Finally, the big day arrived and Shinzo Abe the PM of Japan jointly with PM Modi inaugurated the foundation of the much touted ‘Bullet train’ between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, 534 Kms., at a cost of Rs.1,10,000 crores. Surely from food rationing and unending queues, India indeed seems to have come a long way, to be eligible for being considered worthy of Rs.88000 crores by Japan at 0.1% interest and a moratorium of 15 years too.
Communication in every form promotes and helps expand economy. I guess the first step was the tele-communications revolution brought in by Sam Pitroda. We have added more routes to air and rail travel, while the ambitious golden quadrangle road highway project was initiated during PM Vajpayee’s tenure. The bullet train has surpassed all our other endeavours and would make our country at par with many developed ones, in particular with China in the significant year 2022 to mark India’s 75th anniversary of independence.
The question is, have be become rich enough? Have the basic needs for common man been fulfilled? The answer is no. There is a lot to be done in alleviating poverty, which is hidden from the lakhs of crores being dished out in various form of subsidies, loan waivers and Yojanas. I guess, the rulers (!) have lost the sight of reality, while jostling to prove to the world that we are a super power and can dabble in infinite wealth. The time could come, but is not right now.
People opposed to my ideas quote Metro rail projects and how they eased travel and boomed the economy. I do not know if economy boomed because of Metro, it did ease travel in cities, where the transport system was crumbling, or had crumbled. The world bank ready to fund Urban transport all over the world, the roads would have never permitted any additional buses to ply. Metro was the logical answer. There are 67 trains plying between Mumbai and Ahmedabad right now, catering to a high 44000 passengers. The density of traffic made the route an ideal choice indeed, of which I have no questions.
The feasibility report conducted by the government pegs the passenger traffic around 40000 per day during the first year, but would require 80,000 to 1,10,000 passengers per day (which is possible) to break even. With 10 coaches in each train for 750 passengers it means 100-135 trips per day, 0r 50 to 70 trips each way according to an IIM A report. 35 Bullet trains are planned for introduction initially, to be gradually increased to 105 trains.
Having travelled the Paris-Lyon sector in the TGV Bullet train (300-320 km/hr), I know the advantage of day travel between cities. The rush during the morning and evening hours may never match with the afternoon lean hours.
Not all are comfortable including Metro Man Dr. E. Sreedharan, who feels the existing dilapidated railway system overhaul could require as much and more now. Jawed Usmani, who was a part of the initial negotiation between India and Japan feels the same. Rakesh Mohan, the then Finance Secretary, too felt that it would be a permanent subsidised project, unable to meet operating costs.
I do not want to doubt the Japanese, but a country where even a short-term lending costs merely 0.06% (long term loans being even cheaper!) no special favour has been done by the Japanese while offering low interest. The ten-year Japanese government’s bond are offered at 0.04%, while India’s it is 6.5%. The average 3% anticipated inflation rate factors for the difference. We would be ending up paying way higher than planned.
Development is inevitable, and I am not against it. A project of this size and kind could shower further prosperity in the affluent western belt between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The hinterland of India could be far poorer and the government right now should appropriately plan on the necessities than luxuries, without playing to the gallery and misplacing its priorities!
Vajpayee government too missed the target and took the nation for granted. It was ‘India Shining,’ everywhere, only until the next elections.