AHMEDABAD: Former prime minister and senior Congress leader Manmohan Singh today said the Centre’s bullet train project is an “exercise in vanity”, accusing the BJP-led government of “misplaced priorities.” He said it should have focused on improving the existing passenger rail network.
Dr Singh was speaking to traders and businessman in Gujarat, where assembly elections will be held next month. Amid sharp criticism of the Centre’s policies like last year’s notes ban and the Goods and Services Tax or GST, the former Prime Minister also slammed the plan for a bullet train, to first run between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, and for which the foundation stone was laid in September this year by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.
“Gujarati entrepreneurs know very well that if a deal is too good to be true, it probably is not,” said Dr Singh, alleging that the project will benefit neither Gujarat nor the country.
PM Modi has said Japan will give India a loan of Rs. 88,000 crore at 0.1 per cent interest for the project, a joint venture between Indian Railways and Japan’s Shinkansen Technology, expected to be completed by 2022. India’s first bullet train will connect Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujarat, to Mumbai, cutting travel time from seven hours to less than three.
“Rs. 88,000 crore through a soft loan may seem like easy money, but it still needs to be repaid to the Japanese,” Dr Singh said, stating that the government should have instead focused on the existing passenger rail network. “The bullet train project requires the creation of a parallel infrastructure while our existing passenger rail network is languishing and needs a dire infusion of funds to improve both safety and speed,” he said.
The former PM said the past year has seen the highest number of deaths due to derailments in more than a decade, but the “government’s priorities are misplaced.” He asked if PM Modi has considered the alternative of introducing high speed rail across India by upgrading the existing broad gauge infrastructure.
Dr Singh said his government had in 2005 signed a deal with the Japanese government for a dedicated freight corridor. That project, he said, will create a multiplier effect on the economy, with upgradation of transportation technology, increase in productivity and reduction in unit transportation cost.