Committing, Overcoming Barriers: Prime Minister to inaugurate Phase I of Ahmedabad Metro in August this year
Twenty years after the conceptualization, the multiple route changes and the successive cost increases, the cases of irregularities and the consequent change of guard, Phase I of the Ahmedabad Metro is coming to an end and will be inaugurated by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in August ahead of Gujarat Assembly elections. should take place later this year.
Despite being commissioned in August, the 40-kilometre Phase 1 that will criss-cross Ahmedabad will remain incomplete as three metro stations and a 1.4-kilometre route are only expected to be completed by January-March 2023. Phase I will connect Vastral Gram in the eastern outskirts of Ahmedabad with Thaltej Gam in the west, while APMC Vasna in the south will be connected to Motera in the north.
SS Rathore, Managing Director of Gujarat Metro Rail Corporation (GMRC) – the SPV of the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar Metro Rail Project, says the lockdown due to the Covid pandemic and legal hurdles associated with land acquisition have delayed the project of a few years.
A 6.5 kilometer stretch between Vastral Gam and Apparel Park on the East-West Corridor in East Ahmedabad which was launched by Prime Minister Modi ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections has around 800-900 users per day. The 12-minute one-way journey on the ‘priority section’ costs 10 rupees.
The second priority section of the North-South Corridor between APMC Vasna and Shreyas Crossing (west of Ahmedabad) was due to be inaugurated in 2021. However, indebted infrastructure company IL&FS – previously in charge of constructing the section – expressed its inability to continue and was cleared for release in December 2018. However, the company returned to the project eight months later.
About 95% of the Phase I stands were completed this month, and GMRC officials are testing the trains and equipment installed on both corridors. “This is being done in preparation for the mandatory inspection by the Railway Safety Commissioner (CMRS), scheduled for mid-July. The process could take about a fortnight and a certification at the end of it will authorize the project for commercial operations. We promised to prepare the project in August,” Rathore said.
An official flag ahead of crucial Gujarat Assembly elections may well fare well for the BJP government in urban areas of the state where a second metro project is being constructed in Surat and a feasibility study for the construction of “light rail” in four other cities – Rajkot, Vadodara, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar – is underway. Announcement of the same was made in the Union budget in 2021 and subsequently Gujarat government allocated Rs 50 crore in the state budget for starting the projects.
Most of the metro line in the 600-year-old walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will go underground, up to 22 meters deep.
The construction cost of the underground subway line is almost 2-3 times that of the elevated line. The underground section was carried out along a densely populated stretch with a high built-up area and insufficient road width.
The metro line passes under monuments protected by the Archaeological Survey of India such as Rani Rupamati Mosque, Qutbuddin Shah Mosque, Kazi Mohammed Chisti Masjid, Delhi Darwaja and Kalupur Darwaja.
The underground section has four stations, the deepest being Gheekanta, located 22 meters underground. The others are Shahpur, Kalupur Railway Station and Kankaria East which are 13-14 meters underground. These stations will have island platforms, with the platform being in the center and metro rail tracks on either side of the platform. It is a three-level station with entrances and ventilation shafts on the ground level, a ticket office and concourse on the middle level, and platforms on the lowest level.
By the end of August, a staggering amount of Rs 12,700 crore was reportedly spent on the construction of Phase 1, an escalation of Rs 2,000 crore from March 2015 when preparatory works for the project started. The Ahmedabad metro, when completed, will cost around Rs 300 crore for every kilometer built.
Ahmedabad Metro started commercial operations in March 2019 on the 6.5 kilometer section between Vastral Gam and Apparel Park with six stations. Although more than 7.1 lakh passengers have taken the metro so far, the monthly ridership has never exceeded the March 2019 ridership figure of 38,137. Officials say the majority of users are those who go for car rides, especially on weekends.
Ridership has also remained restricted, as operational stations are only on the east side of town. The underground section on the same stretch will not only connect the western part of the city, but also connect the road to the north-south corridor, which will parallel the Sabarmati River in many places and connect the northern parts of the city. with the Narendra Modi Stadium and its surroundings at Motera in the south.
It is this north-south corridor that will further extend to GIFT City and Gandhinagar under Phase II of the project. Incomplete sections of Phase 1 include a 1.4 kilometer section between Thaltej and Thaltej Gam, the westernmost section of the now partially operational East-West Corridor. Other parts where work started late include Kankaria East Metro Station and Sabarmati Metro Station (which will provide one of two crucial interconnections for passengers traveling on the planned high-speed train and via the Indian Railways).
“The land needed for these areas was acquired late due to legal hurdles,” Rathore added. On the east-west corridor, integration was planned with the Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) at Rabari Colony and Helmet Cross Road in the drive-in area. There is integration with Indian Railways and High Speed Rail in Kalupur which has the main station in Ahmedabad.
On the north-south corridor, rail, road and metro meet at Sabarmati near Gandhi’s Ashram with Indian Railways station at Gandhigram, with Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation and BRTS at the station by Ranip. Old High Court station on Ashram Road, which is Ahmedabad’s oldest commercial thoroughfare, will be the interchange station for metro passengers looking to change lanes.
The Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the Ahmedabad Metro has been prepared or amended at least five times. Originally, the DPR for the project was submitted by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) in 2005, which included a north-south corridor spanning APMC Vasna-Income Tax-Sabarmati-Akshardham and an east-west corridor running through Kalupur – Income Tax and Thaltej.
The DPR had predicted that the section between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar would cost Rs 4,300 crore and carry 6.75 lakh passengers per day by 2010. In the same DPR, DMRC also presented a study on upgrading the regional rail system for the district of Ahmedabad which included a rail service between Barejedi-Kalupur-Kalol and Kalupur-Naroda.
Subsequently, DMRC was again commissioned by the Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board (GIDB) in 2009 to prepare a DPR for connectivity from Gandhinagar Metro to the proposed flagship financial center at GIFT City and Ahmedabad Airport. It was also requested to review certain portions of the corridors proposed in the 2005 DPR. As a result, a study was carried out by DMRC and a report was submitted in 2010.
The government of Gujarat revamped the Metro Express between Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad (MEGA) in 2011 and subsequently appointed retired IAS officer Sanjay Gupta as chairman of the MEGA special purpose vehicle. Under Gupta, the metro lines were redesigned twice and in 2012 for the first time the state government attempted to build the north-south corridor along the Sabarmati-Botad railway line which was part of the Bhavnagar Division of the Western Railway. However, it was only after a regime change in New Delhi that the Western Railways approved the route.
Once Sanjay Gupta stepped down in August 2013, the project was engulfed in a Rs 211 crore scam where Gupta was arrested by Gujarat police and imprisoned. Gupta and other MEGA officials have been accused of collecting commissions from suppliers and floating bogus companies.
Even the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has taken note of the developments happening under MEGA under Sanjay Gupta. CAG highlighted how the project resulted in an “unfruitful expenditure” of Rs 445 crore. Gupta died in Lucknow in April 2021 after contracting Covid-19.
“Even before the DPR was prepared (in August 2012) and approved by the board, MEGA started issuing purchase orders and work orders from June 2011. A total of 1,868 orders were issued between June 2011 and September 2013 at a cost of Rs. 583 crore,” the CAG said in its report in March 2016 and highlighted how the Gujarat government infused Rs 1100 crore as registered capital for MEGA between May 2011 and March 2014 .
Meanwhile, works related to alignment, expenditure planning, construction of depots and bridges, casting yards, rolling stock, protective wall and survey and collection of data for phase 1 were all stopped in September 2013, the CAG observed.
In August 2013, MEGA under IAS Officer Vijay Nehra asked DMRC to redraw the earlier DPR he had submitted. The DPR was redesigned due to “gaps” in the previous ones. It has been proposed that construction works for the upgraded project will start in June 2014 with expected completion by March 2018. It has been estimated that 4.96 lakh people will take the Ahmedabad Metro daily in 2018 with a train departing every five minutes during peak hours and 8-20 minutes during off-peak hours. This attendance was expected to increase to 6.69 lakh by 2021.
In 2014, when Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, MEGA was transformed into a special purpose vehicle 50/50 owned by the Government of India and the Government of Gujarat. However, it was not until March 2015 when the then Chief Minister Anandiben Patel laid the foundation stone for the project. At that time, the project cost for the construction of the Ahmedabad part of the metro alone skyrocketed to Rs 10,773 crore. Phase II of the project, linking GIFT City and Gandhinagar, was another Rs 5,384 crore.
In January 2019, MEGA under the leadership of retired IAS officer IP Gautam was again reorganized and renamed Gujarat Metro Rail Corporation which was the parent body for all future metro projects in the ‘State.