Centre Unveils Parvatmala Program To Build Ropeways Where Traditional Modes Of Conveyance Are Difficult

by Amit Mishra - Feb 9, 2022 04:20 PM +05:30 IST
Centre Unveils Parvatmala Program To Build Ropeways Where Traditional Modes Of Conveyance Are DifficultRopeway to Vaishno Devi.
  • Contracts for 8 ropeway projects for a length of 60 km will be awarded in 2022-23.

    The scheme — called Parvatmala — will be initially rolled out in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir and the other northeastern states.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while presenting the Union Budget for 2022-23, announced the National Ropeways Development Programme — “Parvatmala”.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) had earlier commissioned a study by M/s Mckinsey & Co. for ropeway development in the country. The study suggested that the ministry may institute a National Ropeway Development Programme named “Parvatmala”, on the lines of the “Bharatmala” programme.

The programme will be taken up on PPP mode and is designed to be a preferred ecologically sustainable alternative in place of conventional roads in difficult hilly areas. This may also cover congested urban areas, where conventional mass transit systems are not feasible.

Contracts for 8 ropeway projects for a length of 60 km will be awarded in 2022-23. The scheme will be initially rolled out in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir and the other northeastern states.

Why Ropeway?

Cable propelled transit, i.e. ropeways, have emerged as an alternative mobility transport solution in areas where other modes of transportation are infeasible, for example, in hilly areas.

Developing an efficient transport network is a big challenge in hilly areas. The rail and air transport networks are limited in these areas, while the development of the road network has technical challenges.

In this backdrop, ropeways have emerged as a convenient and safe alternative.

Ropeway projects are built in a straight line over a hilly terrain which results in lower land acquisition costs. Thus, ropeway projects’ happen to be more economical than roadways, even though the construction cost per km is higher than roadways.

On level ground, the cost of ropeways is competitive with narrow-gauge railroads; in the mountains, the ropeway is far superior. The average cost of a ropeway is Rs 50 crore per kilometre, which can further reduce to Rs 20-30 crore with indigenous components.

Ropeway has multiple cars propelled by a single power-plant and drive mechanism which reduces both construction and maintenance costs. The use of a single operator for an entire ropeway is a further saving, in labour costs.

Low footprint of ropeway is a key enabler for its adoption. Ropeways need only narrow-based vertical supports at intervals, leaving the rest of the ground free, and thus, can be constructed in built-up areas and in places with competitive land-use.

At a time when the environmental stakes are high, ropeways, due to low dust emissions, can be a lucrative option.

Regulatory Framework

The Budget push to develop ropeways in hilly areas was preceded by necessary changes in the regulatory framework.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has so far been responsible for development of highways and regulating the road transport across the country.

However, in February 2021, the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules 1961 was amended, to enable the Ministry to also look after the development of ropeways and alternative mobility solutions.

The move will give a boost to the sector by setting up a regulatory regime. The Ministry will also be responsible for the development of ropeways and alternative mobility solutions technology, as well as construction, research, and policy-making in this area.

Formulation of institutional, financial, and regulatory frameworks for the technology will also fall under the ambit of this allocation.

Indian Experience

India is still in a nascent stage in ropeway development as compared to other countries. As compared to 4,000 active ropeways in France, 2,000 in the United States and 1,500 in Switzerland, India has barely 65 ropeway projects and only 22 are successful.

Some major ropeways include Mussoorie Ropeway, which is India's first ropeway; Vaishno Devi Ropeway in Jammu, Maa Sharda Devi Ropeway at Maihar, Madhya Pradesh, Girnar ropeway at Junagadh, Gujarat and the recently inaugurated Dharamshala Skyway.

Built at a cost of Rs 130 crore, the 2.3 km long Girnar ropeway is a ropeway on Mount Girnar in Junagadh district and was inaugurated in October 2020.

It is believed to be among the longest ropeways in the world to connect a temple. Girnar Mountain is the abode of Ma Ambe and also has a Jain temple.

The Dharamshala Skyway, an aerial ropeway connecting the tourist destinations of Dharamshala and Mcleodganj, was inaugurated on 22 January 2022.

The Rs 207-crore project has 10 towers and two stations and covers the distance in just five minutes. The ropeway is constructed using monocable detachable gondola technology.

Ropeway In Hills

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) has signed an MoU with Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB) for ropeway development at 7 key locations in the state.

The Detailed Project Report (DPR) has been completed for 2 pilot projects, namely, Sonprayag to Kedarnath and Govindghat to Gurudwara Shri Hemkund-Sahib.

Pre-feasibility studies are underway for other locations.

In January 2022, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) invited bids from private parties to build, maintain and operate a ropeway project from Sonprayag to Kedarnath via Gaurikund on design, build, operate and transfer (the “DBOT Annuity” or “Hybrid Annuity”) basis.

The length of the Sonprayag-Gaurikund-Kedarnath ropeway project will be 13 km and the estimated cost of the project will be over Rs 985 crore.

Set to be the longest ropeway in the world at an altitude of 11,500 feet above sea level, Sonprayag-Gaurikund-Kedarnath ropeway will significantly reduce the time taken by pilgrims to reach Kedarnath shrine in Rudraprayag district.

The ropeway will enable them to travel from Sonprayag to Kedarnath in 60 minutes.

The NHAI is also preparing the detailed reports for more projects in Nainital and in Himachal Pradesh. The identified ropeway links include connectivity to Tara Devi temple, Hattu Peak, Chunja glacier and Bharmani temple in Himachal Pradesh with a combined length of 42.5 km in the state.

Three links have been proposed in Uttarakhand with a combined length of 29 km, including a ropeway link to Hanuman temple in Nainital and Ghangaria in Chamoli, which is the gateway to the Valley of Flowers, a major tourist attraction.

Proposals have also been received from Governments of Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir for development of ropeways.

In Pipeline

In another sign of ropeway’s growing popularity, the ropeway services are being conceptualized in public transportation as well as riverine systems.

Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh is set to become the first Indian city to use the ropeway services in public transportation with Varanasi Development Authority (VDA) floating the tender for the project in November 2021.

The 5-km-long ropeway between Varanasi Cantonment Railway Station and Girja Ghar Chauraha will be built in PPP mode at an estimated cost of Rs 410.30 crore.

Varanasi will thus join the select cities in the world that use a ropeway for public transport. La Paz in Bolivia, Mexico City in Mexico and Medellin in Colombia are among the cities that use the ropeway for public transport.

The Guwahati-North Guwahati ropeway built across the Brahmaputra River completed its one year of operation recently in September 2021.

The 1.82-km ropeway is the longest river crossing Aerial Tramway systems in India and connects Kachari Ghat (Guwahati) to Dol Govinda Temple on the northern bank of the river Brahmaputra.

In a big infra push, the election manifesto released by the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced construction of new ropeway projects in the three temple towns of Varanasi, Mirzapur and Chitrakoot.

Environmental Fast-tracking

The Environment Ministry has proposed to exempt ropeway projects from Environment Impact Assessments (EIA), which usually is a lengthy and time taking process.

The move is aimed at fast-tracking the implementation of such projects as they are important for providing last-mile connectivity as well as mobility in hilly areas.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change vide notification dated 2 February 2022 has issued a draft notification and has sought public comment.

With renewed policy focus and suitable incentives, the ropeway mobility can improve connectivity and convenience for commuters, besides promoting tourism.

Amit Mishra is Staff Writer at Swarajya.
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