It appears there is a lack of clarity on how to categorise monorail — part of tramway or railway

Chennai Mono Rail Project, one of the flagship schemes of the AIADMK government, has crossed an important stage – shortlisting of prospective project promoters – in the path towards execution.

Of the eight consortia of firms that participated, the authorities have, it is learnt, disqualified a few, though the exact number has not been made known. Among the qualified groups of companies are combinations of some leading monorail manufacturers – Hitachi and Bombardier, and infrastructure players L&T, Gammon and IL&FS.

An Empowered Committee, under the chairmanship of Chief Secretary Debendranath Sarangi, met about 10 days ago and zeroed in on the eligible consortia.

As the stage for request for qualification (RFQ) has been crossed, the authorities are expected to invite request for proposals (RFP) shortly from the eligible consortia.

The Mono Rail Project was revived last year after the AIADMK's return to power.

The government has identified four corridors – Vandalur to Velachery (23 km); Poonamallee to Kathipara Junction (16 km); Poonamallee to Vadapalani (18 km) and Vandalur to Puzhal (54 km).

The work will be taken up initially in the first three corridors and, subsequently, the fourth corridor.

Land acquisition to implement this project is minimal.

For the first phase of the project, the estimated cost is Rs.8,500 crore. As the project is to be implemented under DBFOT (Design, Build, Fund, Operate and Transfer) route, the State government may have to provide viability gap funding.

Even as the authorities are preparing the ground for the next stage of the project implementation, they are also grappling with a fundamental legal question about the monorail mode.

It appears there is a lack of clarity on how to categorise monorail — part of tramway or railway.

Till now, the authorities are going ahead on the assumption that monorail falls within the definition of ‘tramway,' which is a State subject (Entry 13, List II of the Constitution). It is on this premise that even a Bill is being drafted to facilitate the implementation of the project and the proposed legislation will draw authority from the Indian Tramways Act, 1886.

But, the Union Planning Commission's Working Group on Urban Transport for the 12th Plan, in its report, has stated that the Tramways Act deals with tramways within the road surface with free access across it. Other modes of mass rapid transit such as bus rapid transit, light rail transit and monorail are not covered under any Act.

Even, for argument's sake, if it is agreed that monorail is part of tramways, another aspect that comes in the way is the application of the definition of ‘tramway,' as found in Clause 20, Article 366 of the Constitution to the given case. According to this definition, a tramway is one which is located wholly within a municipal area. Going by the proposed alignment of corridors of the Chennai Mono Rail project, it covers even village panchayats and not just one municipal area.

One possible way out is to get the Chennai Mono Rail project notified under the Railways Act.

A senior official says that given the government's keenness, a solution would definitely be found to overcome any legal impediment.