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Why Odisha should avoid costly metro rail, other 'unncessary' infrastructure projects

By Sudhansu R Das 

Country after country are collapsing while aggressively pursuing infrastructure-based development vision. Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Greece, Argentina and scores of small and big nations have fallen prey to spurious infrastructure development vision. Now Bangladesh is neck deep in external debt and is bound to collapse after Pakistan.
Odisha being a poor state should show wisdom while pursuing infrastructure based development vision. Though infrastructure is required for growth, it should be state specific and affordable; excess of infrastructure brings disaster.
Many countries hide financial status until they completely ruin themselves due to external debt and loan laundering. Sri Lanka's public debt to GDP ratio rose from 91% to 119% between 2018 and 2021. 
At the end of March 2022, Sri Lanka had external debt service payments of $6 billion for the remainder of 2022 against foreign reserves of US$1.9 billion. Five years back the Srilankan leaders gave a rosy picture of their country’s economy; today they are unmasked and are hiding from public wrath.
Majority of developing nations are heavily indebted; loans they have borrowed cannot be repaid because many of the infrastructure projects will not generate income; they are the victims of the loan trap economy.
China leads the loan trap economy to get geo-strategic advantage in small countries. In fact, China can’t recover the loan for many decades. Loan trap economy not only impoverishes the borrowing nations but it inflicts a deep economic wound to the lending countries.
Not all are gullible leaders who are drawn to the loan trap; many of them are greedy, luxury seeking and power hungry who jeopardize the future of their countrymen for sheer pleasure and power.
The best example is the Rajapaskshya-Gotabaya family and their cronies of Sri Lanka who destroyed their own country by not building infrastructures which are essential for Sri Lanka but by doing what is beneficial for the big infrastructure companies; they enjoyed life, sold dreams to people and escaped when public anger turned into violence and arson.
Seen in this framework, it seems absolutely not necessary to bring metro rail to Bhubaneswar; it will spoil the beautiful city Bhubaneswar -- the way metro rail has ripped apart the once beautiful city Hyderabad.
The Hyderabad metro rail has reportedly incurred a huge loss of Rs 1,746 crore in 2020-21 and has a debt burden of Rs 13,000 crore. The metro stations are letting out the marketplace to make up the loss. Majority of Hyderabadis can’t afford to go by metro rail daily due to the high cost of the tickets.
As per a survey more than 90% people in Hyderabad earn an average income of Rs 15000 per month who can’t afford to buy metro tickets and pay for parking charges. One has to walk or ride half to one kilometer to reach the metro station which is not convenient for the majority of people. There is no adequate parking facility for the commuters.
After the metro rail was operational in Hyderabad, the pressure of traffic on roads has increased by ten times. The metro pillars have narrowed the road and caused traffic congestion leading to excess use of fuel, accidents and damage to vehicles.
Before the metro rail was built, it was estimated that it would reduce traffic on roads, reduce commuting hours and make the city pollution free. What happened was exactly the opposite. Pollution and traffic has increased to an intolerable extent. The construction of metro rail has given lots of sufferings to Hydrabadis for the last 20 years. Metro rail has only contributed to rising real estate prices.
Instead of running after lofty infrastructure project like metro rail, expressways, flyovers, malls and multiplex, Odisha should develop human resources, create employment in rural areas, develop cycle tracks, protect its coastal area with forest.
The state should free itself from food adulteration, protect its biodiversity, prevent migration of villager to cities for menial jobs. The government should build footpaths and foot over bridges for people as accidents kill and maim hundreds of people on the road; old people, children and women find it difficult to walk on city roads. In fact, the state has created excellent road connectivity in Odisha. It has to reduce travel time by managing public transport well.
Hyderabad metro rail has reportedly incurred a huge loss of Rs 1,746 crore in 2020-21 and has a debt burden of Rs 13,000 crore
People of Odisha need quality schools, hospitals and nutritious food at an affordable cost. They need more public libraries and playgrounds for physical and intellectual growth. The state should develop cycle tracks in every city and towns; slums in cities should be removed and slum dwellers should be given temporary accommodation so that they could return to village to do agriculture and many allied agriculture activities. 
Today, 50% of the world's population is not getting adequate food to eat and it is going to be worse in the coming years.
Odisha should protect its rivers and water bodies for farm sector growth which will let the state tap the global food market. When the government spends crores of rupees on food and freebies in villages, let the village youth earn in their own villages.
Today thousands of villagers move to cities in other states for employment; their average income is not more than Rs 8,000 per month, a meager amount which steals their time and happiness. There is acute scarcity of farm labourers in Odisha due to migration of village youth which should be stopped to make farming viable in the state.
There is a shortage of quality health facilities in the majority of districts; lack of medical equipment, OT, radiology and pathological instruments and above all good doctors put pressure on the hospitals in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar.
This is high time to spend the taxpayers' money judiciously on essential infrastructure. There is an urgent need to introduce social audits of all infrastructure projects so that people could know the details of expenditures on the projects.
A team of experts should be constituted to make thorough appraisal of the new projects and review the effectiveness and productivity of the existing projects. The state should weed out the unnecessary expenditure associated with the development projects and use the money for the development of necessary infrastructures. 
 Adding a bit of wisdom to economic growth vision will reweave the economy of Odisha. It will fulfill the dream of the late Chief Minister, Biju Patnaik, the lion of Odisha who had built the state from scratch.
"In my dream of the 21st century for the State, I would have young men and women who put the interest of the state before them. They will have pride in themselves, confidence in themselves. They will not be at anybody's mercy, except their own selves. By their brains, intelligence and capacity, they will recapture the history of Kalinga", he said.



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