A day after the State Cabinet meeting cleared the first phase of the suburban rail line, the Centre, in the Union Budget, announced approval for 160 km of the urban transportation network.
On Thursday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said a suburban network would come up at an estimated cost of ₹17,000 crore “to cater to the growth of the Bengaluru metropolis”. The State Cabinet had, on Wednesday, approved investing 20% of the total project cost — ₹1,745 crore — over the next two years.
Sanjeev V. Dyamannavar, from the advocacy group Praja RAAG which has been pushing for a suburban rail network in Bengaluru, said the budget announcement was a positive step towards the realisation of a long-pending dream. “So far, we had heard announcements from the Railway Minister (Piyush Goyal). But, with the Finance Ministry giving approval for the project, it has taken a big step. Now, we can hope that the State and Railways will meet to thrash out the land hurdles for the execution of the project,” he said.
Similarly, Krishnaprasad S. of Karnataka Railway Vedike said though previous budgets had contained vague references to a suburban rail system here, this budget has specified a few details. “We are hopeful that this year being an election year, things will progress more rapidly. It is a good start,” he said.
Meanwhile, Srinivas Alavalli, one of the organisers of the #ChukuBukuBeku campaign that was launched after the protests against the steel flyover in Bengaluru, expressed “cautious optimism” about the plans. “When a special purpose vehicle (SPV) is formed, and trains run on the tracks at Kengeri, Whitefield or Carmelaram, we can agree that there is some progress. However, with the State government and the Centre making announcements, we are cautiously optimistic that suburban rail will come. No matter what the election outcome, we will continue [applying] pressure,” he said.
The project, to be partially elevated within core areas of the city, is expected to be implemented on a 50-50 ratio between the Centre and the State. “The Railways Pink Book, which may come in two days or so, will give more details as to how the finances will be. The Railways had stated that it hopes to monetise some of its land to fund its share,” said Mr. Dyamannavar.
While the announcement may have come just a few months before Karnataka goes to the polls, both the BJP and the Congress sought to capitalise on it. Union Minister Ananth Kumar tweeted: “My fight for #SubUrbanRail for Bengaluru these 21 years is closer to reality now. Thanks @narendramodi ji (Narendra Modi) @arunjaitley ji (Arun Jaitley) for this support.”
Congress leader Dinesh Gundu Rao said the project could take off when both the State and the Centre contribute 20% of the cost (the remaining will be raised by the SPV). “Karnataka State govt. has already infused its share in the project,” he tweeted.