Large-scale Japanese investment in India has not quite materialised despite a recognisably high potential. The Japanese investors who are accustomed to clockwork precision have found India slothful and Indian infrastructure inefficiently-run and inadequate. There has been a tendency for Japan to look elsewhere. Now, however, with opportunities in China drying up due to saturation point having been reached and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the helm in Japan who is particularly well-disposed towards India, the Japanese are looking at this country somewhat indulgently.
The bullet train between Ahmedabad and Mumbai the work on which was launched formally on Abe’s two-day visit at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday could trigger a new pace of co-operation between the two Asian giants. The high-speed train, which on projected completion in 2022 would run 70 trips a day between the two cities would truly usher in a revolution of sorts. With 81 per cent of the cost to be met through a negligible 0.1 per cent interest loan from Japan to be paid after 50 years, and many industries typically expected to come up along the 500 km route the ‘bullet’ train which will run at an average speed of 250 kms would be followed by similar trains on several other key routes.
The government is currently reviewing the feasibility of six other High-Speed Rail Links. These are Delhi-Mumbai, Delhi-Kolkata, Mumbai-Chennai, Delhi-Chandigarh, Mumbai-Nagpur and Delhi-Nagpur. The Ahmedabad-Mumbai high-speed project is a joint venture between Indian Railways and Japanese firm Shinkansen Technology. The total estimated cost is Rs. 1.08 lakh crore of which the Japanese soft loan will cover 81 per cent. The Indian government has gone so far as to say that this loan was “tantamount to a grant.”
As part of the project, a dedicated High Speed Rail Training Institute is being developed in Vadodara and will become functional by end of 2020. Around 4000 staff members will be trained in this institute and they will be responsible for operation and maintenance of the ambitious project. This project is likely to generate employment for about 20,000 workers during the construction phase, who will be trained specialist to take up construction of such projects in India.
That such a project that would catapult India into a new age and is virtually free of interest on the loan is being criticised by sections of the Opposition is a clear example of how and why the Indian Opposition woefully lacks credibility. Had the Opposition welcomed the ushering in of the project and its terms, it would have looked responsible and forward-looking. But it has chosen a response which makes it look utterly anti-progress and obscurantist.