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Blame game over major faults on Delhi Metro line

Publication Date : 25-07-2012


The shutdown of a major line on the showcase Delhi metro has once again thrown the spotlight on India's preferred model to revamp its creaking infrastructure.

In a country where the transport network is patchy at best, the Delhi Metro - touted as on a par with the New York and London systems - had the reputation for working like clockwork.

But it is under scrutiny after the closure this month of the Airport Metro Express, a high-speed corridor linking the airport to the heart of the city, over safety concerns. It is not expected to reopen at least until September because of repair works.

An inspection by a team from the Delhi Metro Rail Corp, Indian Railways and Reliance Infrastructure, a private firm jointly operating the line with city authorities, found clips securing the tracks had snapped as well as faulty bearings along the structure. Officials said the defects raised the prospect of derailments.

A blame game has erupted between Reliance and Delhi Metro over the defects. 'The nature of the defects is such that the design specifications have not been followed in construction itself,' said a spokesman for Delhi Airport Metro Express, a Reliance Infrastructure subsidiary.

Delhi Metro has blamed Reliance for the current mess. According to the terms of an agreement, the Delhi Metro Rail Corp was responsible for design and construction of the line and Reliance Infrastructure for operating and maintaining it for 30 years. Revenues were to be shared.

India is looking to pump US$1 trillion into overhauling its infrastructure over the next five years, building roads and airports, and tackling chronic power blackouts. And to achieve this, it is pushing for a model that encourages the government and private sector to work together - the so-called public-private partnership, or PPP.

But analysts said the model is deficient in many ways including red tape, scarcity of capital and proper assessment of risks associated with projects.

"PPP projects have not been successful where the private sector has been asked to manage risks beyond its control," said Arvind Mahajan, infrastructure expert at consultants KPMG.

Uncertainty of policies, problems with land acquisition, environmental clearances and corruption in awarding contracts are also seen as drawbacks for private players.

Analysts believe the failure to properly implement the PPP model has also led to problems in some other sectors. "When the models were created, there was not enough professional knowledge and... attention to detail. So for instance, the... partnership in the power sector is failing and such partnerships in transport, roads and toll bridges are also a mess," said architect Sudhir Vora.

"The airport line itself is an example of poor execution and lack of supervision. In the rush to open the line for the Commonwealth Games, someone overlooked safety and execution so it could start," said Rishi Sahai, director at consultancy firm Cogence Advisors in Delhi.


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