Covid-induced lockdowns sink DMRC into losses

Months of closures due to the two Covid-19 lockdowns and multiple restrictions have left the Delhi Metro’s finances in bad shape, with revenue streams running dry and losses mounting.

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s (DMRC) revenue details show that the agency has incurred losses of ₹1,784.87 crore in the 2020-21 fiscal, with operations either curbed or stopped entirely because of Covid-19.

The Delhi Metro was shut for over five months last year during the nationwide lockdown, and has been closed again for the past two weeks, as part of the state government’s measures to arrest the rapid spread of the infection. The lockdown, which came into effect on April 20, initially exempted some groups and allowed them to use the Delhi Metro. But this changed May 10 onwards, as the state government tightened restrictions.

“There has already been a significant impact on DMRC’s revenues, and as long as the pandemic and associated travel norms are in place, losses are likely to remain or even increase with the passage of time. However, as a public service system, we are also committed to the cause of stopping the spread of the disease and will always extend all possible cooperation in this regard,” said Anuj Dayal, executive director (corporate communication), DMRC.

Senior Metro officials said even though operations resumed after five-and-a-half months of complete shutdown — from March 22 to September 7 — last year, services were restricted to ensure Covid-appropriate behaviour. After the Metro restarted, the passenger capacity of each coach was reduced from 300-350 to just 50. To ensure that the trains are sanitised after each trip, the waiting time on each route also increased from an average of three to six minutes earlier to 15 minutes.

Revenue records show that in the 2020-2021 fiscal, DMRC’s revenue from traffic operations, which includes income from tickets, feeder bus services and rentals, and other services, fell sharply to ₹895.88 crore, from ₹3,897.29 crore in 2019-2020. Similarly, in 2018-19, their income from operational and non-operational sources was ₹3,582.80 crore.

The Metro body’s books also show that in 2020-21, the agency ran into deficits of ₹1,784.87 crore, as against a surplus of ₹758.01 crore in 2019-20. In 2018-19, DMRC recorded a surplus of ₹1,027 crore.

Apart from these pandemic-induced losses, the Delhi Metro has also been parallelly repaying ₹808.70 crore of loan and ₹433.85 as interest to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which helped the Metro body fund their expansion projects. Officials said the DMRC is in talks with the central government to find ways to ensure payments towards this loan does not suffer.

Responding to a question about the government’s strategy to mitigate the effect of losses incurred by the DMRC because of the Covid lockdown, in September last year, Union minister of housing and urban affairs, Hardeep Singh Puri in the Lok Sabha said measures to enhance revenue through various innovative means like provisioning feeder systems, property development at stations and on other land, leasing of spaces, transit oriented development and value capture finance are enumerated in the Metro Rail Policy, 2017.

Senior Metro officials said the transport body’s incomes have not been near pre-pandemic levels for nearly 14 months. “Prior to the lockdown in March last year, nearly ₹10 crore used to be the average revenue per day both from ticketing and non-ticketing avenues. The Delhi Metro was operational from September last year till early May this year. However, even during this period, pre-pandemic levels of revenues could not be generated because of the protocols in place to restrict the spread of the disease. Then, services were suspended again on May 10,” Dayal said.

When the Delhi Metro resumed operations for passengers with Covid restrictions in September last year, the number of passenger journeys went down to 619,242, as opposed to 5,452,367 in the same period in 2019. By March this year, the number of passenger journeys finally started picking up and reached 2,680,358, but this was still nearly half of the 4,392,823 journeys the Delhi Metro made in March 2019.

Metro officials said that while letters were written early this year to the central and Delhi governments asking for financial assistance, the revenue collected by operations are pumped back into the system for operations and maintenance of the system and of fixed assets such as office buildings, stations etc. Funds are also used to pay the staff, pay off machinery costs and also operate feeder services for last-mile connectivity.

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