KOCHI: It is like a rudderless ship. A slew of development projects are on the anvil, but with no captain to navigate, Kochi Metro is struggling to stay afloat. It has been four months since Alkesh Kumar Sharma, who was at the helm of Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL) for one-and-a-half years, stepped down and the state government is yet to find a replacement. A slew of ambitious expansion projects envisaged to change Kochi’s connectivity woes are awaiting approval and the absence of a captain is delaying projects. The Centre is yet to announce the financial assistance for the second phase of Metro expansion that will significantly improve connectivity to Kakkanad.

The Chief Minister’s Office has given the additional charge of KMRL to K R Jyotilal, principal secretary (general administration), who is tied down by multiple tasks in the state capital and has little time to spare for KMRL. Several stakeholders are of the view that the metro agency, which is handling capital intensive projects like the remaining phase 1 (A &B) work of the Metro and its proposed second phase, needs a full-time managing director to fast-track the works. “It is a major mistake on the part of the government to ignore the Kochi Metro. The principal secretary is overburdened with administrative matters and giving him additional charge will result in Kochi Metro projects getting delayed,” Ernakulam MP Hibi Eden told TNIE.

He said the principal secretary even failed to attend an important meeting convened by the Centre’s Standing Committee on Urban Development. “The meeting was held in New Delhi in June. The managing directors of five metro rail operators in the country attended the meeting. Remember, the second phase of Kochi Metro’s extension to Kakkanad is yet to get the Centre’s nod. We require the state to show more interest in the project,” said Hibi.

Water Metro
Not only Kochi Metro’s expansion plans, but the `747-crore Water Metro will also be under the managing director of KMRL. Though the project, which is implemented with the help of funds from German Development Bank-KfW, is implemented by Kochi Water Metro Ltd, it is also under the managing director of KMRL. “Last week, I  submitted a letter to the Prime Minister requesting the Centre to increase the budgetary allocation for Kochi Metro from the present `5,000 crore to `7,000 Crore. Moreover, the Metro Policy of the Union government has changed. Hence, it is high time the state government decided on Kochi Metro second phase,” Hibi added.

There are also unconfirmed reports that KMRL is yet to submit the completion report of the first phase, which will give an insight into the ridership, collection and trend. The report is essential for the Centre to give its nod for the second phase. KMRL officers were unavailable for a comment.

Meanwhile, D Dhanuraj, chairman of the city-based Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR)  think tank, said earlier the public connect factor of Kochi Metro was comparatively good. “The people of Kochi are the ultimate beneficiaries of the project. They need to be informed of the developments from time to time. Even the Centre is pushing states to think of light metro. Here, we are still groping in the dark,” Dhanuraj added.

CALL TO APPOINT FULL-TIME DIRECTOR 
Many stakeholders are of the view that the metro agency, which is handling several capital intensive projects, needs a full-time managing director to fast-track the works.

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