While on one hand, the Narendra Modi government is leaving no stone unturned to bring the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train on track by 2022, a RTI query seems to raise question on whether the project, estimated at Rs 1,10,000 crore, is actually the need of the time.
The RTI query by Mumbai activist Anil Giglani has revealed that over 40 per cent of seats on all the trains on this sector go vacant causing huge losses to Western Railway.
According to the RTi reply, only in the past one quarter, the Western Railway's staggering losses on this sector is nearly Rs 30 crore, or around Rs. 10 crore per month.
"The Indian government is over-enthusiastic and plans to spend more than Rs 1 lakh crore on the Bullet Train project, but it has not done its homework properly," Galgali said, adding it raises serious question marks on the viability of the Bullet Train project, whenever it comes up.
The Indian Railways have also admitted that they have no plans to introduce any new trains on this sector which is already in the red.
Replying to Galgali's query on seats occupancy on all the trains between the two cities, the WR revealed that in the past three months, 40 percent all seats went vacant on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad sector and 44 percent empty on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai route.
WR's Chief Commercial Manager Manjeet Singh said that between July 1-September 30, there are 32 mail/express serving this sector with a total seating capacity of 735,630 seats on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad sector.
Of these, only 441,795 seats were booked during that period generating a revenue of Rs 30,16,24,623 against the total estimated expected income of Rs 44,29,08,220 - incurring a huge loss of Rs 14,12,83,597 in the past quarter.
Similarly, on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai route served by a total of 31 mail/express trains with a seating capacity of 706,446, only 398,002 seats were booked, resulting in a revenue of Rs 26,74,56,982 against the estimated expected income of Rs 42,53,11,471, spelling a massive loss of Rs 15,78,54,489.
The WR provided the data of all the major trains plying on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Mumbai route like the Durantos, Shatabdi Expresses, Lokshakti Express, Gujarat Mail, Bhavnagar Express, Saurashtra Express, Vivek-Bhuj Express and others.
Faced with the vacancies on existing trains, the WR Divisional Engineer, Ahmedabad informed that there is no fresh proposal to introduce any new trains on this sector.
In fact, Galgali said that the most popular train, 12009 Shatabdi Express with a capacity of 72,696 seats sold only 36,117 during the July-September period on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route and in the return direction of the total 67,392 seats, only 22,982 were sold.
This train, which once always ran packed in all seasons both ways has now proved to be a loss-maker, and the executive chair car with 7,505 seats was practically deserted with just 1,469 seats booked, plummeting revenues from the estimated Rs 1,45,49,714 to a paltry Rs 26,41,083 during the last quarter.
The position in all other trains was similar and though there is a higher demand for sleeper class compared to seats, the WR has not done enough to augment its capacity.
Galgali pointed out that given this current alarming scenario, coupled with growing preference for flights and improved road travel, the Central and Gujarat governments must review the expensive option of the Bullet Train before it becomes a white elephant for the Indian taxpayers.