Saturday, January 16, 2021

Modi’s Trillion Dollar Baby: India Bets Big On Its Largest Govt-Funded Project – The Bullet Train

India is gearing up to build its first bullet train corridor covering 508 kilometers between Mumbai and Ahemdabad. The National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) signed a contract with infrastructure giant, Larsen and Toubro (L&T), on Thursday for a whopping Rs 24,000 crore, making it the largest government-funded civil project. 

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L&T will be constructing 237 kilometers of the viaduct between Vapi on the Maharashtra-Gujarat border and Vadodra. The company will employ about 15,000 laborers and sophisticated machinery making piers double the size of that of the Metro.

Japan’s E5 Shinkansen technology will be used in the development of the bullet train. The company is known to have a zero-fatality record, making the new train safe along with giving it superfast speed up to 320 kilometers per hour. 

While the definition of high speed may vary from country to country, new lines more than 250 km for each hour (160 mph) and existing lines more than 200 km for every hour (120 mph) are generally referred to as high-speed.

File:Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Japanese PM Abe before boarding a Shinkansen  bullet train to Kobe.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Reportedly, the total cost of building the Mumbai-Ahemdabad Bullet train corridor is estimated at Rs 1.08 trillion. Of this, 81 percent will be funded through a 20-year loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

L&T CEO and Managing Director S N Subrahmanyan, Chairman of Railway Board V K Yadav, NHSRC MD Achal Khare and Japanese Ambassador to India Satoshi Suzuki were present at the signing ceremony on Thursday.

The project is expected to be completed in four years and the work will be starting soon. “We are confident in our ability to meet the deadline and complete the project on time. And we will complete it to the full satisfaction of our client,” Subrahmanyan told reporters. 

He added that the project is a sign for kickstarting the economy again and is a “huge shot in the arm” for the domestic infrastructure sector and an opportunity to drive ‘Make in India’ and the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan.

The foundation stone of the project was laid by Prime Minister Narender Modi, along with then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2017. The project will boost the domestic sector by creating over 90,000 jobs.

The government has also approved seven new high-speed rail corridor projects for feasibility studies namely, Delhi-Amritsar, Varanasi-Howrah, Delhi-Varanasi, Delhi-Ahmedabad, Mumbai-Hyderabad, Mumbai-Nagpur and Chennai-Mysore.

Many see this project as a way to make rail travel safer as the Indian Railways has been blamed for several train accidents. Analysts argue that the bullet trains would also help with the increased passenger and freight traffic as trains are a preferred mode of transport due to its low cost. The project will also bring state-of-the-art technology to India, giving a boost to domestic industries and creating thousands of jobs.

On the other hand, India’s opposition parties have termed the project as “redundant”, costing the same as the air travel between the two cities. “If you can travel between Ahmedabad and Mumbai in just one hour [by air] at a cost of only 3,500 rupees, why would you not do that?” Deepak Kesarkar, a Shiv Sena functionary, told a local news outlet. Reportedly, the cost of tickets for the bullet train will be the same as that of a flight. 

The project has also been opposed by farmers whose land has been acquired by the government for its implementation. While the progress in land acquisition has been slow in Maharashtra causing delays for the project, Gujarat has managed to secure the required land. “We are not opposing anything but our first priority is the farmers,” Kesarkar had said.

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