The Delhi Airport Metro Line, connecting the T3 air terminal, covering a 18 km stretch in 18 minutes, has remained shut for more than five months.
THE DELHI METRO Rail Corporation (DMRC) and Reliance Infra, the concessionaire for maintaining and running the airport line, have been engaged in a blame game. The show down between DMRC and Reliance Infra has got worse with officials blaming each other on the issue of faulty bearings and seepage in the tunnel.
The blame game...
Says Akileshwar Sahay, Strategic Advisor for DMRC: “the responsibility for construction of the civil portion was that of DMRC; but the civil portion was handed over to Reliance Infra as per the concessionaire agreement. Once it was progressively handed over, how to maintain that was the responsibility of Reliance Infrastructure.” (On record in a CNN-IBN interview). This statement suggests that Reliance Infrastructure failed to detect the defects and even after detecting, it reported it late to Delhi Metro, raising doubts about the reasons for the delayed reporting.
Officials of Reliance Infra, while denying such insinuations, blamed the so-called shoddy civil work of DMRC for shutdown of the airport line which was to be a show piece. Chief Mangu Singh was targeted by them when they claimed that as per the concessionaire every aspect of civil work was DMRC’s responsibility and Singh himself was the Director (works) at the time of the project. A government source indicated that the airport services would remain suspended indefinitely as there were too many legal and financial issues that had to be resolved.
Shut for not earning profits...
Industry sources suggest that Reliance Infra is pitching for a buyback agreement with the Delhi government to wriggle out of the project as it feels that airport line has not been generating the revenues it was projected to deliver. Also, Reliance, which has diverse interests, is not interested in waiting for the popularity of airport line to grow so that passenger loads will swell to generate revenues.
Roughly 15,000 people used the airport line daily, claims DMRC adding the line would eventually be a revenue earner. But Reliance Infra has a different take on this, according to official sources. The operator seems to be stuck with the problem of the high cost of the project. Funds problem seems to be very distinct: the concessionaire wasn’t able to carry out the repairs from its own funds and wanted the original constructor, the DMRC, to do this:
DMRC suspects that Reliance Infra wanted to cover up its alleged failure to make the repairs on time and so it first chose to reduce the frequency of trains and also speed from the designed 120 kmph to 80 kmph. Initially the average frequency of the train was about 15 to 20 minutes and was reportedly extended to 30 to 40 minutes; not really a frequency that a passenger wanting to rush to the airport on time would depend on.
Financials of the airport line
The project cost anything between Rs.16,000 and Rs.18,000 crore. The annual loss on the project due to low passenger load is estimated around Rs.300 crore. It is widely known that Metro systems globally incur losses in the initial years, then begin to recover costs and make profits.
Reliance Infra had planned shopping promenades at Shivaji Stadium station, situated at the commercial hub of Connaught Place. Replete with eating joints, this was expected to generate nonpassenger revenues to recoup the losses. But defects on the tracks overtook this plan and the shopping mall was kept on hold. Saugata Roy, Union Minister for Urban Development informed that the repairs to the defects on the Airport Line would cost just Rs 12 crore as determined by the DMRC. There would be no revenue loss to the concessionaire, he said.
Sumit Banerjee, Head of Infrastructure at Reliance, said “we are not interested in a blame game as reported in the media. We are focussed: on getting the line back, up and running. We are working together with the DMRC to get the line repaired, bearings rectified and get the line running.”
This was in sharp contrast to what he said earlier while reacting to Sudhir Krishna’s observation. He had squarely blamed DMRC for the fiasco saying the defects were there from day one when the line was inaugurated.
The larger issue
The issue is larger: Reliance seems to want a larger piece of the cake for running the Airport Line and is impatient to see a steady revenue stream to flow. Especially in these days of tough economic slowdown and worldwide recession this is understandable. But viewed against the huge investments made on a facility that was on par with global commuting ease to, metro airports, keeping it idle appears unpardonable.
Will, this imbroglio cast its shadow on other upcoming Metro projects in Chennai, and Hyderabad...?
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