Why Modi critics are raising a stink about bullet train
The project didn’t come up overnight and is a result of rigorous planning since 2013.
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Exactly three years ago, freshly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Japan amid much fanfare. Paeans were written on the bromance between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Modi. Their bonhomie had the potential to transform geopolitics in the Asian region.
High on the agenda were Japanese-aided infrastructure projects. Along with ¥3.5 trillion of private and public investment and financing that was to come to India from Japan, both leaders vowed cooperation to utilise Japanese Shinkansen technology for the high-speed railway project connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
Modi was doing the right thing, even critics agreed, by strengthening ties with Japan and forging a partnership to take on China.
Prime Minister Modi's first rail budget earlier that year had spelled out an ambitious plan of starting high-speed bullet trains. Japan was the first to start a high-speed railway network. Countries such as China and France also boast of running these super-fast symbols of development. India too wanted to join the elite club incurring a cost of Rs 60,000 crore for introducing one such train. Modi’s Tokyo visit had the bullet train on top of the memo.
The rail budget in 2016 further laid the groundwork necessary for the ambitious bullet train project. Ways to finance this project in the future was always in discussion, but no one questioned the PM’s vision and Japan was definitely to be the primary partner.
It is also relevant to mention that the feasibility report of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Railway Project (MAHSR) started during UPA-II in 2013 and concluded two years later, and the final approval was given by the Committee on Innovative Collaborations (CoIC) set up in 2015.
During Abe’s visit to India this month, he laid the foundation of the first bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad causing a flurry of criticisms regarding need for such a futuristic project. These critics didn’t protest for the past three years when plans for the bullet train were in the works. So why are they raising a stink now?
There is no denying that the implementation of the bullet train would transform Indian Railways helping us learn from the Japanese technology.
The truth being that the government and its recent policies such as the note ban have created negative ripples in the economy causing the nation’s GDP to plummet. The three-year report card doesn’t look hearty and critics have finally found their voice backed by data to protest the government’s various moves.
But it’s unfair to raise a hue and cry over just bullet trains. There is no denying that the implementation of the bullet train would transform Indian Railways helping us learn from the Japanese technology. Japan is also perhaps the best bet for a partner as it is offering technology along with its funding plan. If anything, we should probably recognise that the PM is finally delivering on one of his many promises.
Rs 15 lakh may not have made its way to our accounts, jobs have shrunk instead of increasing, demonetisation has delivered a deadly blow to the economy with recovery not yet in sight; but we can’t grudge the PM for finally keeping his word. No matter that it comes at a hefty cost of Rs 60,000 crore.
But as far as the PM’s priorities and timing of the bullet train are concerned, well, that’s still questionable.