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Lack of funds, interest and selfish reasons the metro rail project is not able to extend till old city areas in Hyderabad. The political-will is the main reason behind this delay. And it will continue for long till the politicians feel pressure from public.

Not anytime soon, according to the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) who have been demanding that the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government release Rs 1,000 crore funds for the Hyderabad Metro Rail Project as promised in the Telangana budget this financial year.

While the eastern parts of the old city have access to the metro via the Malakpet station. The western region of the area is completely cut off. And residents await the promised metro stretch of six kilometres from Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station (MGBS) metro station to Faluknuma as part of the second phase, which was promised by the Telangana government before the 2018 elections.

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The Hyderabad Metro Rail, which was inaugurated in 2017, in its first phase covers a distance of 69.2 kilometres across three corridors, from Miyapur to LB Nagar, from Jubilee Bus Station (JBS) to MGBS and from Nagole to Raidurgam. It runs along the middle of the Old Mumbai Highway, dividing city blocks and communities. In cities like Bengaluru and Chennai, parts of the metro run underground and blend into the city. In Hyderabad however, the metro rail stands out. It’s a fully elevated, grey concrete structure that stands apart from the city landscape.

However, some transport researchers argue that it provides little last-mile connectivity and doesn’t connect the parts of the city with larger population density. And the people with perhaps the least access to the metro are from the predominantly Muslim, old city of Hyderabad.

Syed Amin Ul Hasan Jafri, a Member of Legislative Council from AIMIM says the Hyderabad Metro Rail Project at the time of its planning did not carry out any public consultation with locals of the old city.

“The east side of the old city has access to the Hyderabad Metro at Malakpet metro station and also to the Multi-Modal Transport System (MMTS), but those who are on the west have to commute and spend more to reach the metro or the MMTS,” says Jafri.

On the western part of old city, you have Hussain Alam, Patter Darwaza, Purana Pul, there is Mangalghat, Dhoolpet and Begum Bazaar, says Jafri ”These are slums with high population densities but none of these areas is covered by the metro or the MMTS,” he adds.

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The Telangana government before the state election in 2018 had made announcements over Phase 2 of the Hyderabad Metro extending the lines from Raidurgam to the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA) at Shamshabad. The plan also included extending the metro line from LB Nagar and from Faluknuma to Shamshabad. However, these plans are yet to come to fruition.

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In October 2020, the L&T Group, who took over the project in 2013,  had expressed their intention to exit the Hyderabad Metro Rail Project, citing losses. The metro is operated by L&T Metro and the Hyderabad Metro Rail Limited (HMRL), representing the government side, through a Public-Private Partnership (PPP).

L&T Metro says that it suffered a net loss of Rs 382 crore from the Hyderabad Metro Rail Project in FY 2019-20. The loss has been attributed to the closure of the metro service for 170 days during the COVID-19 pandemic induced lockdowns. The year before, the company had reported a profit of Rs 16,344 crore and losses of Rs 149 crore. The Hyderabad Metro reportedly has cost overruns to the tune of Rs 16,000 crore.

“To overcome the huge financial burden on us, and for some respite, we are exploring different options with all related stakeholders. Due to COVID-19, Hyderabad Metro Rail operations were suspended for about 170 days. Presently, our prime focus is to continue operations adhering to safety norms,” a spokesperson of the L&T Metro Rail (Hyderabad) Limited told #KhabarLive at the time.

“Now the operator is seeking compensation in the form of aid, this puts further strain on the state,” said Jafri. Reports suggest the Telangana government has turned down L&T Metro’s request for aid but has instead offered to assist in procuring soft loans. “The state is already facing a financial crunch and L&T Metro has overspent on the metro construction by Rs 3,756 crore. Now they have no money for completing the remaining stretch to Faluknuma, nor do they seem to have funds for Phase 2,” he adds.

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Professor C Ramachandraiah, an Urban Transportation expert from the Centre for Economic and Social Studies, says one must pay attention to how the Hyderabad Metro Rail Project was planned in the first place.

Before the L&T Metro came into the picture, the project in July 2008 was first awarded to Maytas, an infrastructure firm promoted by Satyam Computer Services for a projected cost of Rs 12,132 crore. Maytas would lose the project a year later in 2009 when the promoters of Satyam were found to be indulging in financial fraud.

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This was in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, when the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) led by Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu was in power. The project was awarded on a Build Operate Transfer (BOT) model to Maytas by the then Government of Andhra Pradesh (GoAP). The Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) were prepared by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) at the time headed by E Sreedharan. DMRC was made a consultant for the project.

Prior to the project being awarded to Maytas, the HMRL refused to make the DPRs of the project public, says Ramachandraiah, this is despite filing Right to Information appeals, he adds.

But controversy broke when Sreedharan wrote to then Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, in September 2008 pointing out discrepancies in the project. Sreedharan raised concerns over the BOT model of awarding infrastructure projects to private companies. He also pointed out that the routes were planned to benefit the real estate sector. The GoAP was unhappy with the letter and the DRMC parted aways from the project as consultants, shortly after.

To clear the air, Sreedharan in 2008 expressed in a report, “When we discovered that the metro lines were altered and extended (DMRC had objected to this) to areas where the successful BOT operator had extensive private landholdings — a metro connection would enhance the market value of these plots four or five times — we began to feel that the tendering process was clearly not transparent enough and we withdrew from our role as prime consultants.”

Jafri says these changes in the plans have impacted connectivity for the old city. “The plans were prepared in a hurry, the DPRs that were prepared did not survey many areas with high population density and there were controversies surrounding the way GoAP awarded the project to Maytas. The company didn’t even have any prior experience building a metro. The state is also dragging its feet to complete the doubling of rail tracks for the MMTS, connecting Faluknuma to Shamshabad,” he adds.

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The AIMIM leader alleges that the originally planned routes were altered and the DPR was tailored to benefit Maytas. “If the government did the project, the plans would have been made after talks with the public, it would have served more people. But here the government agencies were not involved, the public was not consulted.

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When L&T Metro came into the picture, the DPR and routes weren’t revisited. The then government went on to approve and the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government also approved the project costs,” he says. However, Jafri says that even if the metro line is extended to Faluknuma, it does not address the connectivity issues plaguing the old city.

The area already suffers from poor bus connectivity and the existing Hyderabad Metro route to Faluknuma won’t help the locals to travel within the area, says Rathnam, a city-based transport researcher. The Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) has two bus depots at Falaknuma and Farook Nagar, and he adds that people will choose the buses as it’s cheaper.

However, Rathnam also says, “these buses are useful to commute outside the old city, they don’t service within the localities. Most of the streets are narrow, which is one reason why the buses don’t service interior routes of the old city. Also the routes are loss making for the corporation. They had tried operating mini buses in the interior routes. Unfortunately, they gave up too soon before a ridership could be built,”

Residents thus therefore mostly rely on shared autos. “The men use bikes, the women mostly walk. Using shared autos can be expensive as they have to switch autos because of no direct routes to destinations. This will be the case even if the metro comes, it is going to be equally expensive. The metro routes are being designed to follow the existing bus routes that are how the metro route has been planned. It gives residents an option to move in and out of the old city but travelling within still remains an unaddressed issue,” he adds.

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A response from L&T Metro is awaited and the story will be updated when they respond. HMRL Managing Director, NVS Reddy declined to comment on this story.

Seeing all the reports, versions and updates, it is quite evident that technically it is not viable to run the metro rail in old city and a strong political support helps to stop the process. Let’s wait and see the public reaction and other civil societies version and government review on this long-pending project. #KhabarLive #hydnews

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