Nikitha Mathew | Kochi (Kerala)
The traffic woes of Kochi in Ernakulam district of Kerala, widely attributed as a handicap on the pro-traveller orientation of the city, will see a respite with the inauguration of Metro by the end of this month. The first phase on one of the busiest routes, extending 13 kilometres and spanning 11 stations from Aluva to Palarivattom, has been successfully executed and the government awaits the availability of Prime Minister to flag off the service. The eighth metro rail in India and the first in Kerala recently caught national attention with the commendable move to employ 23 transgenders, a first in the country.
The history of the Kochi metro goes back to 2004 when the then Chief minister of Kerala Shri. Oommen Chandy conceptualized the project along the lines of Delhi metro, which was inaugurated in 2002 by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was the first of its kind in India and was undertaken by the chairmanship of E. Sreedharan with Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). E. Sreedharan, widely proclaimed as the Metro Man, was contacted by the Kerala government in 2004 to assess the feasibility and to prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR).
Soon after, Mr. Chandy said: “Kerala is looking forward to introducing Metro Railway in Kochi (Cochin) and Thiruvananthapuram and the detailed project report on the Thiruvananthapuram Metro Rail Project will be ready within six weeks.” Pointing out that the background works for the Kochi Metro Railway Project was already complete, Mr. Chandy said the Kerala Government had decided to implement the project under the build-operate-transfer model with State-Centre funding.
He went on to add “The proposed Kochi Metro system covers a route length of 25.253 km and has 21 stations with mostly elevated railway line with a total estimate cost of Rs. 1,966 crores”. Chandy was accompanied by the then Kerala Finance Minister Vakkom Purushothaman, MP Vayalar Ravi, MLA K. Sankaranarayanan, and Chief Secretary of Kerala, Palat Mohan Das.
The detailed project report for Kochi Metro was soon submitted and the government planned to start construction in 2006 and finish operations by 2010. However the project was delayed as the Central government was sceptical about the economic viability and the request was refused. The Union government was in favour of implementing the project in Public-Private Partnership model (PPP), ruling out its own financial involvement. The Ministry of Urban Development and the Planning Commission were also against government investment in the project. A change of state government happened in May 2006 and the Left Democratic Front was elected and Shri. V.S Achuthananthan elevated to the position of Chief Minister.
The political rivalry between the State government and UPA government in the centre was a major factor behind stagnation of the project. Re-election of United Democratic Front (UDF) government in 2011 changed the scenario and Kochi Metro was given top priority. A cabinet decision was taken to form a special purpose vehicle (SPV) called the Kochi Metro Rail Ltd. (KMRL) as per direction from Planning Commission.
On 22nd March 2012, the Public Investment Board gave clearance to the Kochi Metro Project. It would then go to the union cabinet for final approval and the model adopted followed Delhi and Chennai models, a joint venture basis with contribution of the Union government being 20.26% of the total cost. The fund for the project was raised in form of loans and aid from state and central governments, French development agency, Agency Francaise de Development (AFD) and national and local banks.
On 28th March 2012, the KMRL Board meeting finalized the number of metro stations as 22 and on 3rd July 2012 final clearance for the project was given by the Union government. Addressing media persons, then Managing Director of KMRL, Tom Jose said, “Now we will sit down with our valued partner DMRC, and chalk out the way forward, obtaining advice and guidance from former DMRC Chief, E. Sreedharan. We aim to complete the project within a span of 3 to 4 years. On August 2012, the state government reconstituted the board of director of KMRL. Power Secretary Elias George was appointed the new Managing Director, replacing Tom Jose. It is believed that Jose’s differences with Sreedharan let to the decision. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said it was a part of administrative decision.
Controversy lingered around DMRC’s role which began with Kerala Minister for Public Works V.K Ibrahim Kunju stating that the work would be awarded with a global tender. E. Sreedharan assured his participation only with the involvement of DMRC. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy later explained that global tender was precondition for the low interest loan –offer from Japan International Cooperation Agency and reiterated that E. Sreedharan would have the last word on the subject. Tom Jose wrote a letter to Union Urban Development Secretary Sudhir Krishna questioning the specific role of E. Sreedharan, who was retired. This invited criticisms with Opposition leader V.S.Achuthananthan alleging that Jose had the Chief Minister’s support.
Public support was overwhelmingly in favour of DMRC and Sreedharan. On 27 October 2012, Kochiites formed a 25km human chain from Aluva to Petta, demanding the work be handed over to DMRC. The Ernakulam district collector P.I, Sheikh Pareeth also supported DMRC’s role – “If Delhi Metro Rail Corporation is executing the Kochi Metro Project and E. Sreedharan is there to oversee the work, then we will be able to complete the petro project in 3 years. If not, I don’t have an answer”. N. Venugopal, chairman of Greater Cochin Development Authority, Centre for Public Policy Research MD DDhanuraj, were among the supporters for a global tender. He stated, “Various agencies will get an opportunity to analyse the detailed project report prepared by DMRC. There will be more transparency and clarity. If DMRC is the best metro Agency, they can compete with others and take up the responsibility of executing the project. No project should be individual centric or organization centric. DMRC is not the only agency in the world involved in execution of metro projects and E. Sreedharan is not the only expert available. The state should go for a global tender and choose a competent agency”.
Dispelling all controversies, Aryadan Mohammad Minister for Power and Transport said “There are no doubts about this (DMRC’s role). It was the Kerala Cabinet which had taken this decision and there would be no change in it.”
In January 2016, the first test run of Kochi metro was successfully conducted. The government changed in May which denied Oommen Chandy, the ardent worker behind the project to inaugurate his beloved project. Integrated trial runs were done in March. Communication based Train Control System was put to test, the metro will follow unmanned operation in the long run. Mr. Sreedharan said that the 5km long Palarivattom-Maharajas college stretch would be ready in another four months. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to be available by the end of this month.
The metro train will have three cars with each accommodating 200 passengers. From station to station the running time is 2 minutes. It will be accessible to all including physically challenged. It was decided at the 25th meeting of Board of Directors that the minimum fare on the Kochi Metro will be Rs 10 and the maximum Rs 60. The board also authorized metro agency to take a decision on special discounts on fares for users of ‘Kochi-1’smart card and app. The metro line is split into 6 fare zones named F1, F2, F3, F4, F5 and F6, corresponding to a distance that is a multiple of five. In February, the Kerala government announced a plan for water metro service spanning 16 routes in Kochi.
Kochi metro, the pet project of Oommen Chandy and Kochiites, is all set to impress Kerala with its brilliance. Soon the happy crowds will have a reason to love Kochi even more.