By: K.G. SREENIVAS Dated: January 28, 2015
The Delhi Metro, conceived nearly 16 years ago, today is one of the most iconic infrastructure projects in India and was recently voted the second-most admired metro system among 18 such around the world. Carrying nearly 27 lakh passengers every day, the Delhi Metro has ushered in a generational transformation in public transportation in the city of Delhi and its expanding suburbs.
Delhi has never been the same since. The Delhi Metro recently accomplished a widely admired decade-long run. Carrying nearly 27 lakh (2.7 million) passengers every day, the network covers close to 200 kilometres, serving 140 stations, including 6 Airport Express stations. There are 38 underground stations, while five are at-grade, and the rest elevated. Currently in its Third Phase, which would cover an additional 103 km and 69 stations, the Delhi Metro network consists of five colour-coded lines (Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, and Violet), and includes the sixth Airport Express line. In an interview with CREATIVE BRANDS, the Managing Director of Delhi Metro, MANGU SINGH, talks about the admirable journey of the Metro.
The Delhi Metro is one of the iconic infrastructure projects in India, even much admired around the world. What was the mood some 16 years ago when you sat down to think of this project?
I was part of the initial team, Mr. Sreedharan was our Managing Director, and we really had a tough time, as the project then weren’t conceived as a world-class metro really. The detailed project report (DPR) was based on the Kolkata Metro, which, conceived in the 1970s, was vintage technology by that time. So the DPR had many deficiencies as far as a modern metro was concerned. However, bearing in mind the experience of the Kolkata Metro, the visionary Mr. Sreedharan took certain decisions.
Firstly, he proposed that our system needed to be energy efficient. So our emphasis was on technology that not only required minimum maintenance but also energy efficient. Along with this, our focus was to execute the project quickly so that the Delhi citizen wouldn’t suffer for long. With these as our guiding principles, we set aside the DPR given to us—I thought that was a rather bold step!
After that, a small team, led by Mr. Sreedharan, went visiting many metros— both that were running and were under construction—around the world, drawing lessons from each. It was after that we sat down to decide what needed to be done.
We were clear about what needed to be done, but not how, as the country hadn’t experienced anything like that. Thus we engaged a global consultancy led by Japan. The whole project was then translated into ‘how’ by modifying the DPR. This was an extremely important exercise and that set the tone for setting up one of the most modern and energy efficient metro systems in the world.
From the political/executive side who gave the push to the idea?
The idea of a metro in Delhi was around for a long time. The studies had started as early as the 1950-60s. But funding was an issue, so no decision could be taken for long. It was only in the mid-90s that a bold decision was taken, though, mind you, it still wasn’t for a modern metro! In fact, the Metro as a modern concept was only developed after the project was sanctioned.
Did you have any idea of the financial implications at that point?
Originally, the project was sanctioned Rs. 4,850 crores. However, once we came into the picture—and DMRC was not set up then—we made changes to the DPR report, changed the proposed routes, and increased the length of the project from 55.3 km to 69 km [in Phase I]. The final cost of the Phase I came to Rs. 10,500 crores. We began Phase I in 1998 and finished it in 2005.
10 to 12 years down the line, what do you think helped shape this great story?
One of the most important factors is the unique structure of the organisation. This is a 100 percent government-owned company under the Companies Act, but, owned in equal halves by the Government of Delhi and the Government of India. This company is, therefore, neither a State nor a Central PSU. Such a decision taken by the Cabinet in the beginning ensured that the decisions taken by the body were truly autonomous. A fast-track mechanism for granting approvals by the government was also embedded in the original sanction itself.
This fast-track mechanism meant that any decision required two levels of consideration. One, at the highest bureaucratic level: a committee, headed by the Cabinet Secretary, which included the Urban Development Secretary, Finance Secretary, Railway Board Chairman, etc., who were to clear any decision; and second, the proposal would go to a Group of Ministers (GoM). In fact, originally, the GoM was to be headed by the Prime Minister. So, this mechanism was the most important aspect. Of course, the person chosen, that is, Mr. Sreedharan, was also one of the key reasons for the project’s success.
There are two things that emerge: one, in terms of systems, and then, the unique positioning of the organisation.
I must tell you, in the last 12-15 years, few have digested this project easily. There have been attempts all along to scuttle it. Many have objected to the autonomous status of the organisation. However, in the end it has been a success story. As an organisation it hasn’t misused its autonomy, while producing results throughout.
How organic is your relation with the Railways?
The Railways Ministry has the technical control over Delhi Metro. That is, we need clearance from the Ministry to resolve any technical issue, or make a technology related purchase. Unfortunately, and lately, their control has tightened — something that is not really required. We have raised this issue at many forums. Though DMRC, as such, is not affected much, we feel that the upcoming metros could face this issue. In fact, they are. So approvals have become time-consuming.
What are the top three lessons that you would share with young planners?
- First and foremost: Environment. No project should lead to environmental degradation. So, we adopted construction methodologies and technologies accordingly.
- Second: Autonomy. Organisations should have enough of it to take decisions on a day-to-day basis.
- Third: Accountability.
We were able to create an organisation that was efficient, lean and thin, and commercially sustainable.
When you hire people, what do you tell them? How do you inculcate in them these values that DMRC represents today?
We start with DMRC’s work culture. We believe that one can train and manage a person with less capability but he or she needs high integrity. Integrity cannot be supplemented. About recruitment to top positions, integrity is of utmost importance followed by reputation.
The learning is also coupled with training for decision–making skills for a new DMRC employee, as one man alone cannot take all important decisions and no manipulation is possible. We also work with contractors, so we have processes that ensure that they don’t suffer due to someone’s high handedness. Thus, we ensure transparency in our dealings. That said, life is not easy as a DMRC employee! One has to put in sustained work.
As far as land acquisition is concerned, how do you manage conflict? In highly politicised states such as Kerala or U.P. how do you manage these conflicts?
Apart from a few stray cases, in land acquisition we haven’t faced problems. There had been litigations—thousands of cases where people have gone to court. However, we have been able to instil confidence in the courts and they have always concluded that DMRC was correct. Normally, the cases relate to quantum of compensation.
This level of confidence is not easy to maintain, but from the beginning we have been diligent about our conduct, as our intentions have never been to harass anybody. Our land requirement is rather sparse. We try to avoid private land as far as possible, instead preferring government land. So, we follow these principles and the judiciary has acknowledged this.
What does brand Metro stand for?
It is for the public to decide! Now, you cannot think of Delhi without the Metro. The only things I’d like to say is that the Metro has brought about a cultural change in the city. Look at Mumbai —there has been for long a culture of public transport, particularly the railways. A Mumbaikar has always valued time. Earlier, Delhi wasn’t like this. It was laid back. The Metro has changed that. Now a working person can plan his/her day and schedules better. Besides, look at the benefits that the Metro brings to a place — land value appreciates, the area gets developed, enjoys greater connectivity and so on. For example, property rates in central Delhi have depreciated marginally and areas such as Dwarka and other outer areas have seen a rise in property prices. So, in a way, the Metro is a culture leveller.