The highly ambitious dream of our PM Shri Narendra Modi for India’s first high-speed bullet train which would run between Ahmedabad and Mumbai is close to becoming a reality. As the bullet train project continues to gather steam, questions about whether high-speed trains serve India’s interests and make sense within the Indian context remain a big question.
The project funded by Japan International Cooperative Agency (JICA) is certainly going to be a new ‘feather’ in the cap of “Indian Railways”, but the question remains: are Indians dreaming of a bullet train? The average Indian is more likely to dream about a train that runs on time and helps them reach their destination on time, a train that is clean, a train whose pipelines are not chocked, a train that doesn’t stink, a train that is safe.
Anyone who actually travels by train is bound to know about the current condition of the trains. Today, the ordinary traveler, who prefers to travel by train is familiar with the unbearable frustration of sitting in trains that routinely reach their destination hours behind schedule.
Calculations already clearly show that the Indian Bullet trains are never going to be economical compared to air travel. Even the pro-Bullet train/ pro-Narendra Modi crowd agree that they will be three times more expensive than flights between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. So then the question arises, do we really need a bullet train? In a country like ours, the priority of the ruling government should be ‘Roti-Kapda-Makaan’, jobs, saving our farmers, economic stability, investing in the existing infrastructure, industrial development, robust banking and telecom sector. But what the current NDA government is doing right now is to pick up inappropriate, non-competitive and expensive technology in a clumsy effort to show to the world that we have arrived.
India’s rail network, built by the British over 160 years ago, is enormous. It carries 23 million passengers every day — equivalent to the population of Australia — on 12,000 trains over tracks that could circle the globe but Indian railways has long suffered from outdated and crumbling infrastructure. As a result, train derailments happen regularly. A dozen were reported in the past six months alone, including one at New Delhi station a few hours before Modi and Abe attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the bullet train. Around 13,000 Indians died in railway accidents in 2015 and 2016, according to official data.
The Indian Railways is the country’s largest public investment, employing over a million people. Over the decades they have been neglected and have lost market share to other modes of transport. A rejuvenation of the Indian Railways is badly needed, but not through elitist solutions like bullet trains. Investment in new rails, signaling equipment, rolling stock of wagons and upliftment of passenger facilities will ultimately lead to better services and faster trains.
There are also various barriers to the bullet train project. Cost of construction, high fares and land acquisition remain the three major issues. Already, farmers from Surat and other districts in the state have moved the Gujarat High Court against the state government’s move to acquire their land for the bullet train project. Over 3,000 farmers from 192 villages in Gujarat will be affected by the land acquisition for the ambitious project that will connect Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Farmers in Boisar in Palghar district of Maharashtra are also regularly staging protests against the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project, expressing apprehension that they would lose their land on account of it. So who is benefitting from this project? Surely not the common people of India, surely not the farmers, that is why the question arises then who?
Rather than wasting the taxpayer’s money, the NDA government under Narendra Modi should spend a great deal of time, effort and money to improve its creaking railway system, decaying banking system, the bleeding economy and more importantly safeguard the people of this great nation.
As of now, we cannot afford the bullet train. The idea of the bullet trains is not worth to be pursued. Instead, the government should re-negotiate with the Japanese authorities, The World Bank for a loan to cover the upgradation of the rail network of the entire country. If Narendra Modi can make that happen, he will surely leave a legacy that Indians will be proud of for generations to come.
Dear Modi Ji, do you have the strength, integrity and love for the country to genuinely work for the real issues? With all modesty, can I request you to let go of your arrogance and egotism for the good of the country? The country needs heroes to address the real issues. Are you one?