The Bengal government has condemned the draft policy of the Centre in which the state governments have been recommended to take up “independent projects for suburban rail service”.
Keeping in mind that the Centre “is giving up its responsibility” by asking the state governments to invest in such huge projects, state Transport minister Suvendu Adhikari said: “We will condemn the draft policy. We will reply to the Centre in a negative manner. The matter will be taken up to the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee after she returns from Delhi.”
The Ministry of Railways sent a letter to Chief Secretaries, Principal Secretaries (Urban Development) and Principal Secretaries (Transport) of the states who have been requesting the Ministry for introduction of suburban rail service “to cater growing demand of rail-based urban transport”.
In the enclosed draft policy it has been clearly mentioned that “projects which are necessarily required to be integrated with the existing railway system for operational purpose shall be considered by Indian Railways depending upon technical, financial and operational feasibility. In other cases, State Governments should take up independent rail-based suburban projects under Metro Acts in line with National Urban Transport Policy.”
The policy further reads “since running suburban services on existing tracks adversely affects the capacity of freight trains and long distance trains, it would not be possible for Railways to use existing infrastructure for the purpose of suburban services. Exclusive tracks for suburban services shall be considered by the Indian railways…The institutional structure envisaged for project implementation and operating the suburban rail system is that of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) with equal equity participation for respective State Governments and Indian Railways.”Several experts raised
the question whether the step has been proposed to reduce expenditure of the Railways. The Railways
had already taken several measures to reduce its expenditure.
The hint was given in the Railway Budget 2016-17, in which Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu had said:
“We intend to undertake a major programme to build an integrated suburban ecosystem of Indian Railways by launching a new investment framework. Indian Railways would share equity contribution with the state governments and ensure cost neutrality on operations.”
Hence, the policy has been drafted for the new investment framework.
Moreover, the state governments have to bear the cost to carry out feasibility studies for suburban projects.
The Railways shall be providing land on lease, but the “complete cost of the land acquisition, leasing of Railway land and resettlement and rehabilitation shall be met by State Government by either providing interest free subordinate debt or from its own source”.
At the same time, delay in land acquisition cannot be a cause of delay in commissioning of a project and the equity contribution of the Railways shall be given only after 70 per cent of the required land for the project is acquired by the state government.
It has also been mentioned in the draft policy that if the cost of project goes above the projected cost in the feasibility report, the expenditure has to be “entirely borne” by the state government.
The Bengal government has been repeatedly protesting against the Centre’s “anti-people” policy of reducing funds for various projects.