Express News Service
Although back on track, Delhi Metro has not resumed service on a full scale. DMRC chairman Mangu Singh says things will become normal gradually. He also says that revenue has been hit due to the lockdown and they have written to three state and UT governments and the Centre for assistance. Excerpts from an interview…
For the first time, Delhi Metro was completely shut for months. What were the difficulties during and after the lockdown? Have there been changes after the resumption of services? How did DMRC manage the crisis and how is it recovering?
As far as difficulties during lockdown are concerned, there were none because trains were not running. But the system is so complex that you cannot keep it shut for long. Anticipating this, we kept the system on, on standby on the power mode. We also did a lot of work which was not possible during normal commercial operations.
We utilized the time for some major repair and improvement work. Since there was no earning for almost five-and-a-half months and the expenditure was almost the same barring electricity bills, there was a big setback as far as the finances are concerned. There is a mechanism in it when these projects were sanctioned. The sanction order says in case of operational losses, these will be shared by the central and state governments. How it will be shared, is defined there. Accordingly, we have written to the two governments two compensate DMRC for the operating losses during this period. And when operations restarted, there were restrictions. We were not in a position to carry maximum or the full number of passengers and the traffic was much less than what it was prior to the lockdown. Therefore, even now as the trains are running, the revenue is not enough to meet our expenditures.
We have estimated this and written to the governments for sharing these losses. It’s not only about two governments. Since the metro is also running in National Capital Region (NCR), we have also written to the governments of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to share their part of the loss.
Any reply from these governments yet?
This is under the consideration of the governments. We have not received any money from anyone. But we are hopeful that we will get financial support from them.
How much do the losses amount to? And how long will it take for the DMRC to recover and reach that top again?
For the first time in the history of Delhi Metro, the year is going to end with operating losses. Based on the current earnings and expenditures, operating loss for the year 2020-21 is estimated at Rs 2114.02 crore. To meet this, DMRC has written to the Centre and concerned states for financial assistance. It has sought Rs 541.33 crore from the Centre, Rs 887.72 crore from Delhi government, Rs 143.72 crore from Haryana and Rs 106.21 crore from UP. Besides, DMRC is also facing difficulties in repaying its JICA loan liability of Rs 1242.82 crore. However, as of now DMRC has claimed only 50 per cent of it. The final figure of operating losses will be known when the annual accounts for the financial year are finalised. The other 50 per cent will be claimed once the final figure of losses is ascertained.
Almost everything, restaurants, DTC and movie theatres in the capital have reopened. By when does DMRC plan to operate full-fledged metro services?
If we talk about the number of trains and services, operational services are fully functioning ever since Delhi Metro resumed services from morning to evening. We have increased the number of trains during peak hours, despite the fact that the number of passengers is less. The purpose was to provide more space and reduce the crowd in each car to maintain social distancing norms.
Had we limited the number of trains according to the traffic, the crowd would have increased. Currently, there are restrictions and norms like social distancing, alternative seating, limited entry and exit gates, and limited entry of passengers in stations/gates. As long as these restrictions are not lifted, going back to the pre-Covid situation is not possible. Let’s see. Positive cases have decreased. We have written to the Centre to provide some relaxations, like the Delhi government has to DTC buses. We have put in a request to allow full seating. Once the Centre gives permission, more passengers will be allowed in a train. Other norms like sanitizing, restricted gates, masks will be continued to be followed.
Opening of entries and exits comes under these restrictions. When will all the gates open? There are long queues at many stations and social distancing is not maintained everywhere…
We believe crowding outside the station is okay because there is space outside the station. If anyone doesn’t want to wait for long or stand in long queues, he or she can take an alternative mode. But opening gates will increase the crowd on the platforms, which don’t have that much of space to accommodate huge crowds. All these exercises are put in place to maintain social distancing. Further, opening and not opening of gates is not restricted by the government. These restrictions are made by DMRC to maintain social distancing and control the crowd inside the station and on platforms. So gates will open gradually, with the lifting of other restrictions.
As DMRC is running in losses, is there any plan to hike the fares?
No. There is no plan of hike in fares. Also, there is a mechanism for increasing ticket prices, which is not in our hands. Even if we want, we cannot because there is a separate process and function which may take a year. So as of now, we are not thinking about it.
Any other steps through which DMRC can recover the losses?
This situation is not normal and losses have not been incurred due to our inefficiency. The losses are due to restrictions and we think it’s the government’s responsibility to support and fulfill the needs, like it has in other sectors. We believe the government will support DMRC since it’s a public utility. Further, I believe it’s a temporary affair. Soon, DMRC will reach a stage when it won’t need any support.
What was passenger count before the lockdown and what is it now? Has it increased after the reopening of services?
No. In January 2020, the cumulative line utilisation was about 57 lakh passengers per day. This year, the figure was around 19 lakh.
During agitations, riots or other kinds of violence, Delhi Metro is instructed to close the stations for public service. Do you think such sudden instructions affect technical operations and hit DMRC financially?
The closure of entry and exit gates during such times does not affect passenger traffic that much. The commuter catches a train from another station or exits at the next station. These things are not in our hands. If there is security concern, and the security agency feels there is law and order situation and asks us to close a particular station, we follow it. Further, in the normal scenario, we only close the gates, not trains. They operate as usual. So, it does not affect technical operations. And these things don’t happen often. When they do, there is good cooperation between Delhi Metro and Delhi Police who stay in constant touch.
The National Common Mobility Card was inaugurated at the Airport Express Line. By when will this facility be introduced on other lines?
We have a target to implement this on the entire metro corridor by December 2021. The bidding and tendering process is on. Once the agency and everything else is finalised, we will discuss in detail how to implement it. It is not like we would implement it on one line first and then on the others. We chose Airport Express Line because its ticketing system is different. On other lines, the ticketing system is much interconnected. This will create a mess if it is done on one line and not others. Thus, it will be launched in the entire network.
The entire Pink Line from Maujpur to Majlis Park has opened for operations except for the 1.5 km missing link at Trilokpuri. Has the land dispute issue been resolved? By when will this stretch start functioning and make the Pink Line a complete circle?
All the hurdles have been removed. We expect by March all the hardware and structure of the Pink Line will be completed. After that, the signaling, driving and testing process will go on for two months. It will be ready for public movement by June.
Recently, DMRC launched a driverless train on Magenta Line. Is the same being planned on other lines? Will all Metro Lines have driverless trains in the future?
No. This system is possible in only on two lines – Magenta and Pink. Presently, we have it on the Magenta Line from Shiv Vihar to Janakpuri West. It will be introduced in Pink Line soon. But it is not possible in the existing stations, as those are not designed for this facility. It can be implemented after its renewal and we will have this one day for sure. Further, driverless trains will be there in Phase IV. The two lines are extensions of Pink and Magenta. Independent lines like Rithala to Narela, Aerocity to Tughlakabad, Lajpat Nagar to Saket will also have this system.
Work started recently on the Phase IV stretch. What is the progress? Has DMRC faced any difficulties in the implementation of Phase IV due to the lockdown?
Three lines have been approved and work is going on in full swing on those. There were setbacks during the lockdown. Fortunately, 99 per cent of it is back on track. In fact, when permissions were given in May, the work picked up pace as we had labourers to revive it immediately. But yes, there were problems with materials, labourers and logistics.
What are the updates on the other three proposed lines of Phase IV?
It is with the Central government for approval. As per information we have, it’s in the final stage. PIB notes have been prepared and will be sent to the cabinet for final approval.
Is there any plan to extend Phase IV Tughlakabad to Aerocity to T-3 ?
No. Aerocity to Tughlakabad will be extended till T-I. It is not approved/sanctioned yet, but preparations are going on. It’s a very small section. Once the government gives go-ahead, work will start.
Some of the stations on the Silver Line like Tughlakabad stretch did not get clearance from ASI? How will DMRC connect those areas? What are the plans?
There is no problem with ASI in that line. It said that you cannot take the route from here. So we changed the alignment in such a way that neither there is any involvement of ASI nor does DMRC need its approval. Now, people will ask why did you not plan this earlier. When we prepared the Detail Project Report, we anticipated that amendments in the Monument Protection Act were at an advanced stage.
So we were expecting that these activities will be permitted. After all, it’s for public utility. Do the Qutub Minar areas not have sewer lines, water lines? Are roads not laid or do buses not ply? They do and metro is also a public transport. So we anticipated that the Act would be amended. But that didn’t happen. Thus, that alignment is not permitted. Finally, after discussing with ASI, we detoured our alignment. Further, if you see, there is no station at Qutub Minar in the distance of a kilometre.
Theoretically, buses, rickshaws, autos should also be not allowed when metro is not. But for public safety, the last-mile connectivity will be provided. Similar is the case at Phase IV Janakpuri to Ashram corridor. It’s a forest for metro projects but not for buses, cars and bikes which release tonnes of pollution. Ring Road can be built or a flyover, forests can come up, but not metro. We have filed an application in Supreme Court. It’s a time consuming process and can take a few years for clearance.
It always looks like the DMRC and DDA are at loggerheads over many projects. Your comments…
DDA has its own problems. It feels DMRC cannot be given any special treatment. For instance, if we are given any relaxation, private entities will also ask for the same.
To decongest traffic snarls outside metro stations, DMRC came up with the Multi Modal Integration Plan. This has been implemented at Chattarpur station? By when will this plan be implemented at other stations?
All stations of Phase IV are equipped with the MMI Plan and some stations on the existing lines have been identified. It is not possible in all stations due to lack of space. Tenders have been floated, work is on.
Rs 2114.02 crore Estimated operating loss for 2020-21
Rs 541.33 cr from Centre
Rs 887.72 cr from Delhi govt
Rs 143.72 cr from Haryana govt
Rs 106.21 cr from UP govt
Recovering from losses incurred due to lockdown & alignment changes caused by ASI clearance to Phase IV projects, Delhi Metro chairman Mangu Singh opens up on the challenges and plans of resuming normal services, in an interview with Gayathri Mani