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Will Agnihotri’s exit impact the bullet train project?

by | Jul 9, 2022 | India

With the change of government in Maharashtra, pending works relating to the Maharashtra section of the proposed corridor would be fast tracked.
Satish Agnihotri

New Delhi: Will the Mumbai Ahmedabad high speed corridor -popularly called the bullet train project – get adversely impacted because of the Union Government’s abrupt decision of Thursday to terminate the services of National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) Managing Director Satish Agnihotri?
Agnihotri’s removal has come at a time when congenial circumstances had emerged for the rapid execution of the JICA-funded project – a flagship scheme of the Narendra Modi government.
Following the recent change of government in Maharashtra, new Chief Minister Eknath Shinde said pending works relating to the Maharashtra section of the proposed corridor would be fast tracked.
Because of the reported non-cooperation of the earlier state government headed by Uddhav Thackeray, the project had been stalled in the Maharashtra section. Against 98.80 percent land acquired in Gujarat and 100 percent in the Union Territory of Dadar, Nagar and Haveli (DNH), just 72.25 percent of the land required for the project in Maharashtra had been acquired. The Thackeray government had also been unwilling to spare the land parcel for constructing the underground high speed station at the Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai. In past years, the NHSRCL had also been struggling to acquire land close to the Thane Creek, where a 21 km long viaduct including a 7 km-long undersea tunnel is being planned. Because of the Thackeray government’s intransigence, the Railway Board had even been mulling the idea of constructing overhead high speed lines over the existing railway lines of the mainline network. The idea had, however, was dropped, as it was found to be unworkable.
With the change of guard in Maharashtra, the obstacles are likely to get removed, an official said. “In the next three months, major decisions regarding project execution in Maharashtra will be taken”, officials said. Consultants and rail experts say that with Agnihotri’s exit, the project is unlikely to be adversely affected. “Major civil works contracts have already been awarded, while the signalling and electrical bids are being finalised in Japan”, said Vinoo Mathur, a consultant with a Japanese company.The Larsen and Toubro, incidentally, has been working on major civil contracts. In May, the NHSRCL awarded a contract to Larsen and Toubro for construction of a 116 route kilometre of high speed ballastless track. The L&T is already executing civil viaduct, station packages and special steel bridge packages.
Agnihotri’s exit apparently provides “bad optics” for the country’s flagship scheme at this juncture. In an order of July 7, the Railway Board ordered the immediate termination of service for Agnihotri, who had been pulled out of retirement one year back to head the NHSRCL. Rajendra Prasad on Thursday took charge as the NHSRCL Managing Director in addition to his duties as Director (Projects) for an initial period of three months. In past years, Prasad had been spearheading the civil works of the 352 km long MAHSR section in Gujarat. He has had previous stints in the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation Limited (DFCCIL) and the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.

Srinanda Jha
Srinand Jha
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Journalist by accident, rail, travel and political buff by choice - dissenter by compulsion. Interested in policy and governance.