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Blog Entry# 3629646
Posted: Jul 14 2018 (20:26)

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Last Response: Jul 14 2018 (20:28)
  
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Jul 14 2018 (20:26)   The Metro Man | mydigitalfc

a2z~   12807 news posts
Entry# 3629646   News Entry# 345857         Tags   Past Edits
Dr Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, a retired officer with Indian Engineering Service and etter known as the ‘Metro Man’, is credited with changing the face of public transport in India with his leadership in building the Konkan Railway and Delhi Metro. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2001 and Padma Vibhushan in 2008 by the government of India and Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 2005 by the French government. Talking about his achievements, Dr Sreedharan, former MD and now principal advisor, DMRC, who is hand holding the Kochi Metro Project under the supervision of the DMRC, claims: “It’s divine dispensation that materialised everything so well. I was a mere tool. When I look back, I wonder how it all happened so fast. But we were able to do it. We were in the bureaucracy but created a new service culture. It worked. When I left I took a decision that my shadow will not hover around
DMRC”Q:
...
more...
Please take us through your journey and how it all started.
When I was with Konkan Railways I was very friendly with Jaikrishan, who later became the chief secretary of Delhi. Even as the proposal of Delhi Metro was floating around, I was not at all familiar with what was happening. While many project reports were being prepared, the ultimate project report was compiled and submitted by RITES, which was accepted by the government of India. They got a soft loan from the Japanese government and wanted to find somebody who could take up the responsibility of heading the project. Even as the government registered the company, it failed to find a CEO. Many applications poured in and yet no decision could be taken. They decided to create a search committee. Since Jaikishan knew me he requested if I could be part of the search committee to find the suitable candidate.  I was in the search committee to find an MD for the Delhi Metro. In fact, the search committee never met since the applications were useless. It kept on getting dragged. Finally the Japanese government threatened in June 1997 to pull out and gave an ultimatum that by October a decision had to be taken. During that time Jaikishan called me and requested me to come at once to his office in Delhi where he wanted to brief me about a proposed meeting with the then Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Tejendra Khanna.
It was somewhere around July 1997. He briefed me that they were unable to find an MD for Delhi Metro project and asked me if I would be interested and that this was the proposal the Delhi LG too had for me. When I went to LG’s office, I found the chief minister and transport minister too present there along with the LG. I was caught unawares for this unannounced interview where they wanted to see if I could fit into the role. I promptly informed them I was not aware of this I put forth the problems involved. I said, I was still engaged with Konkan Railways and that the railway ministry would not release me unless my duties were completed. I also said I was above 65 and that the government of India would not allow any person above 65 to take over a new project of this stature.
After giving a patient hearing, Mr Khanna told me “Leave it to us to sort things out. But tell me are you willing?” I told him if these issues could be sorted out I was willing but must add I was a Railway man and had no exposure in Metro project except my short stint in Calcutta Metro, which was not really a big Metro project. He assured me it would not matter and added — “Since without knowing much you have done so well with Konkan Railway.”
At that time Konkan Railway had created a sensation, with such a huge project getting done well before time. The LG said: “we shall get you released and go to government of India to get a relaxation for your age.” Ultimately he said: “If they don’t release you from Konkan Railaway, do cover up for both.”
That’s how I came in. I never heard anything for a long time. I started working from Rail Bhawan. Much later I came to know that the LG had personally met the Railway Minister and Railway Board Chairman to convince them. They were not initially willing to relieve me of my duties. About the age factor they did not decide at all and allowed things to carry on. Sometime later there was a lot of opposition within the government about me being overage. The file went right upto the cabinet secretary late TSR Subramanian who is learned to have written on it: “If the country can be run by a 79-year old prime minister, I don’t find any reason why the Delhi Metro cannot be run by a person who is of 65 years” and sent it to Shri Vajpayee who was the then prime minister, who in turn accepted it. Suddenly in November end I got a call from Jaikishan saying I was selected and inducted and must come at once and attend the first board meeting of the DMRC.
I got a chamber in Rail Bhawan from where I operated as the MD of the DMRC and CMD of Konkan Railway. That is how I got involved. In Calcutta Metro my exposure was minuscule, only at the planning and designing stage when the work had initially started with the elevated corridor at Dumdum station.
When I came in only two people were in the organisation — Mangu Singh as chief engineer and Saroj Rajwade as finance officer.
We soon moved to NBCC office on Lodi Road. The then secretary of Urban Development NP Singh became the chairman of DMRC. The Urban Development Ministry had already floated tenders for consultants.
Since I was with the railways for last 36 years, I knew many people from Konkan Railway. I brought the core team from Konkan Railway. Then I finalised the general consultancy contract and started the work.
The Delhi government was very keen about the project so was the government of India. Japanese government was putting pressure for the project to begin. It was a very conducive environment at the beginning where I got support from all. The board of directors in the very first meeting gave me all the powers. That made a lot of difference. At that time I had a mission — Delhi should have the most modern world class Metro, which should set an example for all other Metros in the country. The Metro revolution should spread across the nation and with God’s grace I have been able to complete the project on time. The first phase was to be completed in 10 years time, as per the project report. I decided we must complete it within seven years. That was one of the first decisions I took without discussing with government of India or government of Delhi.
Q: What according to you was the big success?
Financial success was an important factor for me right from the beginning. I ensured an austerity drive where no money was wasted and we operated with skeletal staff. We decided not to take any help from the government on operational expenses. Only capital investment should be taken care of by the government. We started paying the loan money back to the Japanese government on time along with the interest.
This was a big success. So we decided that if we want to make it a success story we must ensure Metro does not give any subsidy to anyone. We cannot give anybody a free ride.
When the prime minister came to inaugurate the Metro. I requested him to purchase a ticket. He humbly stood at the ticket counter and bought a ticket. This set an example for the people that Metro is not to be taken lightly and that everybody has to pay for it.
I myself purchase tickets. All Delhi Metro officers have to purchase tickets.
I also gave one condition for joining — there should be no political or bureaucratic interference. The LG told me there would be no interference.
However the LG changed and all kinds of interference started. In fact, subsequent secretaries raised the issue why we need a Metro for the country and spend so much money? Nobody was cooperating. The whole thing was managed by performance, finishing work before time with efficiency. We did not make anybody unhappy.  A new culture was started. This attitude made us sail through.
Q: Worldwide Metro system does not run in profit due to huge capital investments in network expansion. Even Delhi Metro incurs loss. What’s the best way to look at financial viability in such case?
A Metro can never be run as a profitable venture. It will never give you profit in the annual report, because it requires heavy capital investment. Unlike in a road project where the entire road, lighting is done by the government. The operator does not pay anything except road tax. In case of Metro, everything has to be run by the Metro, from land acquisition and cost, to expansion of network. With that kind of heavy capital investment, you cannot make money. If you have to make money you have to make the ticket fares very high, which is not a viable option. It is a public service and hence should not be viewed as a business proposition. When a government builds a hospital or starts an IIT it’s not seen as a business proposition. Similarly, in case of the Metro too, it is not perceived as a business proposition.
But at the same time, you are right, how can the government go on funding? The government gives only 40 per cent of the cost as capital investment, given as equity. The rest 60 per cent is borrowed money and Metro will continue to service the loans, Most countries haven’t been able to implement this formula but we have done it and we are successful.
Q: What about non-fare box revenue model to earn like real estate development and ads?
Yes, we have been working on a non-fare box revenue model, otherwise the ticket fare would shoot up. We learnt from places like Hong Kong and Singapore where about 35-40 per cent is raised from non-fare box model. By the time I left DMRC, we had reached of level of earning 25 per cent from non-fare box model.  We should make efforts to raise it more. There is a scope.
Q: Last mile connectivity has always been perceived as a major issue in Delhi Metro. The Feeder bus experience is quite bad after the Metro experience and so is the case of other modes of transport. Your views on it.
The road public transport is very expensive despite the fact that roads are maintained by the government. Running a bus is quite expensive owing to very heavy taxes, which comes to 35-40 per cent of the cost. The government should reduce taxation on public vehicles. Many countries make public transport very cheap. The Feeder services have no subsidy like Metro. They have to be fully profitable on their own. If you use the same philosophy in Feeder buses where 40 per cent of the cost is borne by the government, it would be a grand success. We can increase the number of buses and ply small a/c buses.
Urban transport should be under one head — road, rail and all other public transport. That agency is yet to come to Delhi. The Ministry of Urban Transport wants to have it under one umbrella.
Q: Would you like to talk about the Kochi Metro project, which is your baby?
I took over Kochi Metro under very peculiar circumstances.  When I was about to retire, a new government took over in Kerala. When I was MD here, Kochi being my native place, I always dreamt of having Metro there. DMRC started approaching various state governments and encourage them to go for Metros. First we went to Bangalore, convinced the government and prepared a Bangalore Metro project report. We went to Jaipur and many other places. We approached Kochi too. The Kerala government agreed and we prepared a detailed project report in 2006 but somehow the project failed to take off since the Central government and Kerala government were not in agreement due to their political equation. When Kerala got a Congress government, I was about to retire. Oomen Chandy was the chief minister who met me in his chamber. He said “I believe you are about to retire but the way you have served the country we want you to come to Kerala and take over the Kochi Metro project.” I readily said yes provided I was given full freedom to handle the project. I was not interested to be a mere advisor. He agreed. However, even after I went, it took them two years to get the project sanctioned. After the project was sanctioned the Kerala government bureaucracy started opposing my entry saying they would handle it and that things were not moving. Then there was a public agitation. There was a human chain formed in the entire length of 24 km demanding that Metro should be handed over to DMRC and Dr Sreedharan. Finally the state government agreed. Despite the CM inviting me to join, the state bureaucracy opposed it calling for a global tender, where DMRC could also quote. I put my foot down and said DMRC would not quote. Only in January 2013, the government of India and Kerala agreed to hand over the project to DMRC and me. There was opposition from Mrs Sheila Dixit too with good intentions though. She said, “I do not want DMRC to go to Kochi. DMRC is meant for Delhi and should concentrate on Delhi only.” Finally Kerala CM and urban development minister could convince her and she agreed saying, “If Sreedharan takes over then it is fine as a one off exception.”
We could complete a major project of 18 km out of 24 km stretch in four years. By next June the entire phase will be done. It’s a great achievement in Kerala, given the fact every day there is a strike, and there is high labour and material cost. We took over the first phase. The second phase will be taken over by a separate company Kochi Metro Rail Corporation, created primarily for this. DMRC is only constructing a handing over. For the operational part they will take over.

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