Re­vi­talise cities and towns with mul­ti­modal trans­port

Kane­san Velup­pil­lai, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer, Scomi En­gi­neer­ing Ber­had, hopes that the new govern­ment will strengthen the ex­ist­ing frame­work for ur­ban trans­port, re­think land use to min­imise trans­port de­mand, ad­vance intermediate pub­lic trans­port sys­tems,

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ef­fi­cient, fast, sus­tain­able, eco­nom­i­cal and eco-friendly trans­port sys­tems. The chal­lenges of the ur­ban sec­tor in In­dia are grow­ing rapidly, and govern­ment agencies at var­i­ous lev­els are tak­ing steps to ad­dress the gaps in ser­vice de­liv­ery. To en­hance the pro­duc­tiv­ity of ur­ban cities, Mass Rapid Tran­sit Sys­tems have come into ex­is­tence as a vi­able so­lu­tion to the pre­vail­ing traf­fic haz­ards of the coun­try.

The fo­cus pri­mar­ily has been on de­vel­op­ing rail based mass rapid tran­sit sys­tem that is ca­pa­ble of serv­ing the bulk of the pop­u­lace as com­pared to oth­ers. So, sev­eral cities across the coun­try have launched heavy rail based mass rapid tran­sit sys­tem projects re­quir­ing large in­vest­ments. Sev­eral cities are also ini­ti­at­ing mono­rail and light rail sys­tems. Ac­cord­ing to In­dia In­fra­struc­ture Re­search, in­vest­ments of over ` 860 bil­lion have been lined up for heavy rail­based project across the coun­try, of which ` 550 bil­lion is planned to be mo­bi­lized in the next five years.

Chal­lenges

The big­gest chal­lenge faced by the ur­ban in­fra­struc­ture sec­tor is the enor­mous gaps and bot­tle­necks in the en­tire im­ple­men­ta­tion of any plan for ur­ban de­vel­op­ment in­clud­ing in­fra­struc­ture re­quire­ments. Specif­i­cally talk­ing about ur­ban trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture, the key im­ple­men­ta­tion is­sues in­clude fi­nanc­ing ur­ban trans­porta­tion projects, land ac­qui­si­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal and reg­u­la­tory im­ped­i­ments.

Fi­nanc­ing of in­fra­struc­ture projects: While govern­ment fund­ing for ur­ban in­fra­struc­ture projects has seen an un­prece­dented growth over the last few years and con­tin­ued im­pe­tus on fund­ing of planned projects is ex­pected from the govern­ment, there still ex­ists a huge gap be­tween re­quire­ment and avail­abil­ity.

In re­cent years, govern­ment has sought newer mea­sures to fi­nance the var­i­ous planned ur­ban in­fra­struc­ture out­lays through co­or­di­nated in­vest­ments by the state and cen­tral gov­ern­ments, pri­vate funds, in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic debt. Ef­forts have been made by the govern­ment to step up in­vest- ment in in­fra­struc­ture, and par­tic­u­larly to catal­yse greater pri­vate in­vest­ment. As a re­sult of the Plan­ning Com­mis­sion’s em­pha­sis on fund­ing through pri­vate sec­tor, more than a third of the over­all ex­pen­di­ture re­quire­ment in the ur­ban trans­porta­tion sec­tor is ex­pected to be met through this new source of fi­nanc­ing. This could in­di­cate a greater in­cli­na­tion to­wards exe- cut­ing projects through the PPP route.

Land ac­qui­si­tion: Land ac­qui­si­tion for in­fra­struc­ture projects has al­ways been a key chal­lenge in In­dia leading to de­lays in project ex­e­cu­tion. So­cial im­pli­ca­tions such as pop­u­la­tion dis­place­ment, lo­ca­tion of wor­ship places, pub­lic sen­ti­ments over her­itage prop­er­ties and other so­cial rea­sons pro­vide con­stant pub­lic re­sis­tance and im­pede progress of a project and its timely com­ple­tion. A sus­tain­able trans­port sys­tem should co­ex­ist with the need to safe­guard the en­vi­ron­ment. It has, in­deed, emerged as the sin­gle most im­por­tant rea­son for project de­lays and con­se­quent cost es­ca­la­tion.

The ac­qui­si­tion of land by govern­ment us­ing its em­i­nent do­main pow­ers has drawn re­sis­tance in many cases due to in­ad­e­quate com­pen­sa­tion for the land as well as for in­vol­un­tary dis­place­ment of people and loss of their liveli­hood. Yet, it is im­por­tant to strike a bal­ance be­tween the need for land for devel­op­men­tal ac­tiv­i­ties and the need to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of those im­pacted by the ac­qui­si­tion of the land.

En­vi­ron­men­tal and reg­u­la­tory im­ped­i­ments: Al­though In­dia has a well-de­vel­oped le­gal sys­tem, the cur­rent le­gal and reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment some­times acts as an ob­sta­cle to the growth of in­fra­struc­ture. Ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture projects are gov­erned by the con­ces­sion agree­ments signed be­tween pub­lic au­thor­i­ties and pri­vate en­ti­ties. Tar­iff de­ter­mi­na­tion and the set­ting of per­for­mance stan­dards vary some­what by sec­tor.

As is the case in many coun­tries, there is no sin­gle reg­u­la­tor which for­mu­lates the pol­icy for all in­fra­struc­ture projects. There is also no stan­dard­i­s­a­tion in the con­ces­sion agree­ments across the dif­fer­ent in­fra­struc­ture sec­tors. As a re­sult, the de­vel­op­ment of cer­tain sec­tors in In­dia may be ham­pered due to lack of ad­e­quate and co­or­di­nated plan­ning. Projects which are ap­proved may face dif­fi­cul­ties if re­lated projects are sub­stan­tially de­layed.

Pol­icy ini­tia­tives

The out­go­ing govern­ment ini­ti­ated in­nu­mer­able ini­tia­tives to lift the sec­tor from its cur­rent dor­mant con­di­tions. The new gov­ern- ment should fo­cus on re­vis­ing and re­vi­tal­is­ing In­dian cities and towns by in­ter­link­ing them through mul­ti­modal trans­port sys­tems that aid in over­all eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of the coun­try. We hope that the new govern­ment will strengthen the ex­ist­ing frame­work for ur­ban trans­port, re­think land use to min­imise trans­port de­mand, pro­mote non-mo­torised ve­hic­u­lar trans­port, im­prove pub­lic trans­port and ad­vance intermediate pub­lic trans­port sys­tems. We ex­pect im­pe­tus on ur­ban trans­porta­tion through in­tro­duc­tion of poli­cies which are pos­i­tive and con­ducive for in­vest­ment and growth of sus­tain­able PPP-model trans­port projects in In­dia.

All mil­lion pop­u­la­tion-plus cities should put to­gether clear ac­tion plans for im­ple­ment­ing trans­port de­mand man­age­ment that en­cour­age use of sus­tain­able modes of trans­port which es­sen­tially means modes of trans­port that have least en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print, is in­clu­sive and which gen­er­ates eco­nomic growth op­por­tu­ni­ties with min­i­mum en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial im­pacts. It would also help if the govern­ment stream­lines ap­proval pro­cesses by en­sur­ing reg­u­lar mon­i­tor­ing, fol­low-up on en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ances and com­pli­ances dur­ing the course of con­struc­tion and oper­a­tion of build­ing projects.

As of to­day, there are only three acts spe­cific to mass rapid trans­port: The Tramways Act, The Delhi Metro Rail­way (O&M) Act, 2002 and the Metro Rail­ways (Con­struc­tion of Works) Act, 1978. In ad­di­tion, there are sev­eral other acts that deal with other trans­port mat­ters such as The Rail­ways Act, 1989, The Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles Act, 1988, The Road Trans­port Act, 1956, etc. While the num­ber of rules and laws en­acted might seem ad­e­quate, they are still in­suf­fi­cient. There ex­ists a dire need for a com­pre­hen­sive leg­is­la­tion cov­er­ing all as­pects of ur­ban trans­porta­tion.

Whilst the need for greater in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment is clear, equally im­por­tant is the need to sus­tain­ably man­age such in­vest­ments. The govern­ment’s suc­cess in in­fra­struc­ture pro­vi­sion will be mea­sured not by the quan­tum of funds in­vested, but on how in­fra­struc­ture con­trib­utes to the achieve­ment of In­dia’s eco­nomic, so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal ob­jec­tives. Im­por­tantly, in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment should be con­sid­ered as a means to an end, not an end in it­self.

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