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Mangu Singh, Managing Director, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) indicates that challenges around land acquisition have slowed down the ongoing extension of metro rail network. Therefore, if the need arises again, the metro rail operator in the Delhi National Capital Region (NCR) will not be averse to negotiating directly with private landowners.
Tell us about the multi-modal integration at the upcoming stations of Delhi Metro.
A large number of passengers use metro rail stations. They use other means of transport such as two wheelers, three wheelers, taxis or buses to get there. The multi-modal concept basically takes care of all needs concerned with the other modes that passengers use in reaching the station, such as providing space for alighting and getting in, holding taxis and two-wheelers, creating bus bases and so on. It is about making things easy as far as passenger interchange is concerned at stations.
Last year, in your interview to Infrastructure Today, you had mentioned that last mile connectivity remains an issue. Is this also a step towards addressing that concern?
The multi-modal integration at stations is not only about last mile connectivity. It also takes care of other modes. Yes, last time I had mentioned that the metro cannot be expected to reach each and every place in the city. The metro can only act as an arterial means, while other modes of transport support it. Overall, it is a question of city planning.
What is the level of automation proposed towards the conclusion of Phase III of Delhi Metro?
In Phase III, lines 7 and 8 have been planned with the highest level of automation, where human intervention will be completely avoided. If I may add, this is the next level of automation that we are already striving to achieve. Our trains in Phase II are also on automated operating system, except in a few aspects such as the closing of doors and starting of trains at stations. Passenger safety is also ensured through automation.
When it commenced construction, despite a rare delay, the general perception was that DMRC always managed to beat a deadline. However, that no longer seems to be the case. Phase III is expected to be delayed nearly two years. Why this slowdown?
Let me correct you. It is not towards the end of 2018. In fact, 99 per cent of our work in Phase III is complete. Train trials are currently underway in the entire phase. The second thing that you mentioned about Phase I and Phase II, let me give you some information. Phase I took more than seven years to complete. Phase II was actually an extension of Phase I. Therefore, it was completed in a relatively shorter time. If you see the quantum of work in Phase III, what we are doing today is actually Phase I and Phase II put together. Today we are executing around 160 km of track. We have completed sections such as the Faridabad line ahead of schedule. Our way of working is still the same. But there are certain things that are no longer available to us. For example, land. Not a single square inch of land has been acquired by us under the new land acquisition act. It is just not possible! So, we had to struggle at a number of locations. We have introduced a very high level of technology like Automatic Train Operation (ATO) system, where the trial period is as high as eight months. In some stretches, we completed construction last August. But even today we are unable to start revenue operations because passenger safety has to be foolproof. Our way of working, our momentum has not slowed down. If in a 55 km line, I am stuck at two or three locations of a few hundred metres, you cannot say the work has slowed down. If land were available, we would have finished them too.
The Finance Ministry recomended some parts of Phase IV be done under PPP model or in stages? However, you have pointed out that PPP might not be viable for social welfare projects such as metro rail?
Whenever any project is taken for approval, you have to examine all possible aspects of funding. In each detailed project report (DPR), we also examine the PPP option. But as I mentioned earlier, it is not a viable solution for metro projects. And, therefore, for Phase IV we have not suggested the PPP mode.
The proposal has been sent for funding like in the earlier phases. If the public money in the form of viability gap fund is more in case of PPP, then why must you go for it? If you spend more and do not have the ownership either, then what is the point? In view of the federal government's reservations on certain loan conditions pronounced by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), are you also examining alternative sources of funding for that phase?
That stage has not yet come. We have sent the proposal to the government and when it is discussed with JICA, it is between them and the Government of India. We believe that JICA is very keen to extend the loan to support Phase IV.
Some news reports have suggested that the arbitration award of Rs.29.5 billion to Reliance Infrastructure for the Airport Metro could negatively impact the ongoing Phase III and proposed Phase IV of Delhi Metro. Your views?
This will not have any impact on Phase III or Phase IV. It is a separate issue. In any public-private project, there is always an arrangement in the agreement that in case the project is terminated by either side, the investment made by the private player is returned to him. This award is actually about loan expenditure and creation of assets being passed on to us. It is not a penalty. If this were not a PPP, the government would have spent on building this line. So the fund will come for this too. However, our contention in the dispute is basically that the termination is not legal and they should come back and run the system.
Earlier this year, the DMRC acquired plots through direct negotiation. Will you enter into more such deals going forward?
Not for Phase III, as it is already over. But, yes, this is likely to come up again in Phase IV. The first attempt will be to acquire land through the land acquisition act. But if there is a delay - and in that scenario only - we will directly negotiate with private players.
How did this idea come about?
There was no other option. Either you sit tight and wait for things to get resolved or try other available options. For the sake of a few crores of rupees, your hundreds and thousands of crores are blocked. It, therefore, makes sense to do something about it.
To what extent do you think Delhi Metro is environmentally sustainable as a transport system?
A public transport system is any day efficient. Besides, a rail-based transport system with lightweight and energy regenerative coaches will be even more effective. There are certain negative impacts such as rising dust level and noise during construction. Then there are environmental issues like use of natural resources, cement, steel and things like that. However, we have a very strict regime on health, safety and environment that we follow right from the start of a project. And the result is there for anyone to see. DMRC was the world's first rail-based project to be registered with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project. We are introducing new sources of energy like the solar power in a big way. We have already installed more than 17 MW. We are the biggest contributor of rooftop solar system in Delhi. All our new stations are designed on principles of energy efficiency and are platinum-rated.
However, DMRC is often criticised for using ground water for purposes of construction?
The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing. If you do something, it is bound to affect someone or the other. When you construct a station 18 m below the ground level, water will come and you need to pump it out. Water consumption in construction is very minimal. Whatever comes out during excavation, we utilise that in construction. We do not waste it unnecessarily.
Please provide an overview of your ongoing and proposed assignments. Also, you assert that due to the pressures of internal demand, you have avoided venturing out of India. Are you not losing out on precious revenue in the process?
If we go out, somebody will have to come in from outside. And that will be a drain on the foreign exchange reserves. In fact, international experts are already supervising a number of projects. So, if we fill in that gap, at least the money remains within the country. As far as international exposure is concerned, we will certainly venture outside once our hands are free. We will have so much more experience by that time. We are part of the general consultants for the Dhaka Metro Rail Project. I would like to add a point here. The way a consultancy works on an international level is slightly different. You have to provide your expertise on man-month basis. Like I have to depute one of my experts on that project and then charge for his deployment. There is no guarantee as to when that project will get completed or if it will be within the budget. But when we take up a project within the country, we have almost full control on it. For instance, in Kochi, we delivered in just four years' time. Internationally, when a consultant is appointed, the first two years are spent in the bidding process and finalising parameters. Like Dhaka will not be completed in less than seven years even with us serving as consultants.
What is your advice to the upcoming metro rail projects across the country to remain popular with riders while also maintaining their economic viability?
I would only say that whenever a metro service starts in a city, one must not expect viability or 100 per cent success till a minimum or threshold type of network is there. For example, with the opening of the central portion in Bangalore, I am told the traffic is already more than 350,000 passengers daily. In many of our cities where there is no possibility to widen roads any further, a rail-based system such as metro or light metro is the only way. And to make the system sustainable or viable, government support is necessary. The Delhi model is a very good example where 50 per cent comes as a soft loan and 50 per cent comes from the two (federal and state) governments. The paying capacity of the special purpose vehicle (SPV) for repayment of loan is already there.
- Manish Pant