Chennai Metro hires World Bank body IFC as advisor

The garbage strewn approach to the Triplicane station of MRTS in Chennai

The Chennai Metro has hired a World Bank member, IFC, to act as Lead Transaction Advisor for the Chennai Metroi Rail project.

According to a media release, the aim is to provide “efficient and affordable” services through the Metro. Before pointing out the complete disconnect between the Chennai transport bureaucracy and public needs, here is the rest of the announcement.

IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, is to help Chennai Metro Rail Limited establish operations of two metro corridors. IFC was, the release said, engaged by Chennai Metro, a public sector unit, to be Lead Transaction Advisor for the project. It will help structure operations and manage arrangements of public-private partnerships with an experienced private operator. IFC also will work closely with experts from the World Bank Group to structure the project, marketing it to reputed operators, and help Chennai Metro organize a competitive selection process for the operator.

The Managing Director of the Chennai Metro Rail Limited, K. Rajaraman has made the following observation about the obvious – “Successful implementation of the Chennai Metro Rail project will help address the city’s traffic problems and reduce vehicular pollution.” “Shorter travel times and comfortable transportation will directly impact economic productivity and improve living standards.” (We must thank Mr. Rajaraman for indirectly acknowledging the poor standards that are available today). He also noted that IFC’s global experience with mass-transportation projects will support expertise in India and help structure sustainable operations and project management.

“The Chennai Metro project aligns with IFC’s strategic focus on promoting inclusive growth by providing access for all to a developed mass-transportation system as well as helping reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” said Laurence Carter, IFC Director for Infrastructure Advisory. “Moreover, by showcasing the private sector’s role, the project could be a model for developing similar infrastructure projects in India.”

It is obvious from the above statements that the major issue here is the inclusion of the private sector, and therefore profit payouts. We will have to wait to see what impact such policies have on objective first stated above, which is efficiency and affordability.

When we look at the present, there is little to hope for. The same transport bureaucracy in Chennai which is supposed to supervise existing arrangements has left the MRTS system in a shambles. As newspapers occasionally report, several MRTS stations are not yet complete (possibly waiting for ‘inclusive development’), and all are dirty, forbidding and decrepit. There is no information system for passengers worth mentioning. Finally, the service levels are abysmal, with one train every 20 minutes for several hours a day, and one in 30 minutes in the afternoon. Is this the World Bank’s idea of efficient transport? The trains are sometimes horribly crowded, have poor lighting and are an invitation to crime.

Mr. Rajaraman also needs to explain whether his 2.5 billion dollar Metro will also offer such ridiculous service levels. Also, what has happened to the reported move of the Chennai Metro to take over the MRTS?

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