Friends from the media, I am extremely grateful to hon’ble Chief Minister of Karnataka for agreeing to meet me literally on a phone call, at short notice. But I would like to share with you the sequence of events so you know that today seems to be an auspicious day for me personally, and I think for all of us in this room and for the citizens of Bengaluru.
I had actually come to Lord Tirupati Balaji for Darashan from Nellore. I did my Darshan in the morning, and in the normal course I would have probably gone to Mumbai, my home city, from Tirupati. But somehow today I felt that while I am here already, I should also review the working of the zone in Karnataka, the SWR zone and I called up the general manager this morning and said that I will come and review the working of the zone, please keep your officials ready. And I had in mind to address you, at 12:30 I had called you, to talk about the achievements of Ministry of Railways.
And I want to spend 2-3 minutes to tell you that because that was the purpose of our meeting today. And why I am saying it is an achievement because Karnataka has seen railway development like never before in the history of Independent India. I say this because the construction of new railway lines in Karnataka has become three times what it was before 2014. It used to be 23 kms per year of new lines between 2004 to 2014, in 10 years, per year 23 kms.
After our government came in, we increased it to almost 67 kms per year, three times. Similarly, doubling work which was about 35 kms a year earlier has increased to 56 kms per year. Electrification is even better story: 8 kms per year which was done before we came in has increased to 177 kms per year, almost 21 times and that is good for environment that is good for faster connectivity. And the same story goes on.
Stations, we have almost doubled the number of stations which are taken up for upgradation. Free Wi-Fi is being introduced in all the stations. We will have every station of Karnataka having free Wi-Fi. Freight loading has increased significantly. Capital investments, capex in Karnataka, has become nearly two and a half times what it was earlier. So I had actually come to review all these works and report back to you, but during the discussion I saw that the Bengaluru Suburban Project had come to a stalemate.
I do not know if you recall the history of this project. While the project has been in discussion for 20 years, more than 20 years. When I became Rail Minister on 3rd of September 2017, I was visiting Bengaluru on 16 September 2017 along with Ananth Kumarji, the late leader, my elder brother and I think one of the most popular faces that Indian parliament had, 6 times Member of Parliament from Bengaluru. His smiling face comes to our eyes even as we speak and literally with tears in his eyes that day on 16 September 2017, he said, ‘Piyush, my dream is to see Bangalore get a good, strong, vibrant suburban railway.’
On 16 September I went straight to DRM’s office and from there the journey of Bangalore suburban railway once again started to the extent that on 16 September I ordered a RITES pre-feasibility study, gave them only 30 days. In 30 days, I got the pre-feasibility examined, submitted it to the state government on 29 December 2017. We included it in the budget of 2018-19. This was included in the budget of 2018-19 by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, of course, subject to approval of state government.
We got the feasibility study sanctioned in March 2018 within a few days of the budget getting approved. As soon as the budget got approved, we immediately ordered a feasibility study by RITES. The feasibility study report was received in 30 November 2018 and on 17th December we put it up for approval by …. This speed of a project, such a large project costing nearly 23,000 crores, I don’t think you would have seen any time and a project which was already 20 years in the making, within a span of 16-17 months we converted a dream into a reality.
And for that we even changed the suburban policy which had envisaged 80% state government share, 20% central government. We even changed that to 50-50, that 50% central government will share and 50% state government. In lieu of that we have asked the state government to allow us some extra floor space index which will not cost the state government anything but will help us raise some more revenues.
Unfortunately, while approving the project on 16 January 2019, the state government in the cabinet had put 19 conditions and when I was reviewing today the projects at the DRM office, it was brought to my notice that these conditions have still not got resolved. I had actually called up hon’ble Chief Minister, I think early February, first or second February sir I had called you, requesting to review these conditions and give us a clean approval so we can take it forward. Then I met hon’ble, former Prime Minister Shri Deva Gowda Ji on 12th of February in parliament and requested him also to get it resolved expeditiously.
But today when I was reviewing and I saw that it is not yet approved. I requested hon’ble Chief Minister if I could call on him and discuss this matter and resolve it with his goodself. I am really grateful that he gave me time. He actually cancelled his other programmes and invited me to his home. Thank you very much sir and I am delighted that within a span of one meeting we have been able to resolve all these 19 conditions. The railways also has agreed to give 6000 crores worth of land free of charge to this project. 6000 crores land will be given with only one rupee lease rent which is outside suburban policy, so I have to go back and further change the suburban policy and this 6000 crore rupee land the railways will give at only one rupee token lease rent, so actually free of charge to Bangalore. Because we believe that Bangalore citizens have waited long enough and we should have a suburban railway serving the people of Bengaluru.
We have resolved all the issues. There was some talk of cutting down the central Bengaluru area, which was one of the conditions so railways will have suburban railways in some portion, then metro railway, then again suburban railway. It will be unviable. Passengers would have to get down at one point, board a metro train, get down from metro, board a suburban. These are not the practical ways to set up infrastructure project. I am happy that hon’ble Chief Minister has agreed to the railway’s proposal that it will be through and through, the 160 kms that we have planned will be continuous. It will have about 70 kms of elevated rail line, because I understand that it is impossible to acquire land in big number in the city of Bengaluru and that could be one of the reasons this project was a non-starter.
So in September 2017, I had actually told them to plan for 100% elevated suburban railway. But the cost was becoming unviable and too much and, therefore, we planned about 90 kms on grade for which the railways was to give their land worth 6000 crores to the SPV. But at the request of state government, the railways has agreed to give that land free of charge. Therefore, the project cost has come down drastically and the people of Bengaluru will be able to get good services at affordable prices.
Suburban railway, as you know, is always much cheaper than metro and other forms of transport. This will help to decongest the road network and it will take Sadanand Gowda and PC Mohan off my back, because every time I would reach my office either PC Mohan was sitting on my head or Sadanand Gowda was fighting with me to speed up this and I could not do it faster than this. This is the fastest project that has ever been approved in Indian railways and today in this meeting we have resolved all the issues.
I am hoping that the cabinet on the 25th will take a considered view and approve it as discussed today so that we can process it in Delhi. I will also have to go to cabinet in Delhi and I am hopeful that we can start work on this project expeditiously. Unfortunately, somebody in the press was trying to link it with the Lok Sabha elections. Sir, on 16th of September 2017, there was no Lok Sabha election, nothing. It was Ananth Kumar’s teary eyes and for me I think that is the greatest gift we can give to Ananth Kumarji who was the leader of Bengaluru, who was my elder brother, who loved me, looked after me like a child from my early days in politics and I think it is the least all of us in the room can do for Ananth Kumarji’s memory and for the people of Bengaluru.
“However, the city now faces numerous challenges in transportation. There has been demands of citizens and citizens’ groups given the transportation problems of Bengaluru for urgent development of suburban railway infrastructure in Bengaluru.” And I am happy, if they can approve it in the 25th meeting that this project should start work fast. We have approved it in the budget in 2018-19 with the blessings of honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi. And we will hope and pray that together both governments can work to take it forward fast. Before the elections I used to say that when there is a double engine working for development, then development happens at double the speed, like in a train if there is a double engine then train runs fast. Of course, the people of Karnataka gave us 104 seats, about 10 seats less, otherwise the double engine would have worked much faster.
And, by the way, in my plans, I had told them to put air-conditioned rakes also, so we have provided air-conditioned rakes from the beginning itself. Not like Mumbai, which is getting it after so many years, because Congress governments in the past never planned for it. We have planned – I don’t mean to politicize it, I was just mentioning before 2014, I am not referring to the state government here – before 2014, nobody thought of air-conditioned rakes. Now in Mumbai also we are giving air-conditioned rakes, but for the citizens of Bengaluru, particularly, they are IT-enabled and IT-savvy, so they want to have Wi-Fi and everything. So every station will have Wi-Fi, all the stations in Karnataka will have Wi-Fi in the next six months, every suburban station will have Wi-Fi as we set it up. And we will try and expand more and more air-conditioned rakes, so that they can have comfortable journey and go to work fresh.
February 21, 2019 Speaking at Foundation Stones for Several Railway Projects, in Andhra Pradesh