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A Superfi cial Picture

Metro Rail Projects in India: A Study in Project Planning by M Ramachandran (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), 2012; pp xvi+195, Rs 495.


A Superfi cial Picture

C Ramachandraiah

same amount of traffi c as fi ve lanes (p 153) and nine lanes of bus traffi c (p 168, italics mine). He thus displays a strong in-built bias against low-cost models at the highest policymaking levels in the Government of

he national urban transport policy (NUTP), 2006 talks about “more equitable allocation of road space with people, rather than vehicles, as its main focus”. While the NUTP appears very progressive, like many of the government’s policies, what one finds in implementation in most cities is the opposite. In addressing the much neglected issues of urban transportation, the metro rail in Delhi has set the tone for similar projects in other cities in India. Without addressing the basic concerns of mobility, the focus has been on a highly capitalintensive technocratic model.

The Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) has extended loans to several of these mega-projects; the stock imported for metro projects such as in Delhi comes from Japanese/Korean companies. The growing clout of international and Indian construction companies has become very prominent in pushing the urban infrastructure agenda during the economic reforms period.

This model is being thrust on cities without any regard to the specifi c historical characteristics, streetscapes and heritage of the cities. Thus, from Delhi to Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Jaipur and Pune, the same model has been “copied and pasted”, with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) acting as the prime consultant and conducting feasibility studies. The basics have been ignored while orchestrating the image-building of cities as “world class”.

Inevitability of a Metro?

The book under review was penned by M Ramachandran, former secretary in the Ministry of Urban Development, who was closely associated with policymaking for metro rail projects in Indian cities. He was chairman of metro ventures in four cities. In the foreword, E Sreedharan, managing director of the DMRC says: “By 2015 India will rank as a developed country and by that reckoning 13 more cities should start planning for their

Metro Rail Projects in India: A Study in Project Planning by M Ramachandran (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), 2012; pp xvi+195, Rs 495.

metro systems”. It is not clear what he means: should 13 more cities plan or complete the metros to qualify India as a developed country? Is this a prerequisite for ranking as a developed country? This book thus takes the need for metro rail as inevitable, suggesting that they should be implemented at any cost in as many cities as possible.

As a senior officer, one would have expected the author to argue for metro rail as part of an integrated mass rapid transit system (MRTS). There is a heavy bias towards metro rail although the author describes bus systems as the least expensive form of MRTS (p 12) and discusses successful examples of bus rapid transit systems (BRTS) in Latin American countries. However, buses apparently have a “bottom of the market” image. So, image becomes an important factor.

The author admits that in most cities, the emphasis of traffic policy is on keeping traffic moving. This leads to “widening of roads, cars getting priority road space, and pedestrians and cyclists getting crowded out” (p 11); the pressure on urban systems increases due to the growth of motor vehicles. The argument is that reduction of road congestion is the motivating factor for adopting MRTS (read metro rail). There is no questioning of why traffic policy gives priority road space to cars. What has the ministry done to check this trend?

Metro rail projects are pushed as stand-alone systems in several cities, though there is talk of integration at the local level. As Dinesh Mohan argues in a quote, the prevailing mythology is that the metro rail “will somehow solve all future problems”; this remains the “onepoint agenda of almost all transport consultants in India” (p 12). However, the author makes unsubstantiated averments against the BRTS: metro rail carries the India, often influenced by the “one-point agenda” of the transport consultants. One does not find references or sources of information for these assertions.

Of the 13 chapters, there is one on each of the cities of Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Jaipur and Kochi. The book provides a brief history of the metro or light rail transit (LRT) projects in each city and the process of evolution till the present stage. Quoting probably from the project reports, it also provides a very rosy picture of the economic and internal rates of return. Apart from the introduction and conclusion, there are three other chapters. The chapter on “basic technical details” looks as if the information has been simply copied and pasted from metro promoters’ project reports or brochures. Otherwise, how does one understand a statement like “[f]or the general public, it is desirable that the station has ‘an attractive welcoming image’”?

The chapter “Some Global Comparisons” begins with London, provides an elaborate account of Singapore and ends with the DMRC. Metro promoters’ claims about the numbers of vehicles going off the road, the pollution not emitted, reduction in travel times, etc, have been converted into monetary gains, with the assertion that “the entire cost of Phase I of the DMRC has been recovered by the city in 2010”!

Numbers and Experience

One of the factors argued in favour of metro rail is that they are “eco-friendly”. But the author admits that the “operation of an MRTS is energy intensive (italics mine), since all aspects of it depend upon electrical energy” – running of trains, station lighting, ventilation, air conditioning, elevators and escalators, fi re fi ghting and pumping, signalling, telecommunications, workshops, depots and other maintenance infrastructures. Therefore, the reliability of power supply is a vital prerequisite (p 58). Can the per capita consumption of energy per passenger per kilometre in a metro system be lower when compared to other

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modes of transport? Dinesh Mohan (2008) cites from other studies to show that the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions (from coal, diesel or gas power plants) for metro rail are almost double than for buses because of extra efficiency losses at power plants and during transmission. It is, however, claimed in the book without reference to any study that the metro requires only one-fifth of energy (italics mine) per passenger compared to roadbased systems (p 153).

Why do passenger estimates and actual ridership not match even remotely? The book does not give a clue. It admits that traffic demand projections have been off the actual ridership for the DMRC. For Bangalore, it says that 8.2 lakh trips per day “seems to be an overestimate”. The Namma Metro is being built on overestimates of 10.2 lakh by 2011 and 16.1 lakh by 2021 (p 77). Is it worth building at such a huge cost when the actual ridership is going to be much lower?

Passenger projections for Hyderabad Metro Rail (HMR) show several discrepancies from year to year. Strangely, the concession agreement signed with Larsen and Toubro (L&T) in September 2010 brought down the total passenger kilometres (PKM) to 2.14 crore per day for 1 October 2024 from the 2.75 crore for 1 October 2021 in the ill-fated agreement with Maytas in 2008.

Further, by defi nition, HMR includes the rail system and real estate development. Hundreds of acres of land, worth thousands of crores, are being handed over to L&T, making it more a real estate rather than a transport project. HMR was earlier also linked to the infamous Satyam scandal when Maytas got this project in 2008 (Ramachandraiah 2009). The book makes light reference to these issues: “On what basis did Maytas opt for a negative bid knowing that metros are not so viable and that private metros have not succeeded anywhere in the world?” How did the state government agree to part with large chunks of government land? The book admits that “there is no transparency regarding the actual details”. Then, why was no enquiry conducted? How was the project offered for global bidding on the same model to L&T?

A serious fallout of the metro projects in Indian cities is the total sidelining of alternative cheaper modes of transport projects since the metro projects came to centre stage. Thus, the BRTS has become a dead issue in Hyderabad. Phase 2 of the multi-modal transit system (MMTS), which should have been completed in 2005 at a cost of Rs 600 crore, has not been allocated any money so far. And the road transport corporation (RTC) buses that carry 30 lakh persons every day continue to get stepmotherly treatment.

In Kochi, too, former mayor K S Johan, argues that “ever since the idea of metro rail got circulated all other public transport projects got shelved” and “several simple, inexpensive, practical and sustainable recommendations made after very serious studies by expert organisations have been ignored which are highly suitable for a sprawling, water-divided city like Cochin” (Johan 2010). Ramachandran, meanwhile, has this to say for the city: “It is not feasible to operate buses beyond 10,000 phpdt [Peak Hour Peak Direction Traffic] in a mixed transport scenario” (p 148). There is no substantiation as to why.

The book argues that the fare structure for the Delhi metro is probably the “cheapest in the world”, except for the Kolkata metro (p 51), ignoring the fact that the fare in local trains operated by Indian Railways are the cheapest – Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad. Cost escalation has occurred in every city (with the probable exception of Delhi). HMR’s project cost has gone up from about Rs 6,000 crore in 2005 to Rs 12,132 crore in 2008 and now to over Rs 16,000 crore, that is, even before the work has formally begun. No stay order by a court of law is responsible for this state of affairs. There is a lack of transparency and lack of public debate on what is needed for the city, as well as the domination of civil servants, consultants and contractors in policymaking.

The overwhelming evidence found by Flyvbjerg et al (2002) based on 258 transportation infrastructure projects in different countries is worth recalling: “the cost estimates of such projects were highly and systematically misleading. Underestimation cannot be explained by

may 12, 2012

error and is best explained by strategic misrepresentation, that is, lying” and “members of the public who value honest numbers should not trust cost estimates and cost-benefit analyses produced by project promoters and their analysts” (italics mine).

Faulty Processes?

The author admits that the metro projects worldwide are operated in the public sector and not through public private partnerships (PPPs). Two private sector projects in Kuala Lumpur needed bailing out by the government. The author elaborates on why not going the PPP way was a “well-considered” decision for the Chennai metro (pp 168-69). Several of those reasons are applicable to other cities, such as Hyderabad, where the metro was pushed through a PPP. Why are the Government of India and the Planning Commission giving high priority for PPPs in metro rail projects in these cities?

In the chapter on project planning, the author advocates a comprehensive mobility plan (CMP) for the city along with a proper appreciation of the alternatives available before deciding on investment in a metro system. Yet nowhere does the book talk about strengthening existing transport modes like the bus systems, local trains, etc, apart from walking and cycling, before undertaking expensive metro projects. For instance, the highest share of trips in Chennai (p 101) is made by walking (32.7%) and buses (25.8%). No mention is made of steps taken to strengthen these. Other factors like the urban form and city aesthetics, etc, should enter into decisionmaking. The reader wonders whether as head of metro projects and at the helm of the ministry of urban development, the author followed any of these prescriptions.

Cities like Hyderabad do not have a CMP. The present model of the elevated metro is a disaster with the city’s urban form, heritage and aesthetics. This resulted because the detailed project reports (DPRs) did not go through public hearings/ consultations at the formulation stage. The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports are not comprehensive and sometimes very substandard, as in the case of Hyderabad. Earlier HMR projects were listed for mandatory environmental

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Economic & Political Weekly


clearance in the Draft EIA Notifi cation dated 15 September 2005. But they were excluded in the Final Notifi cation dated 14 September 2006. The only basis for their exclusion appears to be a letter addressed by E Sreedharan on 14 November 2005 to the Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), requesting their exclusion on the grounds that they are environment-friendly. So, the scope for democratic processes was subverted at the highest levels in the government, preventing local people or experts from having any say in the project formulation. The DMRC’s involvement in the preparation of DPRs has become reason to stifle all counter views. All decisions are taken at higher levels and thrust on the city.

In Delhi, the Urban Arts Commission (UAC), set up under an Act of Parliament in 1973, has played a critical role in approving the metro design in several places, especially near heritage buildings and precincts. Most cities do not have such strong legal entities to advise the government at different levels on aesthetic quality and urban and environmental design. Heritage buildings and precincts

Alagh, Munish (2011); Agricultural Prices in a Changing Economy: An Empirical Study of Indian Agriculture (New Delhi: Academic Foundation); pp 174, Rs 695.

Banerjee, Nirmala, Samita Sen and Nandita Dhawan, ed. (2012); Mapping the Field: Gender Relations in Contemporary India (Vol 2) (Kolkata: Stree); pp xliv + 594, Rs 475.

Baral, Lok Raj (2012); Nepal: Nation-State in the Wilderness – Managing State, Democracy, and Geopolitics (New Delhi: Sage Publications); pp xvii + 308, Rs 750.

Basant, P K (2012); The City and the Country in Early India: A Study of Malwa (Delhi: Primus Books); pp x + 369, Rs 1,150.

Basu, Pradip, ed. (2012); Red on Silver: Naxalites in Cinema (Kolkata: Setu Prakashani); pp 458, Rs 650.

Bergunder, Michael, Heiko Frese and Ulrike Schroder, ed. (2012); Ritual, Caste, and Relgion in Colonial South India (Delhi: Primus Books); pp 386, Rs 1,095.

Caldwell, Dan (2012); Vortex of Confl ict: US Policy toward Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq (New Delhi: Cambridge University Press); pp xiv + 390, Rs 995.

Chatterji, Roma (2012); Speaking with Pictures: Folk Art and the Narrative Tradition in India

(New Delhi: Routledge); pp xvii + 299, Rs 995.

Dalton, Dennis (2012); Mahatma Gandhi: Nonviolent Power in Action (New York: Columbia University Press); pp xxiv + 311, $27.5.

of historical importance face the threat of defacement or dwarfing by elevated metro corridors. This is more evident in Hyderabad than any other city, with the city’s landmark, the Assembly building and the entire Public Gardens, destined for defacement beyond redemption. The heritage conservation committee (HCC) in Hyderabad has suggested that the metro go underground at the heritage buildings. But it does not have statutory powers.

While metro systems are favoured in congested cities to ease traffi c conditions, the Government of India is making it a condition for land use densifi cation around the stations to increase ridership and “decrease the overall travel demand” (p 111). On one hand, metros are pushed to ease congestion. It is also admitted that the metros are not meeting the ridership projections. On the other hand, densifi cation is made mandatory near metro stations/corridors. Is higher densifi cation possible in already congested cities without large-scale demolitions? Or is the purpose to promote real estate and malls near metro stations to induce travel?

Finally, the author claims Delhi metro is changing travel styles and social

Books Received

Das Gupta, Sanjukta and Raj Sekhar Basu, ed. (2012); Narratives from the Margins: Aspects of Adivasi History in India (Delhi: Primus Books); pp xiii + 298, Rs 995.

Dasan, M, V Pratibha, Pradeepan Pampirikunnu, and C S Chandrika, ed. (2012); The Oxford India Anthology of Malayalam Dalit Writing (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xxxiii + 322, Rs 595.

Goede, Marieke de (2012); Speculative Security: The Politics of Pursuing Terrorist Monies (Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press); pp xxxii + 274, price not indicated.

Jafri, S Z H, ed. (2012); Recording the Progress of Indian History: Symposia Papers of the Indian History Congress 1992-2010 (Delhi: Primus Books); pp xii + 546, Rs 1,495.

Kak, Shakti and Biswamoy Pati, ed. (2012); Enslaved Innocence: Child Labour in South Asia (Delhi: Primus Books); pp 340, Rs 995.

Kennedy, Andrew Bingham (2012); The International Ambitions of Mao and Nehru: National Effi cacy Beliefs and the Making of Foreign Policy (New Delhi: Cambridge University Press); pp x + 261, Rs 795.

Mantena, Rama Sundari (2012); The Origins of Modern Historiography in India: Antiquarianism and Philology, 1780-1880 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan); pp xiii + 261, price not indicated.

Mukherjee, Ramkrishna (2012); The Measure of Time in the Appraisal of Social Reality (Delhi: Primus Books); pp 88, Rs 595.

– (2012); Why Unitary Social Science? (Delhi: Primus Books); pp 132, Rs 695.

behaviour (pp 51, 162). One wonders whether the experience of overcrowding for metro commuters, due to the neglect of bus transport on roads, is really worldclass. How does the feeling change when the passenger looks for a cycle rickshaw at the next point of connectivity, and faces the threat of getting knocked down by speeding cars while crossing the roads outside the metro station?

C Ramachandraiah ( is with the Centre for Economic and Social Studies, Hyderabad.


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Johan, K S (2010): “An Affordable and Viable Transport System for the People of Cochin – A Proposal”, Presentation at the National Meet on Urban Mobility, Pune, 20-21 July.

Mohan, Dinesh (2008): “Mythologies, Metro Rail Systems and Future Urban Transport”, Economic & Political Weekly, 43(4): 41-53.

Ramachandraiah, C (2009): “Maytas, Hyderabad Metro and the Politics of Real Estate”, Economic & Political Weekly, 44(3):36-40.

Sanyal, Sanjeev, Sumathi Nagrath and Gorika Singla (2009): Alternative Urban Futures Report. Urbanisation and Sustainability in India: An Interdependent Agenda, World Wide Fund for Nature, New Delhi.

Nambiar, Harish (2012); Defragmenting India: Riding a Bullet through the Gathering Storm (New Delhi: Sage Publications); pp viii + 240, Rs 350.

Poyil, Manjula (2012); Homage to the Departed: A Study of Funeral Customs among the Tribes in Malabar, Kerala (Calicut: Other Books); pp xii

+ 279, Rs 460.

Ramanna, Mridula (2012); Health Care in Bombay Presidency 1896-1930 (Delhi: Primus Books); pp viii + 202, Rs 795.

Ravikumar, R and Azhagarasan, ed. (2012); The Oxford India Anthology of Tamil Dalit Writing (New Delhi: Oxford University Press); pp xxxiii

+ 334, Rs 595.

Riello, Giorgio and Prasannan Parthasarathi, ed. (2012); The Spinning World: A Global History of Cotton Textiles, 1200-1850 (Delhi: Primus Books); pp x + 489, Rs 1,795.

Roy, Kumkum, ed. (2012); Insights and Interventions: Essays in Honour of Uma Chakravarti (Delhi: Primus Books); pp vi + 191, Rs 795.

Sekher, Ajay (2012); Sahodaran Ayyappan: Towards a Democratic Future Life and Select Works (Calicut: Other Books); pp 266, Rs 395.

Sen, Sailendra Nath (2012); Chandernagore – From Bondage to Freedom 1900-1955 (Delhi: Primus Books); pp xv + 376, Rs 1,150.

Seshan, Radhika (2012); Trade and Politics on the Coromandel Coast: Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries (Delhi: Primus Books); pp 137, Rs 695.

Economic & Political Weekly

may 12, 2012 vol xlviI no 19

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