Bullet train foundation stone laid with eye to Gujarat polls: Congress

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New Delhi, Sep 14 (IANS) Questioning the economic viability of the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project, the Congress on Thursday said the foundation stone laying ceremony was timed ahead of the Gujarat elections, primarily to push projects just before the polls.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on Thursday laid the foundation stone for India’s first 508-km high-speed rail project in Ahmedabad.

Instead of giving priority to safety measures in the railways, the Prime Minister was laying the foundation stone for the bullet train in Ahmedabad and not in Mumbai keeping in mind the upcoming assembly elections in the state, it said.

The party also said it was done to “mislead the people”.

Congress leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said his party was not against any development project, “but the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project is not economically viable”.

“The air fare for Mumbai to Ahmedabad is Rs 2,000, and the bullet train fare would be between Rs 2,800 and Rs 5,000… Only if one lakh passengers travel in the train, the project will be economically viable,” said Kharge.

He added that Rs 60,000 crore was being spent on land acquisition and the estimated Rs 1,10,000 crore cost of the project could further escalate by the time it was implemented.

Kharge said: “We have seen 19 major (railway) accidents in the past one year and Rs 1.1 lakh crore is required for rail safety. But this government has allocated only 5 per cent of that amount so far.

“The government earned Rs 175,000 crore profit from petrol and diesel excise duties. They can give at least Rs 40,000 crore from that profit for railway safety measures,” he added.

The Congress leader said there were three lakh vancancies in the Indian Railways of which there were 1,42,000 vacancies on the safety side, which needed to be filled first.

The party also slammed the government for having 12 halts for the 500-km Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project, saying even Rajdhani Express did not have so many stops for a similar distance and “it was done just to mislead the people”.

“Even before the train picks up speed, it will halt at the next stop. Most of the stops are in Gujarat and there are stops in places which have a population of just 36,000,” said Congress spokesperson R.P.N. Singh.

“The UPA government had signed an agreement with Japan in 2013. This was a $7 billion contract envisaged under the Delhi-Mumbai Economic Corridor that would have also led to the introduction of bullet trains.

“It is a matter of deep concern that while the Prime Minister once again adopted a UPA project, it took him 3.5 years to come to this stage of laying a foundation stone, only to ensure that it is timed with the Gujarat election,” he added.

Singh also said: “At this rate it will take years and years to complete since basics like land acquisition, intricate details are yet to be completed.”

“The government has completely abdicated its responsibility towards safety to the crores of rail passengers who travel daily on trains. At least 259 passengers have been killed and 973 injured in 29 major railway accidents since the Modi government took office,” he added.

Kharge also listed four high-speed train projects the UPA government had been planning since 2005 — Chennai-Bangalore-Mumbai, Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Delhi, Ludhiana-Amritsar-Kolkata and Ahmedabad-Mumbai-Pune via Thane trains.

–IANS

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