It is true that India’s rail infrastructure is in shambles, but that does not mean that the Central government should not make efforts to take railway infrastructure to its next level. The upcoming bullet train between Ahmedabad and Mumbai is a right effort in the right direction for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi deserves nothing but heart-felt kudos. This project, whose foundation stone was laid on September 14 jointly by Prime Minister Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinoz Abe, will leapfrog India into the group of those 15 nations where bullet trains have been running for several years now. The project is the brain child of Prime Minister Modi who aspires to take Indian Railways towards most modern technologies like developed countries. The projected is likely to be completed by 2023.
This bullet train is an endeavour to bring economic growth and prosperity in the country with the growth of Indian Railways adopting most modern technologies. New Shinkansen technology by the Japanese shall ensure more growth opportunities. The cost will go down further as the technology will grow massively. The entire project will be developed under ‘Make in India’ mission, generating a huge job opportunities for the country. The financial assistance given by Japan is at a minimal interest and will not be a burden as the borrowed money will be paid after 50 years at a minimal interest.
Needless to say that Mumbai–Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR) project, popularly known as Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train, is a visionary project, which will herald a new era of safety, speed and service for the people and help Indian Railways become an international leader in scale, speed and skill. Major portions of large scale infrastructure projects are financed by debt, and the cost of debt is a significant portion of the total costs. As a part of cooperation agreement between India and Japan, Tokyo will provide a soft loan of about Rs 88,000 crore at miniscule interest rate of 0.1 per cent. The repayment period of the loan is 50 years. The repayment of loan is to begin after 15 years of receiving the loan, making it practically free since this loan interest works out to roughly Rs 7 crore to Rs 8 crore per month.
Generally, any such loan even from the World Bank or such other agencies costs about 5 per cent to 7 per cent with a repayment period of 25-35 years, thus India is getting loan for the high speed rail project at almost zero cost without putting any strain on existing financial resources available with the country, as more than 80 per cent of the project cost is being funded by Japan. Clearly Peter is not paying for Paul. It is Modi’s charisma that for the first time in the history of the country an infrastructure project is being funded on great favourable terms.
BOOST TO ‘MAKE IN INDIA’
One of the prime objectives of the project is give boost to ‘Make in India’ campaign, which is to be realised before commissioning of the project. As per the agreement between two governments, MAHSR project has ‘Make in India’ and ‘Transfer of technology’ objectives. Under the guidance of DIPP and Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), action is being taken as per accepted concept paper guidelines. Four sub-groups have been created with representatives from Indian industry, Japanese industry, DIPP, NHSRCL and JETRO to identify potential items and sub-systems for Make in India.
It is expected that many joint ventures will be formed in the time to come to take up manufacturing of various components including rolling stock in India. This will not only benefit the Indian Industry with new technology but will also create several job opportunities within the country. ‘Make in India’ objective will also ensure that most of the amount invested in this project would be spent and utilised within India. The construction sector in India will also get a big boost not only in terms of investment but also with respect to new technology and work culture. This project is likely to generate employment for about 20,000 workers during the construction phase, which will be trained specially to take up construction of such projects in India.
A dedicated High Speed Rail Training Institute is being developed at Vadodara, which will be fully equipped with equipment and facilities such as simulator as exist in the training institute in Japan. This institute will be functional by the end of 2020. The facilities at this institute will be utilised to train about 4,000 staff in next three years, who will then be utilised for operation and maintenance
ensuring that this work is through skilled people in India rather than foreign dependent. They will also serve as a backbone for future development of other High Speed Corridors in India. In addition, 300 young officials of Indian Railways are being trained in Japan to give them exposure in high speed track technology. Keeping in view the long-term plan for human resource development, the Government of Japan has also offered 20 seats per year for Master’s course from the universities of Japan, for serving Indian Railway officials. This programme is fully funded by Japan.
CUTTING EDGE VS CATCH UP TECHNOLOGY
Unlike other areas, for high speed India is getting a cutting-edge technology in totality. The Shinkansen technology is known for its reliability and safety and is proven for more than 50 years. The train delay record of Shinkansen is less than a minute with zero fatality. Thus, the project is set to provide reliable and comfortable service with high standards of safety. The technology regarding disaster predictions and preventions will also be acquired as a part of the project.
With the presence and availability of this technology, India will be leapfrog to the cutting edge of latest train developments with passengers able to reach their destination in two hours as against the current 7-8 hours by a train Keeping this scale-up in mind, there are other high speed corridors which are being reviewed—Delhi-Kolkata, Delhi-Mumbai, Mumbai-Chennai, Delhi-Chandigarh, Mumbai-Nagpur and Delhi-Nagpur. All these corridors will also be able to operate high speed trains in the future. For this, the Ministry of Railways has constituted the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited, which is also implementing the MAHSR project.
KEY DETAILS OF BULLET PROJECT
* Planned completion by December 2023
* Total length—508-km, Maharashtra (156-km) and Gujarat (351-km) and UT of Dadra and Nagar Haveli (2-km)
* Longest tunnel 21-m switch out of which 7-km undersea in Thane creek
* 12 stations at Mumbai (underground), Thane, Virar, Boisar, Vapi, Bilimora, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Ahmedabad and Sabarmati
* Maximum design speed—350- km per hour
* Maximum operating speed of 320-km per hour
* Journey time: 2.07 hours
* Estimated cost Rs 1,08,000 crore
* 20,000 construction jobs
* 4,000direct employment for operations and 20,000 indirect jobs too
(The writer is an independent commentator on socio-economic andpolitical issues. Views are his personal)