Activists in Karnataka hailed the announcement made by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in his 2018 Budget speech, where he allocated Rs 17,000 crore for 160 kilometres of Bengaluru’s suburban rail network.
This comes after years of activism and awareness campaigns held by Citizens for Bengaluru, a citizen group in the city. The project was earlier mooted by various ministers since 2010, including Sadananda Gowda and Suresh Prabhu, but it was never implemented.
With the Centre’s decision to provide financial assistance to the project, it appears that the long-awaited suburban rail system could soon be a reality.
On December 17, 2016, Citizens for Bengaluru held a 'Chuku Buku Railu Beku' awareness campaign in trains and railway stations in the city, demanding a suburban railway service. Citizens were urged on social media to board a train from the Cantonment station in the city to Bangarpet.
The issue was also mentioned in the 'Citizens' Manifesto' released by the group in 2017.
The suburban rail project will be implemented on a cost sharing basis between the Government of Karnataka and Ministry of Railways.
On Wednesday, the Karnataka state government approved the release of funds for phase 1 of the project over the next two years.
The estimate time for completing the project has been set at three years.
How a suburban rail network will help citizens in the city?
Bengaluru civic activists insisted that the 40 railway stations and 180 km of tracks in Bengaluru should be used by the government to strengthen the railway service, instead of spending money on adding buses or extending metro services.
They argue that rail connectivity can be achieved much faster by using existing tracks and at a fraction of the cost of building a metro.
Besides improving connectivity to Kempegowda International Airport from the city, the project will help commuters travelling from Hosur, Kunigal, Chikballapur and Tumakuru to the city.
Srinivas Alavalli, co-founder of Citizens for Bengaluru, said, "This is a huge victory for citizen activism and it will inspire more people to join such movements. Since many announcements have been made in the past we expect to see real action by introduction of 10 new trains in the next year."