“More productivity with high-speed connectivity” is what India will gain from the bullet train, which the country is getting “as good as free of cost”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Thursday inaugurating the start of the prestigious project near the Sabarmati river.
With visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by his side near the site for the proposed Sabarmati station of the 508-km Ahmedabad-Mumbai high-speed rail corridor, Modi said that Japan’s loan for the project is on such easy terms that it is free of cost.
“Ek prakar se muft mein (In a way it is free),” Modi said reminding that the project was made possible thanks to the Japanese loan of Rs 88,000 crore at an attractive 0.1 per cent interest to be repaid over 50 years. “In Shinzo Abe, India has found a friend no bank in the world could match,” Modi said. Japan is financing 81 per cent of the Rs 1.08 lakh crore project through the Japan International Cooperation Agency.
“It is my wish that when India celebrates 75 years of Independence in 2022-23, Abe and I together travel in this train,” he said echoing Abe who had said in his address that he would like to come to Gujarat by the bullet train the next time he visits the state.
Abe and Modi pressed a remote control button from the dais to unveil the foundation stone even as a crane and a few workers were shown on screen starting the symbolic ground-breaking at the project site in Vadodara. A staff training centre will also come up at the site.
The high-speed rail project was conceived over 10 years ago on paper, but picked up speed only three years ago as the UPA government could never decide to go full throttle on this project which was always considered too expensive for India.
Political observers are also calling the bullet train function with Abe in Ahemdabad as the unofficial start to the BJP’s election campaign for the state polls due this year.
“The next generation economic growth will take place along high speed railways. Our stress is more productivity with high speed connectivity. This project will not only bring Mumbai and Ahmedabad closer, but the entire stretch can develop as a single economic corridor,” Modi said. “The time for slow growth is over.”
The bullet train’s official completion date is late 2023, which the government is trying to advance by about a year to coincide with 75 years of India’s independence. “If India and Japan decide, I am sure it can be done a year in advance,” he said.
Modi said that the high-speed rail corridor should be viewed in the context of overall economic development.
“Considering the time it takes to reach the airport and then take a flight and ultimately reach the destination in the city, the bullet train will take half the time for people to reach. Think of the time saved, the ‘thousands’ of vehicles that may go off road between Mumbai and Ahmedabad,” Modi said. And as a ripple effect, less cars and buses would mean less consumption of fuel, which in turn means savings in foreign currency to import fuel, he said. The bullet train will take at least 2.07 hours to cover the distance at a maximum speed of 350 km per hour and four halts. More halts will marginally increase the travel time, but never exceeding the overall journey to more than three hours.
Modi also indicated that the fares of the bullet train might be within reach of the common man. “Usually, new technology comes for an elite class of select few. Our aim is to make modern technology affordable for the poor and the common man. Now that we are infusing new, modern technology in Railways, we should ensure that the common man benefits from this new technology,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the high speed rail corridor and other developments in rail sector like doubling of lines and the Dedicated Freight Corridor were all part of the larger plan for economic growth through robust transport infrastructure. “Highways are being built, 106 waterways are being developed for carriage of goods, and now the aviation sector is trowing up new possibilities. In the past three year, the number of domestic fliers has increased by around three crores. We now also have a national aviation policy,” he said adding that post GST economic activities have seen a 30 per cent increase already.
In his address, Abe called Modi “my good friend” and wished to take the bullet train along with Modi when it completes. “My good friend Modiji has taken a decision (to build the bullet train). We have decided to totally support this decision of Modiji,” he said. Taking a leaf out of Modi’s style of inventing acronyms, Abe said if you join Japan’s ‘Ja’ and India ‘I’, it becomes “Jai”, or victory in Hindi. “Our friendship with India has developed into a strategic and global partnership”.
Abe said that the Japanese bullet train Shinkansen– the Indian bullet train will be its modern version — brought in economic development in post-World War Japan. “After the World War, Japan had become a land of burnt fields. With the advent of the Shinkansen in 1964 distances bridged, Japanese society transport with new jobs, lifestyle and economic activities, and Japan entered the 10-per-cent-plus GDP growth,” he said.