Kochi Metro and Public Policy Making
D Dhanuraj
Kochi Metro and Public Policy Making Download as PDF
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Any public policy debate has at least three elements; intellect, feasibility and vision. Erudite reasoning along with an ecosystem designed for the better implementation of proposals are critical to the success of the policy making and execution. Public policy can neither be insulated from public discourse nor from the conviction of the policy makers.  All these factors are relevant while we discuss Kochi metro. The debate has reached a very awkward position where it appears that an individual’s credibility and role (with all due respect to him) is deemed to be at stake while it should have been just about transparent policy making process of the government. Kochi metro was mooted in 2004 (I was trying to find who proposed this project at that time but could not trace it as such) and the current Government of Kerala has taken it up as its single point agenda to find solutions to traffic woes in Kochi.
There are more than ten study reports to find the “perfect” traffic solution in the Kochi urban agglomeration area.  Interestingly, none and I repeat none of these ten reports recommend Metro as a solution. It is imperative to dig out the roots of the Kochi Metro project especially when it is also not in tune with the Government of India (GoI) policy guidelines. As per GoI guidelines a Metro mode of transport was proposed in urban agglomeration areas with more than 30 million inhabitants where as Kochi has a stabilised population of 1.6 Lakhs. Sequentially, this leads to some very pertinent questions: who thought that Kochi Metro was a good idea, who conceptualised it, what its rationale is, and where will it be constructed in Kochi?  Why should not a more efficient use of the existing transport infrastructure in the form of buses, boats and trains be the actual solution of traffic woes in Kochi?
I tried to get answers from Mr Tom Jose IAS (MD, Kochi Metro) for the above questions during the Kochi Metro Round table organised by Centre for Public Policy Research.  First of all I respect him for staying back for three hours to listen to all the speakers who doubted the project and its viability. He was polite and open to all the opinions and ideas. At the same time, I was expecting him to answer some of these unwarranted questions at this stage (like one in the audience remarked ‘let’s not scuttle the project and whatever be the cost of the project , let’s face it!’). Many of his answers were very defensive or seemed to lack conviction.
Many raised doubts about the feasibility of the Metro and its present alignment. It was explained during the meeting that the sanction of the metro project is getting delayed for the same old reason: the financial support required for such a massive project. Kerala Government wants 15 % equity ownership by GoI in the proposed project but GoI is not inclined to buy this proposal. As Tom Jose explains, Return of Investment (RoI) for this project hovers around 3 % and thus it is difficult to find suitable funders and investors for the project.  Public utility projects like this may not generate profits but it should not lead to a severe debt trap for KMRL and Kerala Government.  A member in the audience was right on the money when he remarked: “it is the Indian tax payers’ money and it should not be wasted.”  It is in this context that I wish to see global tendering for the project as it will lead to an evaluation of the project by the competent parties. I have serious reservations when the DMRC  feasibility report for Kochi metro is not studied and pruned by global players as that can only lead to the betterment of the report.  Same is the case with the present alignment also. Mr Tom Jose was reported to have said that any alteration to the present alignment will lead to a sabotage of the project and hence new alignments can be considered in the second and third phase. I felt this statement as his submission to the fact that the present alignment is not meant to solve traffic solutions for the growing city. If that is the case, isn’t it almost a criminal act to waste resources for the proposed alignment?  Rs. 5000 Crores is by no means an insignificant amount for a city like Kochi and if the proposed project does not by some guarantee hope to solve the traffic problems, then why should not that amount be used for something else that has a better chance to succeed? Mr Tom Jose on his part, went on to contradict himself by initially saying that Kochi metro is the suitable option stating a gigantic number for city agglomeration population and then questioning its feasibility by doubting the ridership!
Kochi Metro project looks like a misstep to me.  Media hyped and politicians dragged their feet. I find this as a classic case study on public projects and how policy decisions should not be arrived at. Lack of research in the proposed domain (media has only researched the topic from their angle!) in the local context has invited wrath of the decision makers. We need to promote city based think tanks to set up and debate and research on these proposals and suggest suitable solutions.  Let’s not leave the judiciary a chance to usurp the role of think tanks. Otherwise, as I had earlier stated; Tribals in Wayanad may just end up paying for the sustenance of the Metro rail in Kochi.
 

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