Railway Minister Lalu Prasad's announcement that the Rs 4,510-crore (Rs 45.1 billion) Mumbai Urban Transport Project-II will be completed during the Eleventh Five-Year Plan has received a sceptical response from commuters, experts and political parties. MUTP-I, its precursor, is already behind schedule by at least two years.
The MUTP II focuses on segregating the outstation and suburban railway traffic, which will eventually increase the frequency of trains on the suburban railway network.
The MUTP-II includes projects like laying of the fifth and sixth line between Thane and Kurla, additional two lines between Thane and Diva, a sixth line between Borivali and Mumbai central, extension of harbour line upto Goregaon and the conversion of electric system from the old DC current to AC current.
Besides, Lalu also promised to undertake a pre-feasibility study for introduction of air-conditioned trains on suburban network between Mumbai Central and Virar and announced to introduce passenger trains between Vasai on western line and Panvel on harbour line via Diva on the central line.
The state government and railway ministry will put Rs 1,150 crore (Rs 11.5 billion) each and World Bank will finance the project to the extent of Rs 1,910 crore (Rs 19.1 billion).
Another Rs 300 crore (Rs 3 billion) will be raised through sale of land owned by railways in Bandra and whatever extra amount this plot will fetch will be shared by the state government and railways equally, said a senior official from the Western Railway.
Though the exact quantum of allocation for the project in rail budget is not known, this is a good beginning as the railway minister has given commitment to complete the project in the 11th five year plan and MUTP-II is the single most important project to reduce the congestion on suburban trains.
"We estimate that at the end of the MUTP-I project, congestion on suburban trains will come down from around 5,000 people to 3,500 people as against the capacity of 1,700 during peak hours and after completion of MUTP-II it will be reduced to 2,400," says Sanjay Ubale, secretary, special projects, government of Maharashtra.
Speaking with Business Standard, President of Mumbai Suburban Rail Commuters Association, Deepak Gandhi, said, "After quadrupling of the tract between Borivali and Virar and Kalyan and Diva it is easily possible to increase the number of trips of suburban train from the present 2,700 per day to 3,800 per day on both central and western network but it seems Laluji was more interested in making grand announcements than finding practical solutions to day to day problems".
Former BJP MP and member of the party's national executive Kirit Somaya alleged Lalu's today's announcement about the MUTP-II is nothing but hogwash as the MUTP-I is hardly 35 to 40 per cent complete and it will take railways another two to three years to complete the project.
However, what is more worrying is the loot which the state government and railways are making of the common man under the name of MUTP cess.
The MUTP cess is charged between Rs 1 to Rs 10 on single ticket and Rs 15 to Rs 40 on season ticket and it is being collected since 2004 for the repayment of loan of Rs 1,600 crore (Rs 16 billion) which has been taken for MUTP-I.