Sunday’s incident, when a portion of an under construction Delhi Metro section collapsed and killed six people, was perhaps just waiting to happen.
The first blot on Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s (DMRC) otherwise impeccable safety record was the death of three people nine months ago when a girder fell on moving traffic on Vikas Marg. Sunday’s incident and the accident involving cranes just 24 hours later have permanently changed DMRC’s image in the public eye.
Once considered infallible, people are now afraid to drive or walk near Metro construction sites. Signs of DMRC’s falling standards have been visible for the last two years but it was too late before they could pull up their socks.
DMRC completed its Phase I construction, spread of 66 kms, in slightly over seven years. In the process, it set the benchmark for best construction practices anywhere in the country.
Spread over 128 kms and the deadline just over a year away, the construction of Phase II, however, is a race against time for DMRC. Did the rush to finish the project before the Commonwealth Games spell a compromise on safety?
“The challenge of a tight deadline is no excuse for lax safety. DMRC has worked under pressure even during Phase I, like constructing the Dwarka-Pragati Maidan line,” said a senior DMRC official who didn’t wish to be identified.
“The work has increased but so has the workforce. The number of Chief Project Managers per section now is the same as Phase I,” he said.
Small lapses, big price
“The contractors working on Phase II are the same who constructed Phase I. The way their work is monitored by DMRC, however, is not the same anymore,” said the officer.
“During Phase I, contractors were taken to task for small faults like slightly bent or unwashed barricades or trucks not moving through construction sites properly,” he said. “Tolerance levels have increased and overlooking small problems paves way for mishaps.”
“DMRC follows a corporate culture but pays sarkari salaries,” said a senior DMRC engineer who didn’t wish to be identified fearing reprisal.
“DMRC doesn’t have a concept of 9 to 5 work or switching off from work on weekends. The work stops for nothing and we rush to the site to solve smallest of problems,” he said. “Doing this for a decade obviously leads to fatigue.”
Due to its government scale salaries but hectic work schedules, DMRC has been losing many talented engineers to the private sector.
“Work experience in DMRC lends a lot of weight on your CV but many just keep waiting for the right opportunity to leave,” he said.