An Exclusive Interview with Mr. Saito Mitsunori, Chief Representative, JICA India

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Interview Insights:

Rail Analysis: Firstly congratulations to you for being appointed as the new Chief Representative of JICA India. Please share about your journey with JICA along with working for Railway & Metro projects in India?

Mr. Saito Mitsunori: I started my career with JICA in 1995 and have been taking charge of financing for various infrastructure projects in South East Asia, Middle East and Africa. But I have strong emotional attachment to India as had stayed here as a Representative of JICA India office for four years since 2006. I am very excited about returning to India and working here again.

At that time, I was in charge of project supervision of Delhi Metro Phase 2 and Bangalore Metro. In particular, it was impressive to work closely and collaboratively with DMRC as it had a strong commitment to follow planned schedule and pursue timely completion. I well remember that DMRC used to make phone calls every day and urged me to immediately issue “No-objection letter” to proceed to the next step of procurement.

Meanwhile, luckily I got a chance to get involved in developing business plans for metro projects in Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai when these projects were still in the planning phase only. Furthermore, at that time, DFC project was at the stage of Feasibility Study and HSR project was nothing but a vague idea. Therefore, it is a great pleasure for me to witness these projects becoming reality.

 


 

Rail Analysis: As we know, India is the largest development partner of Official Development Assistance (ODA) from Japan. Can you please share the updated footprint of JICA in the Indian market for Metro, High Speed Rail, freight and other initiatives in the rail sector? What are the JICA’s current ongoing railway & metro projects in India?

Mr. Saito Mitsunori: As the largest bilateral partner for India, JICA is supporting development of railway & metro infrastructure in various regions of India.

Currently, 52.0% ofJICA’s assistance contributes to railway & metro sector, which includes Metro Rail, Western Dedicated Freight Corridor, High Speed Rail etc. in India. JICA is currently working on 9 projects in the railway sector, which include metro projects in 6 major cities of India (Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, and Ahmedabad), Mumbai–Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Project, Dedicated Freight Corridor Project and Capacity Development on Railway Safety. JICA has contributed over 1.3 trillion Japanese yen (approx. INR 86,667 crore) cumulatively in ODA loans to establish metro rail systems in the six cities.

Given the increased population in these cities and related traffic requirements, there is urgent need for Mass Rapid Transport Systems to address the issues related to growing traffic needs such as traffic congestion, vehicular pollution and the risk of traffic accidents besides environment protection. JICA’s cooperation in providing smooth financial assistance and knowledge assistance besides promoting the innovative technologies are expected to lead to the modal shift from road traffic to Metro system and will eventually lead to balanced regional development and improvement of environmental conditions.

JICA has also been supporting the project for the Mumbai- Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail (MAHSR) by providing ODA loans of 250,000 million JPY (approximately 16,667 crore INR) in total since 2017 and also technical assistance for capacity development in Operation & Maintenance. MAHSR is being constructed between Mumbai and Ahmedabad as the India’s first High-Speed Rail, using Japan’s Shinkansen technology (also known as the “Bullet Train”). Several other Japanese agencies including East Japan Railway Company (JR East), Japan International Consultants for Transportation Co., Ltd. (JIC), Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency (JRTT), Japan Railway Technical Service (JARTS), Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport & Urban Development (JOIN), Nippon Koei Co., Ltd. (NK), Oriental Consultants Global Co., Ltd. (OCG) and Japanese contractors among others are contributing to the project.

The major contracts for civil works, which cover most of the alignment in the State of Gujarat, have been concluded in 2020. Additionally, a technical cooperation project on Station Area Development (SAD) is under formulation by JICA with NHSRCL, MoHUA, Ministry of Railways and State Govts and other agencies of Gujarat and Maharashtra. The purpose of this envisaged technical cooperation is to enhance the institutional capacities of State Governments, Municipal Corporations and Urban Development Authorities to plan, develop and manage areas around MAHSR stations.

JICA has extended a cumulative total of 464,267 million Japanese yen in ODA loans (approximately INR 30,951 crore) for Western Dedicated Freight Corridor (WDFC) project having route length of approximately 1,500km along the Industrial Corridor between Delhi and Mumbai. WDFC project will help raising the share of rail transport thereby economizing the freight operations, besides creating India’s largest industrial belt in Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) area by linking the industrial parks and harbors of the states between Delhi and Mumbai in order to promote the trade, export and direct investment, thereby contributing to the employment generation and inclusive development as well.

In addition to extending loans, JICA is currently implementing the Technical Corporation (TC) Project “Capacity Development on Railway Safety”, which is expected to result in enhancing the operations and capacities of the Indian Railways (IR), Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Limited (DFCCIL) and Commission of Railway Safety (CRS) with regard to safety in railways network. Before the Covid-19 outbreak, JICA invited officials from IR, DFCCIL and CRS to attend training programs in Japan, focusing on track maintenance, rail welding, rolling stock maintenance and accident investigation.

These training programs organized by JICA showcased Japanese established practices of construction and maintenance works, and shared Japanese knowledge and experiences with Indian officials. Due to current circumstances, it is difficult for the Indian and Japanese side to physically meet and implement the activities together. However, both sides have been maintaining the virtual discussions in order to go ahead with safe railways operations.

 


 

Rail Analysis: Can you please brief us about the role of JICA in India’s development journey for the railway & metro sector? What are the initiatives JICA has implemented to support the development of railway & metro network in India?

Mr. Saito Mitsunori: As far as JICA’s achievement in railway & metro sector is concerned, Delhi Metro project, which is called a “shining example” of the India-Japan partnership, was one of the most important milestones. In 2005, the first phase of Delhi Metro was completed two years and nine months ahead of the schedule but within the budget. Thereafter, in 2011, the second phase was completed within the schedule as well as within the estimated cost.

Third phase of Delhi Metro has also been completed successfully. While we witness many infrastructure projects get delayed in India, this has been viewed as a miraculous achievement with contribution of Japanese consultants who have brought Japanese culture of precision, punctuality and safety awareness into the workplace.

Delhi Metro is also being considered as pioneer in changing the Construction culture in India, which is being emulated not only in India but in other countries as well.In this way, not only introducing innovative technologies but also sharing the knowledge and experience for capacity building are the essential part of JICA’s support. The Delhi Metro became an emulating model for other metro projects and has brought awareness of safety and efficiency at construction sites in India.

The Delhi Metro is also known as the first metro railway in the world which got carbon credits for reducing Green House Gas Emissions under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) embodied in the Kyoto Protocol. The Delhi Metro adopted Japanese technology, regenerative breaking system that permits the motors to act as electric power generators when the brakes are applied and it helped to reduce pollution levels in the city and global warming.

Furthermore, the Delhi Metro has introduced women-only train coach since 2010 and has been providing women with safe and secure commuting environment. This has contributed to the increase of their ratio in the employment and empowerment of women, besides spreading the awareness and creating the conducive environment of the free movement, education and health.

 


 

Rail Analysis: How do you view recent developments along with the rapid expansion of the Metro network and introduction of new ‘MetroLite’ and ‘MetroNeo’ systems in India? What are your future plans for funding the new ‘MetroLite’ and ‘MetroNeo’ projects?

Mr. Saito Mitsunori: JICA will choose candidate projects in consultation with and on the request from Government of India, and will appraise each project through conducting feasibility study. In general, JICA has seldom supported Light Rail Transit (LRT) like “MetroLite” and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) similar to “MetroNeo” in the world till now. This is because, for most developing countries, construction of Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) in the largest cities is regarded as the top priority to cater to the increasing population and growing traffic demand. India is establishing Metro network in the major cities at an amazing pace, but there is still room to do more. JICA has no concrete plans for MetroLite and MetroNeo as of now but intends to develop a portfolio contributing to promotion of balanced urban transport infrastructure and national development based on Japanese expertise and knowhow available in Japan.

 


 

Rail Analysis: Please share with us your views, suggestions on the recently launched National Rail Plan (NRP) by Indian Railways to become a future ready railway system by 2030. How can JICA provide its expertise in this initiative to achieve the same?

Mr. Saito Mitsunori: According to NRP, one of the most emphasized strategy is early opening and development of Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs) to increase the modal share of Railways in freight from 27% currently to 45% by 2030. As mentioned before JICA has been providing funds and expertise for Western DFC, wherein Japanese companies including two consulting firms and five contractors have been contributing. In addition to financial assistance, JICA conducted technical cooperation for Operation & Maintenance of freight railway and invited Indian officials to Japan for transfer of technology and know-how.

 


 

Rail Analysis: Any additional insights you would like to share with our readers?

Mr. Saito Mitsunori: Japan is promoting quality infrastructure focusing not only on quantity but also to realize “Quality Growth”. In accordance with this strategy, JICA is going to follow “G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment”, which prioritizes (i) openness, (ii) transparency, (iii) economic efficiency in view of life-cycle cost and (iv) debt sustainability, among other principles.

Environmental and social consideration is one of the important aspects of Quality Infrastructure Investment. While taking up such large infrastructure projects, JICA takes due care to ensure establishing a healthy and conducive environment by emphasizing on strict compliance of the procedures laid down under JICA’s Guidelines for Environment and Social Considerations.

Furthermore, construction safety is also extremely important. In order to ensure the highest safety standards on the construction sites and to prevent accidents, JICA had been raising safety concerns at all levels in India so as to request Implementation agencies, consultants and contractors to pay highest attention to safety management including a review of current safety management policy & systems, take additional measures, and ensure compliance of all the required safety measures in order to prevent accidents.


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