Jun 9, 2016

Kurla terminus “too down-market” for bullet train, says Rail Ministry

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship bullet train connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad is too ‘posh’ to roll into the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus in Kurla. In a meeting with the chief secretary and the Chief minister, Union Railway Ministry officials turned down Maharashtra’s offer to shift the terminus for India’s Rs. 98,000-crore bullet train to Kurla on grounds that the suburb is “too down-market and packed with slums” to accommodate a high-profile project of national importance such as the bullet train.
In a meeting with Union Railway Ministry officials on Tuesday, Chief Minster Devendra Fadnavis offered the additional vacant area around the LTT as an alternative to central business district of Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) but the officials turned it down saying the proposed station’s popularity may take a hit if it were to be Kurla instead of posh BKC, senior officials said.

Among all of Mumbai’s suburbs, Kurla has the highest number of slum settlements, with encroachment and illegal construction rampant. According to the 2001 census, the suburb, spread over 15.88 sq km, has as many as 232 notified slum settlements home to 6.59 lakh people. This is over 80 per cent of the total population of 7.78 lakh in the central suburb.

Confirming the Railway’s reluctance to move into Kurla for a project like the Bullet Train, state Chief Secretary Swadheen Kshatriya said their adamance had put a hurdle in the project’s progress. “By saying Kurla is too down market and packed with slums for a high-profile project, they are overlooking the fact that acquisition of land is not an issue since they are themselves the owners. The Chief Minister also conveyed to them we could invest in sprucing up Kurla, widening roads and removing congestion if need be,” Mr. Kshatriya said. He added the Railways will have no choice but carry out a feasibility study at Kurla. “Also, it is not as if Kurla is too far from Bandra for them to raise an objection.”

Maharashtra and the Railway Ministry have been at loggerheads over finalising a location for the station where the high-speed train would terminate. While the Railways have been insisting that the Mumbai station be constructed underground at BKC, the state has turned down the proposition on the ground that a state financial centre has been planned on the same land.

The construction of the train network is slated to start in 2018, and is likely to pass under the sea through a 21-km tunnel starting from Thane creek. Keeping in mind the importance of the project, the Railways have already formed a National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) with a paid-up capital of Rs 500 crore. Both Maharashtra and Gujarat have equity of 25 per cent each in the SPV.

The construction of the station or the commercial structure will not be borne by the state government, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has informed the state. The JICA has agreed to finance 81 per cent of the total project cost; in other words, provide a soft loan of Rs 79,380 crore. The total cost of the project is Rs 98,000 crore. The Japanese agency has promised to provide the latest version of the Sinkansen bullet train, promising to cover the 508-km distance between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in about two hours at more than 300 km per hour.