The Delhi Metro is now a part and parcel of every Delhite’s life. Just like the local trains in Mumbai which are the city’s lifeline, the Delhi Metro has become a quintessential part in the Capital’s day-to-day activities. But, putting the Metro in place was a formidable task and E Sreedharan is credited with this rare feat.
A classmate of TN Seshan, the former Chief Election Commissioner of India in school, he was born in Kerala on July 12, 1932. Sreedharan graduated as an engineer from the Government Engineering College, Kakinada. He joined the Indian Railways in its Engineering Services. This was through a nationwide selection process and his first assignment was in the Southern Railway as a Probationary Assistant Engineer in 1954.
In 1963, he got an opportunity to prove his caliber. A huge tidal wave washed away parts of Pamban bridge that connected Rameshwaram to mainland Tamil Nadu. The railways set a target of six months for the bridge to be repaired while Sreedharan’s boss, under whose jurisdiction the bridge came, reduced it to three months. Sreedharan was put in-charge of the execution and such was his dexterity at his work that he restored the bridge in 46 days. The Railway Minister’s Award was given to him in recognition of this achievement. In 1970, as the Deputy Chief Engineer, he was put in-charge for implementation, planning and design of Calcutta Metro, the first ever Metro in India. Cochin Shipyard launched Rani Padmini, the first ship it built, when he was its Chairman and Managing Director (CMD). He retired from Indian Railways in 1990.
They say life begins after retirement. Something like this happened with Sreedharan also. The government needed his services and such was his reputation as a diligent worker that he was appointed CMD of Konkan Railway on contract in 1990. Under his stewardship, the company executed its mandate in seven years. The project was unique in many respects.
It was the first major project in India to be undertaken on EOT (Build – Operate-Transfer) basis and the organizational structure was different from that of a typical Indian railway set-up. The project had 93 tunnels along a length of 82 km and involved tunnelling through soft soil. That a public sector project could be completed without significant cost and time over-runs was considered as an achievement by many.
His hard work, ingenuity and pool of talent was recognized and by mid-2005, he was made the Managing Director of Delhi Metro. Under his able guidance, all the scheduled sections were completed by their target date or before and within their respective budgets. But this task was not without bottlenecks. Sreedharan overcame such hurdles by assembling a motivated team of professionals, bypassing India’s notorious bureaucracy and visited sub-way systems around the world for tips.
In recognition of his stupendous achievements, Sreedharan was given the sobriquet of ‘Metro Man’ by the media. In 2005, he was awarded the Chevalier de la a Legion d’Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) by the Government of France. He had announced, formerly, that he would retire by the end of 2005, but his tenure has been extended by another three years to oversee the completion of the Second Phase of Delhi Metro. In the first phase, his greatest feat has been that he has cracked down on kickbacks and stayed within the budget. He proudly says, “The contractors are grateful not to have to give bribes to get a project”. This achievement has spread pride and hope. Many Delhi denizens feel that if more such things could be done, New Delhi could stand in a competition with any other capital in the contemporary world. Meanwhile, Sreedharan has consulted with Hyderabad and Bombay about possible metros. Undoubtedly, he had laid the road map for such ambitious projects and given India an efficient transport system to boast of one of its smoothest rides in memory.