New Delhi: Managing Director of Delhi Metro Mangu Singh explains why construction of metro rail in India is different from anywhere in the world, explains why a 24/7 metro service is not possible, says DMRC has enough revenue to sustain the airport service, and justifies metro construction in smaller cities as a “wise step”.
In January 2012, Mangu Singh took charge as Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) chairman, stepping into the large shoes of predecessor E Sreedharan. Singh has been associated with the DMRC since its inception almost two decades ago. He has also assisted several state governments in setting up metro rail in cities such as Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Kochi. With more and more states realising the significance of mass transit modes such as the metro in improving the quality of urban mobility and urban life itself, Mangu Singh’s role in metro development across the country is only going to get more significant.
Internationally metro stations are close to where people live or work, though this is not the case in India. We also have the issue of last-mile connectivity. There is not much public transport to cover that. How do you plan to set that right?
If you see the geography of the major cities in the world, Delhi is slightly different in comparison to Paris or London or any other international city. They have very well-defined central business districts and so the traffic is well defined too. In Delhi, this is not the case. There are many CBDs (central business districts) — Nehru Place, Connaught Place, Karol Bagh and now Noida, Gurgaon. The location of the station of course has to cater to different areas. We have tried to cover almost the entire Delhi-NCR. The only issue is that the network is still not complete, certain areas are not covered, there are areas from which the stations are quite far away. But I am confident that once Phase-3 and Phase-4 (of metro construction) is completed, all areas will be covered. About the last-mile connectivity issue… see we are carrying around 27 lakh passengers every day, and if the Delhi Metro is expected to provide connectivity to each passenger, then it is not practically possible. In fact this last-mile connectivity has to be with the help of other modes of transport — buses, taxis, and other public transport systems. Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has started feeder bus services, but their purpose is not to cover entire Delhi for lastmile connectivity. We started the service only to fill the gaps where we feel that no other mode of transport is available.
What is Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and do you think this will address the problem of last-mile connectivity?
The concept of TOD basically means that along the (metro) corridors, since you have a means of efficient public transport, you don’t need to use your private car. If you allow dense development along a metro station or a metro corridor, then the traffic is reduced, and the same space can accommodate more people. But allowing high rises along the corridors will not take care of the existing problem. If you have transit oriented development where the services, the facilities are all planned in such a way that the requirement of movement is reduced… so to that extent the use of private cars will reduce, number of trips will reduce, the requirement for a journey will reduce. So this will certainly help to the extent that the additional burden will come down, but it will not reduce the existing burden.
How do you decide on areas that need a metro corridor? Is there pressure from politicians, the general public and do you take that into consideration?
First, I will say no. Why… because there is a scientific way of deciding the corridors. Whether it is city or a region, there is planning about the kind of development that needs to be done — whether residential, commercial or institutional — and with that you work out which will be the best origin and destination, how the traffic will move from one area to another area etc. Based on these factors, we decide the corridors. In our country, for most of the cities we know the corridors. Even a common man can tell you which corridor is a priority. The problem comes when there is a new area. For a new area there are tools available, and (using these tools) you work out the development planning, and then decide the corridors. Yes… the big projects cannot be taken up without political support. So there are cases where you know five or ten corridors are required, (but) which one has to be taken up, of course this has to be decided by the political system.
Before the metro came in, the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) used to be the main feeder service in the city, but now that the metro has come in, a lot of these routes have become redundant. So is there an engagement between the DTC and Delhi Metro in terms of rejigging the routes?
Yes. When a project is planned, the DMRC prepares a detailed report, like in the case of Phase-4 construction, and that fits into the overall planning of the city. The transport department of Delhi government has got a study done for the entire city and these (metro) corridors more or less fit into that. Before the project is finally sanctioned, it is studied by the transport department of the Delhi government, which ultimately controls the DTC also. So that is how the synergy is developed. Let me put it this way — the planning is not in isolation. When the metro came into the picture, this was one of the requirements, that DTC routes should be rationalised and should be changed if need be.
Why can’t the metro be round the clock?
Today we are running upto 11pm. So when we say 11pm, the last train starts at 11pm. By the time it reaches the depot, it is past midnight, 12.30 am or so. In the morning metro starts at 6 am, so work has to begin around 4.30-4.45 am or so. So we have (just between) 12.30 and 4.30 am when all trains need to be inspected and made ready for next day. When a train comes in the morning, there are many requirements. Somebody has to inspect it and certify that the train is fit to run.
You are part of DMRC, but you have a lot of work outside Delhi too. How do you balance the assignments?
We have a separate organisation for taking up projects outside. We have a full -fledged director who looks after the projects outside. Also, wherever we take up projects, we create a full-fledged organisation there. Like in Jaipur, there is a project director, similarly in Kochi there is a project director, a chief engineer, an electrical engineer. Yes of course there is always support from the head office, the brain is in the head office. There are regular visits, I have to visit every other month or so.
There is talk of driver-less metros in Phase-3 corridors. Can you explain how that will work?
Let us not call it driver-less. It is a completely automatic system, without any human intervention. So this is a development in metro operations. Even today in Phase-2 our trains are almost automatic, except only a few operations where the train operator has to be there. And this is for safety consideration. Human intervention has to be avoided completely. So in Phase-3 we are taking a step forward. For operation of Phase-3, there will not be any human intervention, it can run on its own. So to that extent we can say it is a driver- less train. But it really does not mean that there will not be a driver or trains will be unattended. In case of failure of the systems somebody has to take care of it.
There have been many complaints with the new land Bill. How does Delhi Metro manage land acquisition?
Fortunately, so far there hasn’t been any case where we require private land under the new Act (Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013), because we also believe it is almost impossible to acquire land under the new Act. Earlier, whatever land was required, it was acquired under the previous Act and we got it. There was an emergency clause and requirement of land was conceived as an emergency requirement. It was challenged many times in the courts, but the court finally said that for a project of such importance, if land is needed, it is an urgent requirement. But, because of this new Act, we have started negotiating with the landowner directly. Under the new Act, the landowners are very happy with the scale of compensation. They are willingly coming forward to give the land. So we are tackling the problem on a case-by-case basis by approaching individual landowners.
What has been your experience with the airport metro? Is it financially sustainable?
Today we are in a situation where we are earning enough revenue to run the service. Whatever revenue we earn is enough for running the system. Of course the initial expenditure, the capital, it is still not possible to recover that. When this line was conceived, we didn’t plan to recover the capital cost in the initial years itself. This was expected 30 years down the line. So today we can’t say anything; it has huge potential. Say for example, when this line was being contemplated, it was planned that all the operations will shift to T3 (Delhi airport terminal) and that is how this station was planned there. Today, the domestic airlines are still operating from Terminal 1. But we believe that once the operations are shifted to Terminal 3, the traffic on airport line will increase drastically.
To increase ridership in all mass transit modes, do you think there is need to disincentivise car users through measures such as congestion tax?
This is a necessity otherwise also. To make public transport system sustainable, to reduce the pollution levels and save precious foreign exchange on fuel (it is necessary). The government should take all necessary steps to curb the use of private vehicles.
Have you recommended it?
There is no need for recommendation, everybody knows that.
Are you in touch with E Sreedharan? Does he still play any role in DMRC?
We are still in touch. In fact, for Kerala’s Kochi project, we are fully dependent on him, as he is very active there. He comes almost once a month here, not for DMRC work but he is involved in the Railway Ministry, he is nominated in some committees. He is advising the Uttar Pradesh government on Lucknow metro, and the Andhra Pradesh government too.
Can you tell us a little bit more about projects outside Delhi and Mumbai.
Outside Delhi, in Jaipur, the first stage of almost 10 km is already open. Now 4 km is under construction. Then Mumbai line three, that is 33 km, is being undertaken. In addition to that, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis is very keen that some corridors be completed in the next few years and he has in fact approached us, that we take up one or two corridors there. But we have not taken a final call.
Which corridors are these?
He has given us a long list of under 20 km. I have been to Mumbai and visited all of them and suggested two corridors which can be competed in three-and-a- half to four years. One is on the Eastern Expressway and other on Link Road, parallel to the Western Railway corridor. In Nagpur too, they have formed an organisation like DMRC and we have prepared two DPRs (detailed project reports) for them. In Kochi, we are constructing a 25-km line. The latest addition would be Vijayawada — as Chandrababu Naidu is very keen and the Andhra government wants Delhi Metro to execute the project. Ahmedabad is also very active. Even in Lucknow we have prepared the DPR.
Do the cities like Kochi, Vijayawada, Nagpur have enough people to sustain a metro ?
It is a very difficult question. If you go to Europe, you find a metro in a city with a population of just two lakh. If you don’t construct today, to construct them (metro lines) after 10 years would be even more difficult. It is a wise step to start now.
Do you think at any point in time the Delhi Metro will actually go public to raise funds?
We really do not know how Phase-4 will unfold finally. As things stand today, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has revised terms for funding and right now it is not acceptable to the government. JICA has fundamentally said that they will provide funding only if it’s a step loan. Step loan means that you have to compulsorily purchase part of the project from the Japanese only. Those conditions are right now not acceptable to the government. There might be possibility of funding Phase-4 by other means — maybe through domestic borrowing or maybe going partly public. But we may not go for public share because we are still negative on the bottom line. If we see our balance sheet, we are still in loss. But we can go for tax-free bonds.
The Delhi Metro has done well on the carbon credits front. What is the way forward to further reduce your carbon footprint? Have other government agencies approached you on how the model has worked ?
I don’t think other government agencies can replicate us, as we are rail-based transport system. We can be of help to other metros. To that extent, yes, we have now registered with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the other metros, if they want, can join us and get carbon credits. Unfortunately, today the market value of credit is very less. But apart from the value, it is the importance of getting certified for reduction in carbon dioxide that is more important. For the first time, anywhere in the world, a tender was floated for procuring the rolling stock, and we gave weightage to energy efficiency. In fact, because of this we landed in dispute and had to go to courts. This was a very bold step, where we said that we will count energy efficiency and convert it to money terms, add to the account and see who else is eligible. Because of this our Phase-3 trains will be more efficient.
What is the kind of role the DMRC takes outside India and what are the projects ?
We are so involved in our own country, that we have really not gone outside. As a first step, we have gone to Dhaka. There our role is of implementing a metro project as a general consultant, which is led by a Japanese company. To a small extent, we have gone to Jakarta, again with a Japanese firm. We are in much demand in the Middle East and Africa too.
Why is photography prohibited inside the train?
Truly speaking, even I don’t know why it is prohibited. In fact I have told my people to find out a way to relax the norm. Because even at the airport it (photography) is not prohibited. This (prevention of photography) has been done by the security agencies and we should go ahead in consultation with them. And nowadays, this rule is very difficult to enforce, as every mobile phone has a camera.