The Delhi Metro claims the distinction of being the first government project to be completed on time. Success begets success. Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune, Kochi and Ahmedabad followed and are all at various stages of constructing Metros of their own. After delivering successfully for the Delhi Metro Rail Corp. (DMRC), it is not surprising that 74-year-old Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, chief of Delhi Metro, is consulting on all these projects. As the population in the cities expand, the need for a viable and efficient public transport system has grown. In a conversation with Mint, Sreedharan dwells on the underlying issues and challenges of providing such a solution.
There is a perceptible difference in the way people generally behave on Delhi roads and the way passengers travel in the Metro. People seem to be calmer at Metro stations and in trains. Why do you think this has happened?
The way the system has to be used infuses a sense of discipline among the commuters. The practice of standing in queues gets into their blood. Only getting in and out of trains is still a problem and people start crowding at the platforms. We have tried educating the passengers and I think they are getting into that habit. Apart from that, people are very orderly while travelling in the Metro. There is no spitting or littering in the station or the trains and they don’t even indulge in graffiti. People have largely behaved very well. The fact that the trains are frequent helps, as people do not get impatient. The air-conditioning also helps to a large extent as it helps in maintaining a cool ambience and also a clean atmosphere.
E.Sreedharan, Chief of Delhi Metro
The Metro as a mode of travel seems to have found acceptance among policymakers as many other cities are are building their own Metros. Why do you think decision makers have accepted the Metro?
When you say that the Metro is a successful project, please bear in mind that it is a financial success apart from being a technological one. We have raised two-thirds of the cost through a loan and the responsibility of repaying the loan is entirely on DMRC. We have one of the lowest fares for a metro system anywhere in the world but are already making an operational profit. We have also started servicing our loan. The majority of metros in the world depend on subsidies but we do not. We are not a financial burden on the government while a system like the Delhi Transport Corporation is a burden as they get a subsidy of around Rs850 crore from the government every year.
Your critics say that the cost of constructing a Metro is very high and that we should look at cheaper alternatives. Your comments?
The capital cost involved in building a Metro is high. But if you compare the Delhi Metro with world standards, we have built this at a low cost. But please look at the benefits of a Metro. (Passengers get) comfortable air-conditioned travel. The number of accidents also comes down. A recent report by the Road Research Institute here says the Metro has led to saving many lives, as there are no accidents on Metro lines. You are also assured of a transportation system which is punctual to the minute, which means you can plan your day better. Also, please take into account the contribution of the Metro in developing areas previously considered uninhabitable. Dwarka is an example. No one used to live there before the Metro but now it has become a populated area.
What are your thoughts on the high-capacity bus system (which involves running low-floor buses on a road that has segregated, dedicated lanes for buses, cars, autos and cycles)? The proponents of this system have been the most vocal critics of the Metro, saying it was too expensive. Your response?
The high-capacity bus system (HCBS) is appropriate for towns where the traffic is not very high. It is inappropriate for a city like Delhi as we cannot widen the roads any further. The HCBS also has a limited capacity when compared with the Metro. It will only have a limited success. The manner in which they are carrying out the work also indicates a lack of planning as they have thrown the traffic out of gear at many places. They should have concentrated on some areas, finished the work and then moved on instead of constructing on extended stretches. They have not even made a provision for pedestrians to cross at many stretches.
What is the status of Metro projects all over the country apart from Delhi?
Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai have already begun the process of tendering for various aspects of the construction and Bangalore Metro has even begun executing the project. Construction of the Chennai Metro will begin next year after we submit the detailed project report taking into account some changes that the state government had asked for. The Kolkata Metro’s east-west line will also start from the next financial year. The Kerala government has, meanwhile, asked the Centre that DMRC be asked to execute the project. It will be built on the lines of the Delhi Metro, with participation from the Centre and the state government and also a loan component. We are awaiting concurrence from the Centre to start work on the project.
Do we have enough suppliers of coaches and locomotives in India to cater to all these projects?
The way I see it, Bharat Earth Movers Ltd and the proposed Bombardier unit in Baroda should be able to meet the rolling stock requirements of all the projects in the country.
Are there enough engineers in the railways to provide for all these Metro projects that are coming up all over the country?
Metro is a rail-based technology. There are two areas where we need engineers and they are signalling and rolling stock. We have been requesting the railways to give us more engineers but even they are hard-pressed for engineers. Now, the urban development ministry has asked the railways to help meet the requirement for the Delhi and Bangalore Metro projects immediately. We have also started recruiting engineers and training them at railway institutes. Our own training school has started, but that is for operation and maintenance.
The railways has proposed high-speed trains in the budget this year. How important do you think this project is for the country, and what are your thoughts on the viability of such a project?
High-speed trains are going to be very important for the country. It is a vast country and the distances are huge. The country needs high-speed trains. They will become viable in due course. You cannot measure every project purely from the point of view of returns. The government constructs hospitals and universities. Are they all viable?
Will DMRC get into new areas of railway construction such as the high-speed rail?
We are not getting into high-speed trains (on the lines of Bullet trains which have speed of more than 250km per hour). However, we have submitted proposals for trains of around 160km per hour (double the maximum speed of a normal Metro train) which will link cities with airports in Bangalore and Hyderabad. This is apart from the New Delhi–airport link which has already been approved. These trains will run on standard gauge whereas our normal Metro trains run on broad gauge. The state governments have shown enthusiasm for these projects.
Most of the infrastructure projects in the country are never completed on time and end up with a huge escalation in project costs. Why do you think this happens?
In India, DMRC was the first project in which a government project was completed in time. But the private sector has always been efficient. Reliance has completed many of its projects on schedule. Hyundai has a record of a 16-month roll-out. (In India) the private sector has delivered while the government has not. I think the project management systems need to be changed. You have to select the right people for the job and empower them. How many times has the chairman of the National Highways Authority of India been changed since the highway development programme was started? This is not good.