When DMRC chief E Sreedharan announced his resignation in a packed news conference, he said even Phase-I of the metro construction has had accidents. “But we have never had six deaths at one place,” he said.
DMRC completed its Phase I construction, spread over 65 kms, in record time and with an impressive safety record. There were very few accidents and safety record of its staff and public was at the top of the priority list.
DMRC’s site-management, traffic diversions and deployment of marshals at various points impressed the public.
With 125-kilometre on six corridors to be completed in less than five years, many say the DMRC is going little too fast compromising on safety and the quality.
“Less time is not a reason for lax safety. Line 3 was constructed within three years of the line being sanctioned without any major accidents. Proper monitoring of construction is crucial. We had the same contractors in phase I but back then there were surprise inspections and constant supervision. It is the habit of contractors to go lax on safety or construction quality if you permit them to do so. It is the level of permissiveness that result in faults. During phase I DMRC had zero tolerance but with network spreading, similar supervision is not being carried out. The work culture of phase I is now missing now,” said a senior DMRC official, requesting anonymity as he isn’t authorised to speak to media.
For example, said a DMRC engineer, the number of launchers has increased from 13 in phase I to 24 in phase II. While adequate checks are conducted when a launcher is mounted on a particular section, there is less monitoring when it moves from one pillar to another, he said.
Delhi Metro’s falling standards became evident in 2007 when there was a sudden surge in number of incidents. Metro workers got injured and killed at construction sites. Safety experts feel that it should work as a wake up call for the DMRC.
“When construction first began in 1998, people used to reach construction sites two hours early and leave late in the evening. That zeal and passion are missing now — it has become just another job,” he said.
Senior officials also said that government scale salaries and stagnation has brought in a more cavalier attitude and people are leaving when the opportunity comes.
“Work has gone up and the top management is very strict about finishing construction in time. However, our salaries don’t reflect the hard work we put in,” he said.
DMRC is dependent too much on contractors, who are in turn dependent on sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors.
The actual contractor takes up very little work himself and delegates most of the work to sub-contractor, who, in turn, delegates it further to sub-sub-contractor.
Though there is interaction between DMRC engineers and the contractor, the sub-contractors and sub-sub contractors are accountable to the main contractor only.
Interestingly, while the contractors have to meet strict guidelines to be qualified to make financial bid for a contract, the sub-contractors and sub-sub contractors are hired by the main contractor "with consent" from the DMRC. The pre-requisites applicable on the main contractor are not applicable on sub-contractors.