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Empowering cities

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 BY SUMANTRA DAS

Could you brief us about your organisation and how it is linked with urban transport development?
The Institute of Urban Transport (IUT) is a professional body set up in 1997. It is registered under the Societies Registration Act and the Secretary of Ministry of Urban Development. The government of India is our ex-officio representative. We have been given a role in the National Urban Transport policy of being a National Information Centre on Urban Transport.
This implies our involvement in almost everything that the ministry does, apart from our own research activities.
There are three major things that we do: One is capacity building, because the government sees a dearth of skills in planning and management of urban transport.
So in association with the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the ministry has launched an ambitious capacity building programme which has been entrusted to IUT for implementation. Under this programme we have to train 2,500 city officials over three years.
This involves preparing training material and we are covering the gamut of urban transport. We divided the subject into 10 sections and have worked out modules for city officials that will later be utilised to conduct four-day training programmes.
We have to do a total of 40 programmes (of which 11 are done with) and the programmes are well attended.
Our second major activity is being a professional arm of the Ministry of Urban Transport. Under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), the government has handed out money for our urban projects.
Besides this, the ministry also has its own programmes and funds for urban transport projects. The project reports are sent our way to analyse and make recommendations.

So your organisation works hand in hand with the ministry.
Yes. I think we must have appraised more than 400 project reports over five years.
The third major activity is the Annual Urban Mobility India Conference which will be held in November this year. This conference takes us a year to prepare and is a closed invitation. We decide various themes for the conference and identify subjects for each sub-theme. The whole programme is case-study oriented.

Do you believe that there is a fair allocation of funds for urban transport?
I don’t know if you are aware of the high powered expert committee appointed by the Ministry of Urban Development. They have brought out a report on investments required across urban services over 20 years. A similar study was undertaken by McKinsey Global Institute. Both the studies have estimated a need for more than `1 lakh crore investment per year over 20 years. That is the kind of investment required to make up for the deficit.
However, in our analysis, we planned for the 12th Five Year Plan for the National Transport Development Policy Committee. We have suggested ways to raise finance and have chalked out ways to raise such large amounts of money. The only problem is this amount is a huge jump from the current levels of investments. It cannot happen overnight.

So you’re suggesting that once investment has been found, then there can be a standardised structure for transport systems.
Yes, at least it will help overcome the deficiency that exists today.

So how will the government act on acquiring such funds?
As far as I know, our suggestion was for to the 12th Five Year Plan. And according to the final report, I see that a major chunk of investments in urban services goes to urban transport.

What is the learning from JNNURM in transport sector? Have you seen any change?
Earlier, under JNNURM, this was confined to bus funding. But experience shows that’s not enough because buses alone cannot be useful unless you build depots for them. Then there’s the associated infrastructure. Technology, too, is needed to manage and control the bus services. So when the next 10,000 buses are allocated to states, it has been agreed to finance the depots as well as Intelligent Transport Systems and other associated infrastructure.

So will we see more developments in JNNURM-2?
There is no JNNURM-2. The 10,000 buses are a result of the previous budget. It is an extension of JNNURM-1.

Regarding uniform implementation of projects, do you think it will happen?
Until a decade ago, this was not a subject at all. But since the National Urban Transport Policy was announced, this sector is getting attention. There has been a spate of Metro Rail projects, in operation and reconstruction, not to mention in bus rapid transport projects. Quite a number of cities are using Intelligent Transport Systems to control traffic and manage buses. So there’s movement. India is a large country and the developments are merely superficial. A lot more needs to be done.

What are the challenges?
The challenges are lack of skills, government apathy in general and good governance. After the 12th Five Year Plan was drafted, it should have seen an increase in implementation of projects that is yet unrealised.

What should be the way forward?
The way forward is making the authorities aware of the consequences of not acting on suggestions. This could become burdensome in future. In our programmes, we project a business-as-usual scenario and hope to raise awareness. I think the awareness is present. There is no lack of technology solutions providers. Most of the stakeholders are based here. So what will work as a catalyst? The lead has to come from a city leader. There is so much happening in cities like Jaipur, Bengaluru and Mumbai. A city that sees a strong leadership will see developments.

Is the government taking any initiative to finance? You mentioned that urban transport projects require large amounts of funding.
I am not aware of that.

Could PPP be an alternative solution?
Under PPP one can avail of viability gap funding. And under JNNURM too, there are funds made available for projects. But at the end of the day the city has to generate its own resources. There are 4,000 cities. How far can the central government find funding for all the projects?

So it means empowering local bodies.
Yes, and guiding them on ways to generate funds. The cities have money. They have to be empowered to generate resources and meet requirements.

What about funding from monetary agencies?
One can always find interested parties if the project is well defined.

I have heard professionals raise questions at seminars about the Indian government’s need to seek out foreign players who could bring in funds.
I don’t think the government is discouraging them. The only thing we don’t have is a list of bankable projects. This question is often raised. In our conferences, we invite foreign speakers. This is also visible at the Capacity Building Programme launched by the World Bank, UNDP and the Government of India.

Name three things that can enhance the Urban Transport System.
It’s necessary to create a dedicated institutional framework to manage urban transport. An investment of `1 lakh crore a year is not a small amount. There has to be a strong institutional framework in place. Then the government needs to appoint a full dedicated person to look into various developments.

Are you hinting at a regulator?
No. The states have to do that because it is a state subject. The central government is encouraging. They have made it a pre-condition when dishing out funds for buses. There are some agencies that have been set up, but I understand that they are uninspiring.

How do you see the Metro? Will it be just an additional attraction or will it be linked to other transport systems?
What I find is that the Metro Rail projects are being undertaken by cities as a matter of civic pride. Some of them have not been ascertained soundly.

Is that the reason why the Chennai Metro is facing challenges?
They will face challenges if they have not done their homework. Unless the Metro Rail is justified, it will not be financially viable.

There’s some confusion of whether to go with PPP model or EPC model.
There is no confusion. In the 12th Five Year Plan we made a definite recommendation that the Metro Rail projects are not amenable to PPP. We made a definitive statement, but we didn’t want to close doors. If some states think it could be made viable with PPP, they can go ahead.

But Ahluwalia believes that PPP is theonly sound solution.
We have made a definite recommendation and that is will prove us right.

PPP is successful in other countries.I think Hong Kong works on the PPP model.
Hong Kong does not work on the PPP model. There is no PPP model that has been successful.

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