systems where it made the states the prime mover behind the construction of such projects.

The second issue is the fight, currently on in courts, between the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority and the Reliance Infra-led Mumbai Metro One Private Limited over the fares of the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro corridor.

“With Jaitley mentioning in his speech the need for greater private participation and investment in construction and operation of Metro systems, it is imperative that we have a new Metro Act that improves upon the Metro Railways (Operations and Maintenance) Act, 2002. Since all these private Metro systems will have the status of non-government railways, the rules have to be clear so that issues, like the one being faced by the VAG corridor, are not repeated,” explained a Railway Board official.

Bengal’s share of the budgetary allocation for railways has swelled by almost 66 per cent compared to 2016-17, rail ministry officials said today. The largest slice of the pie is possibly for the five Metro projects in Calcutta that are in various stages of development.

The outlay for 2017-18 is Rs 6,336 crore, up from Rs 3,820 crore in 2016-17. Since the figures are not part of the budget document placed in Parliament today, railway officials won’t know until Friday the break-up for individual projects under Eastern, South Eastern, Metro and Northeast Frontier Railway.

“This should be clear by the end of the week,” a senior official in the railway ministry said from Delhi.

A larger kitty wasn’t unexpected after some of the hurdles that had stalled Metro rail projects in Calcutta were removed in recent months. These five Metro projects had together received just over Rs 1,000 crore in railway minister Suresh Prabhu’s rail budget.

The Narendra Modi government has done away with the practice of presenting a separate railway budget.

The Joka-BBD Bag, New Garia-Airport and Noapara-Airport Metro projects had received more funds in 2016-17 compared to the previous year, but the Noapara-Baranagar-Barrackpore project received Rs 25 crore less. The East-West Metro had received Rs 500 crore, almost the same as in 2015-16.

“Funds allocation in the last railway budget was based on the progress of work. Wherever there was scope for work, the allocation was increased. The Noapara-Baranagar project had its allocation slashed because of a status quo in removing encroachments,” a railway official said.

Metro had highlighted on Tuesday the breakthrough moments of some problem-ridden Metro projects over the past few months. The state government’s changed stance in helping remove encroachments from some sites has apparently made all the difference.

  • The proposed realignment of a stretch of the East-West Metro to bypass a land hurdle has been finalised. The army, which is the custodian of the Maidan, has given permission to build a station at Esplanade.
  • For the Joka-BBD Bag project, 44 per cent of a 25-hectare plot needed to build a maintenance depot has been handed over to the railways.
  • Construction has started on land owned by the India Government Mint with the finance ministry’s nod.
  • For the New Garia-Airport link, the state government has agreed to allow demolition of eight illegal buildings at Salt Lake’s Mahisbathan.
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