In a few days, the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar (VAG) Metro railway line will be thrown open to Mumbaikars. As reported earlier by dna, the VAG route will be administered by the Reliance Infra-led Mumbai Metro One Private Limited (MMOPL) with the Metro Railway (Operations and Maintenance) Act 2002 giving it sweeping powers. For a private body like the MMOPL, it might be a tall order to play a role that even established government agencies like Central and Western railways have found tough to handle in Mumbai. In a city teeming with slums, politicos who protect them, illegal alterations to buildings, structures up for redevelopment, running a metro line might not be the smoothest ride.
* Enter, rectify, exit
Section 6 of the Metro Railway (Operations and Maintenance) Act 2002 gives the Metro Railway Administrator (MRA) vast powers to ensure immediate safety of the Metro railway. It includes the right to enter any land adjoining the metro railway alignment to remove obstructions which may obstruct the movement of the trains or obstruct the view of the signals. In the time to come, it is this section that Metro officials might have to lean on the most since the current VAG alignment runs perilously close to buildings on both JP Road in Andheri (West) and Andheri-Kurla Road in the eastern part. Some of the pier caps of the Metro bridge rest on roofs of chawls and several of its station landings are on the pavements of roads.
"It is not going to be easy for MMOPL to implement this section. There are too many players involved and as railways' engineering department has found out clearing encroachments or legal structures for the safety of trains is easier said than done. Look at the three-storeyed shanties that have once again come up on the eastern side of Bandra station and the sheer helplessness of the railway administration to do anything about it," said a senior railway official.
* RTI or no RTI?
Section 90 of the Act makes it clear that all employees of the MRA would be public servants as defined by Section 21 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). So, the question is whether that would make the MMOPL a private corporate body which would be open to the provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Experts say it should be, because as the operator of a Metro railway, the amount of queries passengers would have from it would be immense.
Shailesh Gandhi, former central information commissioner, said, "In my opinion, the answer is yes. The word PPP means public-private partnership. It is beyond reason why it (metro) cannot be a public authority. Any body owned, controlled or substantially financed is a public authority as per the RTI Act."
Bhaskar Prabhu of the Mahiti Adhikar Manch, an NGO working for the awareness of the RTI Act, said that as per the Department of Personnel and Training (DOPT) all PPPs are public authorities irrespective of the share or partnership, and therefore, are covered under the RTI Act.
* Accidents, claims and compensation
Government appointed Commissioner of Railway Safety will be designated as the Commissioner of Metro Railway Safety when investigating Metro railway accidents. It will be the most powerful authority when it comes to accidents. The post is generally given to a senior retired Indian Railway official of the engineering cadre. Claims and compensation would be adjudicated by the Claims Commissioner, again a government appointee, with a judicial background. Both the commissioners will have the authority of a civil court while investigating metro railway matters. Crimes on the Metro would be taken care off by the local police.
* Central government as big brother?
Section 86 of the Act maintains that the central government from time to time can issue directions on 'issues of policy' which would be binding on the Metro railway administrator. However, how much of a check would this be remains to be seen since the intervention would be on matters of policy and not on day to day affairs.
* Powers of MRA
1) acquire, hold and dispose of all kinds of properties owned by it, both movable and immovable
2) to improve, develop or alter any property or asset held by it
3) develop any Metro railway land for commercial use
4) execute any lease or grant any licence in respect of the property held by it
* New ride, new rules
+ Section 27 — It prohibits any person with a contagious disease or infection from travelling in the Metro. The Metro administration will have the right to remove such a person from its premises.
+ Section 59 — The MRA can act against people accused of drunken behaviour, nusiance, vandalism, or using abusive and obscene language. One could be fined Rs500 and the offender can be removed.
+ Section 60 — Taking offensive material on the Metro will attract a fine of Rs500 and the accused will also be responsible for any injury or loss of life so caused by it.
+ Section 62 — The MRA can, if it chooses, to remove any person from the Metro if he is caught demonstrating against the Metro within the Metro premises. The passenger could be removed even if he has a pass. Pasting posters inside coaches etc. can attract a fine of Rs1,000 and/or 6 months in jail.
+ Section 63 — Rooftop travel will see the passenger being removed from the premises and also being slapped with a fine of Rs50 and/or a month in jail
+ Section 64 — Unlawful entry into the Metro premises or walking on the tracks illegally could attract a fine of Rs500 or 6 months in jail.
+ Section 67 — A passenger obstructing the running of a train by squatting, picketing could see a jail term of up to 4 years and a fine of Rs5,000
+ Section 68 — A passenger obstructing Metro railway staff from discharging their duties can get one year in jail and/or Rs1,000 fine.
+ Section 73 — Sale of any kind of articles inside the Metro coach or premises, without permission from the MRA, could attract a Rs500 fine and a jail term of 6 months.
+ Section 74 — Pertaining to sabotage: It could see a person being imprisoned for anything between 3 years and life. In case the sabotage results in death and severe destruction, death penalty could be invoked as well.
+ Section 82 — The power to arrest, even without warrant, would be with the MRA official or a policeman of head constable's rank or any other person authorised by the MRA — like the Maharashtra State Security Corporation personnel deployed for station security.