The 57-year-old second managing director of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation is a Sagittarian born in Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh. Few perhaps know that, during his youth, Singh had to walk five km to school. Active in sports, he was part of the university-level rowing, athletics, volleyball and kabaddi teams. A movie buff, Singh didn’t think twice before catching a show – even during exams. However, in the last 20 years, he has not managed to watch a single film. He loves his gadgets and is particularly fond of his iPad and scrutinises daily reports from the operations control centre on his favourite gadget.
A civil engineering graduate from the University of Roorkee (now an IIT), Singh got into the elite Indian Railways Services of Engineers (IRSE) by clearing the UPSC examination in 1981. He then worked in the Indian Railways in various capacities, including that of a deputy chief engineer, Kolkata Metro Railway (1989-1996). Singh’s tenure with the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) as chief engineer/chief project manager began in 1997. He moved up to the level of an executive director and then director (works) before taking over as the managing director on January last year. In an interview with HT Estates, he speaks about a range of issues, including the challenge of land acquisition and plans for property development by DMRC. He even goes to suggest that people who have houses near and adjacent to a metro station should not ideally be allowed to own cars to reduce congestion and pollution.
What are DMRC’s challenges in phase III and learnings from phases I and II?
We have finished phase I and phase II. We are now into phase II.The challenges are different in different locations and times. We had different challenges in phase I and II. Phase III is different. Though the fundamentals of engineering and project management remain the same, things like handling local agencies and local issues such as getting approvals, land acquisition, utility diversions and traffic diversions are all project-specific. Though the experience of earlier phases is valuable, it has to be seen on a case to case basis. The biggest change, I feel, is that the expectations of the public in phase III are much higher. As we had already set very high standards in phase I and II, this is perhaps the biggest challenge – how to satisfy the public and to work at the same pace so that the benefit of the Metro comes as early as possible to the public.
Apart from project execution, we are now running a very huge network, about 190 km, carrying over 1 lakh passengers every day. We need to maintain that. That is the biggest challenge.
The work in phase 3 is huge - 140 km to be completed by 2016, out of which 52 km is underground. The availability of agencies within the country and international agencies who are active in the country is a problem. Not many agencies are available to take up such huge work in one go. This is another challenge. Availability of technical, experienced manpower with the contractors within the country is also a problem.
We at DMRC have been able to bring in a team and were able to augment the capacity to tackle 140 km. When we completed phase II, we were in a position to send officers back to their parent organisation. We had taken many officers from other departments on deputation mainly from railways and CPWD but the moment phase III was certain many of them were retained and others have taken up jobs. We have also conducted a special drive to get people on deputation from other departments and today we are in a comfortable position. We can tackle the phase III project as far as DMRC is concerned. On the project side we are about 500 to 600 people, that is a very small and compact organisation to tackle such a huge project. It’s again an official-oriented organisation.
How big is the challenge of land acquisition?
In a project like the Metro, land acquisition is not really a big issue. Almost 98% land acquired for the project is government land owned by government agencies. So there is not much issue with respect to government land. Besides, 70% to 80% alignment is straight on the road, so starting work and making substantial progress is not an issue. But yes, to complete the project even acquiring a small 2% area is critical and necessary. We don’t feel there are any major issues as far as land is concerned. We are quite comfortable as we’ve got sufficient area in hand. For phase III, land acquisition is not yet complete. In fact, there are still many pockets of government land that are not with us. Dialogue and discussion is on with other government departments but private land is what requires time.
What percentage of your land acquisition involves acquiring private property?
As I mentioned, it is hardly 2% of and displacement of people is limited to only a few pockets. We try to avoid displacement. We don’t find much of a problem with that.
As for the procedure and amount of compensation given to people who are displaced, that is not in our hands. The land is acquired by the state government. We simply place the requisition. The state government acquires the land under the land acquisition act and DMRC pays the award given by the land acquisition collector. So, as far as land acquisition is concerned, we are a party. The other party is the owning agency. In many cases, where the parties are not satisfied with the compensation, they move court for enhancement of compensation. That is a legal process.
What about environment
Railway projects such as the metro do not, legally, require any clearances. Yet, we have conducted an environmental impact assessment in detail while compiling the detailed project report and the negative impact of the project is taken care of in the form of mitigation measures. The most important of them is the cutting of trees. So the compensatory afforestation, transplanting etc have all been taken care of in the plan. In fact, the funding agency, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), has very strict norms as far as this issue is concerned and they will not fund any project unless it is cleared by one of the independent agencies in Japan. So the project goes through a very rigorous process of environmental scrutiny.
Tell us something about linkages between phase II and III. How will you be integrating common stations?
The fundamental principle will be to have a seamless transfer. A person from one line to the other will not be required to purchase the ticket again. He will be within the paid area and will go to the other station within the paid area. Second is providing adequate space for the transfer- wide staircases, wide subways, number of escalators, so that the interchange is easy. Designs have been done accordingly.
What about revenue generation through property development? DMRC has been given the mandate to raise R1600 crore through property development. How will these be developed
This will be our first attempt. In 99% cases we will ourselves not be involved in construction unless the construction is related to our work but we would like that a private developer should develop the property. That will be our attempt. You can appreciate that we are not experts in real estate and property development. Experienced people can
develop in a better way.
There is talk of providing higher FAR along Metro corridors. Can affordable housing be a possibility along Metro corridors?
We are not experts on that. I can only think of few factors that can bring down the cost of houses along the Metro. Today if you construct a big housing complex, you need to construct car parking space. If you construct right on top of a Metro station or adjacent to a Metro station, you don’t need a car. If you can lay down that those who live in this block will not be allowed to have a car, it can probably bring down the cost. Many countries follow this norm. In Hong Kong many multi-storey buildings have no car parking. Also, only those who buy into that idea ought to be allowed to buy that house.
Your views on Metro cess?
Common sense says that since a house owner’s property value has increased, he must pay extra. I am of the view that Metro tax should also be imposed on a car user as he is also benefiting because of less congestion on the road. Use of Metro also leads to reduction in pollution level in the city, to that extent the society as a whole is benefited. So, everybody must pay his share.