Establishing a metro rail network requires a number of parameters to be met. But with the success tasted by the Delhi Metro project, many states have opted for this expensive mass rapid transit system. CK Khaitan, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development, tells Garima Pant how metro projects can be made viable even in smaller cities.
The metro fever is catching up in smaller cities, thanks to the success of the Delhi Metro. How can smaller states (that do not fit the population criterion) sustain this rapid growth and affiliation towards metro rail? When we prepared the National Urban Transport Policy (NUTP) and targeted first two million plus cities (for metro rail), we thought that ridership will be sufficient to make it viable. But metro is expanding to other cities also and now we are preparing for million plus cities. In my opinion, this expansion is not directly linked to population only. Ridership is important but more important is to consider the architecture of the city, capacity of the state and the willingness of the city to change certain policies. A metro can be made viable even in a million plus city. If the architecture is good, the local body is active and they are able to provide the land, support for the construction of metro... it becomes viable. But when we talk about metro, we do not do justice to this mass-rapid transit system (MRTS) because metro is one of such systems. There are other options available which are less costly, like monorail, light metro, tramways etc. It has become a fashion to discuss metro rail when there are less costly options available too.
Are all existing and ongoing projects viable? Some of the cities are only at the feasibility study level and they have not decided about what mode of mass rapid rail system they will chose. They are also struggling with the questions of length and alignment because the ridership will come from these two factors. If they don't have sufficient length available, then it is difficult for the commuters to keep hopping from one mode of transport to the other. Many cities are struggling on that and cities should plan in such a way that they create various phases depending upon the locality and the type of ridership they envisage for future.
What is the kind of burden that this rapid expansion adds on to the state's treasury? I don't think that there is any burden on the state treasury. But if you don't create a public transport system, there is more burden on the state because the growth of urban areas will not be planned. The haphazard growth of an urban area creates more burden on the state than planned growth. And urban transport should be one of the focus areas for planned development.
But what if cities that do not have the right infrastructure and population to support a metro, still aim to use this kind of urban transportation, just because it is a trend? Whenever a detailed project report (DPR) is prepared then the projection of ridership is calculated and so is the cost. We also consider the viability. Recently, we have issued a circular in which we have said that like any other commercial project, the state should consider financial internal rate of return of 8 per cent. The reason being that through this government will review its own policies, for eg, there is no transit-oriented development policy, then they should consider it. If there is no parking policy, advertisement policy they should consider it. Through property development around the world, a lot of metro projects are getting revenue, and not just one time revenue but a recurring revenue income. So we are encouraging states to attach certain properties in the city to make this viable, not only for capital investment but also for operation and maintenance. For instance, Jaipur has given a good piece of land to Jaipur Metro for property development that is going to give a lot of return in the beginning and recurring source of revenue. They have also issued a notification for dedicated urban transport fund for the whole state. What they have done smartly is that 25 per cent of the dedicated urban transport fund will go to Jaipur Metro. So, if Rs 200 crore is collected in a year, then Rs 5 crore will go to Jaipur Metro for operation and maintenance. So this is being done through policy initiatives. Also, recently we have given in-principle approval to Lucknow Metro in which a similar policy initiative has been followed, which will make the project more viable than what it was thought earlier.
Transportation is an integral element of planned urban development. What measures can be taken to ensure that this is done effectively? When a city makes a master plan or development plan for the land use of the city, the authority must focus on providing the land use for urban transport. Otherwise, retrofitting in future will be very difficult. Also (an) integral (issue) is to figure out what kind of public transport exists and what is the paying capacity of the people there, and what is the architecture of the city including road layout and land availability.
How many metro projects are coming up and how is the government preparing to handle them? Eight metro projects are going on and three have been given in-principle approval. There are few other under-consideration projects like in Ahmedabad and a few extensions around Delhi-NCR. Cities like Indore, Bhopal and Raipur are preparing DPRs. There are a few cities which are preparing phase II as well. We are fully prepared and have made sufficient provision in the 12th Five Year Plan. We have given in-principle approval of metros in Lucknow, Nagpur and Pune this year. We are fully committed as per policy and fully support the projects.
Have there been any policy changes that have been made for these upcoming metro rail projects? Delhi Metro trains are underutilised. Their carrying capacity is much more and they are using just 23-24 per cent of that capacity. There is a need to bridge the gap between the first mile and last mile connectivity to further utilise the capacity of a metro project. Keeping that in mind, for the upcoming projects, we are saying that we will not accept just DPRs for metro rail. We will accept only those projects which have the analysis and the provision for first mile and last mile connectivity.