E Sreedharan, the chief advisor of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has announced the company's exit from the proposed light metro project for Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram.
With DMRC pulling out from the project, it is a project that aroused much hope that is being abandoned. The laxity and lackof vigilance on the part of the state government are cited as the reasons for the withdrawal. DMRC has already incurred a huge loss due to the project getting delayed indefinitely. The state has been reluctant to sign the construction agreement so far. The government has not responded to DMRC’s letter showing that they were backing out of the project. Nor was an appointment granted to meet the Chief Minister in person. In this situation, there is no choice other than to withdraw from the project. At the same time, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Public Works Department Minister G Sudhakaran say that the government would go ahead with the project even if DMRC exits from it. Though the Chief Minister says that DMRC withdrew from the light metro project after its agreement with the state government expired, Sreedharan points out, that it is not true. Given the fact that even an agreement was not signed, the pertinent question is what is the relevance of expiry date for an agreement that does not exist? One thing is clear. There seems to be several reasons behind the apparent confusion. The government does not seem to maintain a transparency in the matter like DMRC.
There have been moves, purportedly, not to entrust the project with the DMRC. However, when claims favourable to DMRC were raised such as experience and the expertise to complete the construction efficiently and at a fast pace on a minimum budget, d, those who objected withdrew for the time being. DMRC had conducted a feasibility study on the proposed Thalassery-Mysuru railway project and submitted a report saying that it would not be beneficial to the state. This is also being cited as a reason for the state government’s displeasure. Reports regarding plans to keep away DMRC from the preparatory works of the light metro project, also surfaced. Ignoring the genuine demand of DMRC to sign the agreement for construction can be seen only as a reason to shun them. DMRC had submitted a report to the government regarding the necessary preparatory work. The document which was modified according to the renewed metro policy was also presented. But the state government explainsthat the project report has been sent to the Centre and the hindrance to the project was not getting the approval from the Centre. It is not clear as to what the government has done so far to gain the approval for the project report sent in 2016. There has been a delay on the part of the government. The Chief Minister says that despite it being three months, he was not willingto meet E Sreedharan to discuss a project which even the government hails as significant, due to his hectic schedule. Doesn’t this lack of time also prove the priority and interest in the matter?
The government’s announcement that it would not back out from the project sure provides relief. However, it is yet to be seen how it progresses in the new circumstances. The crux of the dispute is whether such a big project should come under the public sector or private sector. The Centre's policy is a public-private partnership (PPP). The Minister makes it clear that public-private partnership is not the policy of the LDF government in the state, which is fine. But the policy and stances adopted so far is not sufficient to convince the people of this fact. If that was the policy, retaining DMRC and entrusting it with the project was the most suitable choice. Their withdrawal also means ensuring private partnership in the construction activities. It is not easy either to hand it over to Kochi Metro Rail Corporation. Kochi Metro which was instituted under E Sreedharan’s supervision, will find it difficult to progress in his absence.The contentionof the government that metro and light metro would not be profitable, comes from the right-wing perception about the public sector. The ‘profit’ from such projects is not the money which comes out of it but the benefits it provides to the people and thereby paves way for growth and development. Such public transport systems must be seen as an investment for the benefit of the entire state. This would also benefit the environment in the long run. Therefore, it is the state government’s duty to act fast on the matter.