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Metro cut corners from the start

india Updated: Jul 18, 2009 00:41 IST
Atul Mathur

Even when everything was going right for the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, it was cutting corners, a tendency that may have led to the slackness being blamed for the two back-to-back accidents earlier this week.

The Comptroller and Auditor General, whose office audits money spent by the government, found several lapses in Metro Rail’s systems in a report made public on Friday.

It is about the 65.10-km-long Phase One— Shahdara-Rithala, Delhi University-Central Secretariat and Indraprastha-Dwarka Sector-9 lines completed at a cost of Rs 10,571 crore in 2006.

Work is under way on Phase II, comprising six lines. The Central Secretariat-Badarpur line that collapsed near Lady Shri Ram College on July 12 killing six people is one of them. The auditor’s findings on Phase 1 tests for quality control were most telling.

Testing requirements were scaled down

Metro representatives were not present during tests.

These tests were conducted at non-accredited laboratories.

Test reports were not kept in the records.

Metro Rail’s explanation uncovered more horrors.

“The management’s reply on scaling down of testing requirements is not tenable because it was reduced on the contractor’s request to expedite activities at the plant,” said Deputy Comptroller and Auditor General AN Chatterji at a news conference on Friday.

Metro has dismissed every charge made by the auditor.

“There was no relaxation in testing and all the requisite tests for ensuring the quality were conducted,” said a spokesperson. But there no word on whether the testing system has changed or improved since.

To put the report in perspective, the auditor acknowledges Metro’s good points. It said the first phase has been “widely assessed as a success story in project implementation that is worth emulating in other projects”.

It was a largely uneventful phase, marked by a complete lack of accidents big or small. And it went to change the way Delhi constructed anything – introduced safety barricades, traffic regulation and covers. But there were problems.

Noise levels were beyond permissible limits.

There was premature wear and tear and cracking of wheels and floor of the bogies. These have led to questions being raised about their ability to last for 30 years, their expected life.

The auditor has many more objections.

But most telling in the present context is one of its recommendations.

“There is a need to develop a suitable mechanism at the national level for projects of this nature so that accountability issues are not placed at unreasonable risk in the interests of expediency.”

In short: there is a need to monitor Metro Rail closely.