In 2020, when the Budget was announced, Coronavirus was just a local problem of China. But in last one year we all know how the local problem of China became a global problem and also how China came out of the problem relatively less affected while rest of the world is still struggling to come to terms with the crisis. In India, when things seemed to be crawling back to normalcy, we are hearing invasion of second wave which if turns out to be true will push us back to the position where we were in March-April last year. Change in the tide is visible especially in some of the pronouncements made in the latest budget and we have to see whether these statements make any further progress.
We all know that our Metro and other major cities which were once the nerve centres of economic actions have turned out to be the epicentres of the pandemic. While rest of the country recovered from the pandemic quite fast, our major cities proved to be laggards in this respect. The latest budget has presented a mixed picture as the Finance Minister addressed several issues related to urban infrastructure but kept funds allocated for transfer to the states for centrally sponsored schemes static. Still the budget has rightly focused on the most crucial factors – cleanliness, mobility, and shelter. Now the government should not waste further time and make preparations to implement these programmes on war footing.
By now its clear that one of the biggest contributors to the pandemic spread is the public transport and the experts also blame our poor public transport as the main reason for the spread of second wave in cities like Mumbai.
Vast country like ours has a metro rail network of only 702 kilometres and another 1,016 kilometres of the network is under construction in 27 Indian cities. Fortunately, the government has taken note of this as the FM has declared in her budget speech that the expansion of rail-based mass transit system shall be carried out for Tier-II cities and fringe areas of Tier-I cities, primarily through the application of MetroLite and MetroNeo technologies. According to the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, the Metrolite trains would have 3-car units capable of carrying 300 passengers at a maximum speed of 60 kilometres per hour. The trains would be powered by 750V DC overhead traction and run on standard gauge of 1,435 millimetres width laid at grade or elevated sections. Capital costs of MetroLite trains are about 40 percent of conventional metro lines and are also cheaper to maintain. The MetroNeo trains, which are even cheaper, can run on road slabs and have rubber tyres. Therefore, the government should promote these technologically advanced systems in non-metro cities on urgent basis.
The government should promote mobility enhancing projects along with increased attention towards cleanliness so as to prevent recurrence of pandemics like Corona in future. Proper fund allocation and speedy and timely execution of the projects are at the core for success of any urban projects. If we fail to do so we will be sending a wrong message to the people at large that we haven’t learnt any lessons from our past mistakes.