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Before Mumbai Metro hits tracks, a fare controversy

The much-awaited 11.4-km Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar Metro rail, scheduled to start operations on Sunday, has been hit by a major controversy over fixation of fares.

On the one hand, the Maharashtra government and its undertaking Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) say operator Mumbai Metro One Pvt Ltd (MMOPL), a subsidiary of the Anil Ambani-controlled Reliance Infrastructure, will have to abide by the concession agreement and charge fares of Rs 9, 11 and 13. On the other, MMOPL, which has announced a promotional fare of Rs 10 for a month from Sunday, irrespective of distance, claims that the provisions of Metro Act, which overrules the concession agreement, entitles it to fix the fare. The operator has proposed to set fares at Rs 10, 20, 30 and 40.

MMRDA, which holds a 26 per cent equity stake in MMOPL, has filed a writ petition in the Bombay High Court against the company board’s decision on fare fixation. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan told Business Standard: “According to the tender, Reliance Infra agreed to charge fares of Rs 9, 11 and 13 for the journey (depending on distance). But now, it is planning to charge between Rs 10 and Rs 40. This is totally unacceptable; MMRDA has already approached the high court.” He indicated he might not attend the Metro’s inauguration, scheduled for 10 am on Sunday, if the company sticks to its decision on the new fare structure.

Chavan said the fare should have been fixed by the fare-fixation committee, comprising a sitting or retired judge and representatives of the Union and state governments. He alleged: “The Bharatiya Janata Party (which is in power at the Centre) is helping Reliance Infra in fare hike.” He added BJP must make its stand clear on the issue of fares and take responsibility for any hike in ticket rates.

MMOPL Director Debashish Mohanty, however, strongly defended the fare block of Rs 10 to Rs 40, saying it came to 1.5 times the bus fare charged by the BrihanMumbai Electric Supply & Transport (BEST) — Rs 6 to Rs 25 per trip — on the Versova-Ghatkopar route. “The Rs 10-40 fare, fixed in line with Section 33 of the Metro Act, is sustainable and affordable for people. MMOPL is duty-bound to fix the fare. The promoter is not going to get returns during the first year. We are in no way undermining the authority of the state government or MMRDA.”

On the chief minister’s statement, Mohanty reiterated his stand that the Metro Act would prevail. To a question on whether the company would start services if the chief minister skipped the event, Mohanty said “all are invited at 9.45 am on Sunday”.

Mohanty also said MMOPL would take a call on when to approach the fare-fixation committee for revision of rates and informed the Maharashtra government had yet to nominate its representatives on the committee.

Meanwhile, MMOPL CEO Abhay Mishra said the project cost had increased to Rs 4,321 crore from Rs 2,356 crore and the operation and maintenance cost had shot up to Rs 240 crore as on date (from the annual Rs 100 crore estimated in 2007). Mishra said MMOPL had all necessary clearances and the railway board had on Thursday given its final security clearance for the first phase of the Metro.

The Mumbai Metro is to run from 5.30 am to midnight every day, with a total of 16 rakes deployed on the sector, at an average speed of 80 kmph. Each of the colourful four-coach rakes will have a capacity to carry 375 commuters (1,500 commuters per service). “The number of coaches will be increased to six per train by 2017,” said Mishra.

Around 600,000 commuters are expected to travel by the Mumbai Metro daily, said Mishra, adding the total capacity would subsequently be scaled up to 1.5 million a day. “There will be 270-280 services both ways at intervals of around four minutes, covering the distance between Versova and Ghatkopar within 21 minutes.”

At present, the Versova-Ghatkopar East-West corridor has no suburban train link. It is serviced by either BEST public buses or cabs, which take 90 to 120 minutes, depending on traffic density. The 12 stations are conveniently located, starting with Versova, DN Nagar, Azad Nagar, Andheri, Western Express Highway (WEH), Chakala, Airport Road, Marol Naka, Saki Naka, Subhash Nagar, Asalpha Road, Jagruti Nagar and terminating at Ghatkopar.

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