Bengaluru: Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagged off the Rs5,181-crore Kochi Metro, Kerala’s first metro train service, in its commercial hub Ernakulam district, by taking a maiden ride in it along with chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, governor P. Sathasivam and ‘Metro Man’ E. Sreedharan, among others, on Saturday.

The metro will be fully open to the public only by Monday. On Sunday, the metro authorities will be running a special circuit for 450 children who are facing autistic disabilities, cerebral palsy and so on, along with elders from orphanages in Kochi—adding another feather to its unique set of optics that are already hogging the headlines.

The metro train service is the realisation of a long-awaited dream for Kerala, where it has an iconic status, far beyond its utility as a simple transport project. That mood reverberated during the inauguration where people from all walks of life, even from other districts, came down to Kochi to witness the event, as per regional news reports.

Also read: What does Kochi Metro mean for Kerala?

It is the eighth metro service to be made operational in India, spanning a 13-km distance and 11 stations across Kochi, largely with the help of automation and with very little human involvement.

Some of the unique aspects of the train service and its mode of management—including a record shortest commissioning time of 45 months and its many firsts like 80% participation of women in the workforce—which has set it unique from the rest of the metro services in the country. The metro will not just make a standalone train corridor, but instead will be a combination of feeder services including a Rs819-crore water corridor.

“It is fitting that the Kochi should have a metro. The city’s steadily increasing and it is expected to have 23 lakh population by 2021. The metro will help to reduce the increasing pressure on urban infrastructure. It will also contribute to the economic growth," said PM Modi. The prime minister also lauded the metro’s decision to hire 60 transgenders and meet almost a quarter of its energy requirements from renewable sources like solar.

Also read: 5 things that make Kochi Metro unique

Speaking at the event, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan made a strong pitch for aggressive development in Kerala and touched upon the belief that the state is suspicion of big projects. Times have changed, he said, and added that the ruling left front government under him will not be paying heed to unbiased criticism towards big projects. He also launched a pre-paid smart card called “Kochi 1" which can be used for travelling in the metro train.

The Kochi Metro project saw six chief ministers from the time of ideation to completion. It was first conceived by the left front government under E.K. Nayanar in 1996. Consulting firm RITES Ltd was commissioned to do a study in 1999, but the study report was received was the next government under Congress leader and chief minister A.K. Antony. The detailed project report was submitted in 2005 by when Congress leader Oommen Chandy had become the chief minister.

It took three more years for the state government, by when the government had again changed to a communist one under V.S. Achuthanandan, to approve the project in 2008. Finally, the central permissions came in 2012, after much back and forth discussions on whether it should be developed in a public-private partnership model or in a state-centre model, under the Union government led by then prime minister Manmohan Singh.

Once the construction began in 2012, disputes cropped up one after another. Construction work choked the city’s congested lanes, with the situation worsening during monsoons.

For almost a year and a half during its construction, there was no land acquisition Act. The 120-year old Land Acquisition Act was amended by the Centre in 2013 but the state drafted the relevant rules only in 2015. As a result, the district collector had to interact with each land owner whose land had to be acquired for the metro and negotiate, said Elias George, managing director of Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL), the agency tasked with building the metro.

Kerala is known for going tough on big projects, with even government projects struggling for single-window clearances and timely approval, he added.

The idea of having a metro itself was criticized, with a section pointing out that most of the metros across the globe are simply bleeding money. “The public had to be apprised that it is about bringing investment, changing the livelihood patterns, altogether raising the city to a whole new level, and so on," said George.

George counts public support as the single biggest factor which contributed to the project’s success while picking its way through troubled waters. “...everybody in the city was determined to realise this. The land losers were saying okay, I may be facing some difficulties but my children may have a better future when this comes. This was the single most important factor, there was a collective will of a population," said George.

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