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Is the Budget full of tried, tested schemes that failed in Mumbai?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014 - 6:05am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

The bad news for Mumbaikars is that there is nothing much for them in the railway budget tabled in Parliament by railway minister DV Sadananda Gowda on Tuesday.
But what is more worrying is that a slew of 'new' measures to revive the railways announced in the budget are nothing but 'tried, tested and failed' schemes that were announced over a period of time in Mumbai but never took off.

dna lists a few of these schemes, which look like old wine in a new bottle.

1. Total station development
The plan to rope in corporates, NGOs and charitable institutions to develop and 'adopt' stations is the return of the Railway Stations Development Corporation envisaged as a railway PSU in February 2012.
The plan never took off with even preliminary informal talks between railway authorities in the city and corporates coming up a cropper. "Unless a private corporate gets large-scale commercial development rights to the land base of a station , why would he be interested in adopting a station. Imagine the kind of money a private entity will have to spend to manage Dadar station. And how does the entity earn revenue? There is hardly any space to exploit in stations in Mumbai," said a top-ranking railway official.

2. Passenger amenities like toilets, drinking water, lifts, escalators
Central Railway in 2012 toyed with the idea of getting big corporates to build air-conditioned toilets and restrooms at some of its bigger railway stations. The idea never took off and not a single of these AC toilets have come up mainly due to lack of interest from corporates. The plan to get companies to install RO-based drinking water kiosks at platforms in return for advertisement space took off only to collapse later. Many of these bare kiosks — working on water technology developed by BARC — stand testimony to the scheme's failure.

3. Outsourcing cleaning activities at stations:
Central and Western Railways tried it though the results were nothing to write home about. In fact, for a considerable stretch of time in 2012, the local trains of CR were being cleaned by the same group that had bagged contracts to clean Parliament. The results were not 'very satisfactory' agreed officials.

4. Solar panels at stations:
Churchgate was supposed to get a solar unit. As per the details chalked out by the electrical department of WR, the 2,600 square metre area comprising the roof of Churchgate building was to be covered with solar panels that would produce 100 kilowatt of electricity. In terms of units it would come up to 150 lakh units. Currently the Churchgate station complex uses around 6 lakh units per year whereas the multi-storeyed glass facade office and the general manager's complex — the old heritage one — use 19 lakhs units, making it a total of 25 lakh units. The plan has been in the making for some time now, with work on the solar unit yet to begin.

5. Public Private Partnership:
Two of the biggest PPP projects with the railways, the Churchgate-Virar and CST-Panvel elevated corridors, are on the verge of being shelved with corporates ruing the lack of 'out-of-the-box' ideas from the railways. "It is impossible for a corporate to invest thousands of crores when the state government and the railways cannot agree on an important procedure like the State Support Agreement," said an official. The twin projects, estimated to cost Rs40,000 crore cumulatively, did not even get a mention in the railway budget.

6. Project Coordination, Monitoring and Management Group:
To be formed comprising railway officials at the Railway Board and zonal level, state government officials and professionals, the mechanism, officials believe, is nothing more than adding another level to the already hierarchy-heavy railway structure. "It counts for nothing unless there is splendid coordination between the state government and the railway ministry. In Mumbai, the two couldn't agree on the ownership of a plot of land at Bandra for more than six years. The fight reached the courts and fact remains that the land is still to get bids after being put on the block by Railway Land Development Authority," an official said.

7. New line surveys for Kasara-Igatpuri, Karjat-Lonavla:
As one official put it, surveys are nothing more than carrots to keep particular states or political groups happy. Many of these studies never see the light of day and sometimes by the time the state and railways decide to implement it, it becomes prohibitively expensive.
A case in point is the 28km Panvel-Karjat line. A survey conducted in 2011 pegged the cost of the project at Rs638 crore as per 2005-06 prices. A revaluation of the project in June this year showed the cost had shot up to Rs1,473 crore. Strangely, despite the state government pushing for it, the project didn't get a mention in the budget.

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