Getting an appointment with Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, 79, managing director of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), is an uphill task. The ‘Metro man’ mostly remains out of the city, where he consults Metro authorities of other Indian cities who are eager to repeat Delhi’s success story. As we enter his room all geared up to interview him, a chirpy little boy and his father rush into Sreedharan’s room. They have come all the way from Indore to get a picture clicked with the living legend. And the man obliges with a smile. Excerpts:
Do people often request to be photographed with you?
Many people come to talk to me, and they are all praise for the Metro. This includes even those who don’t live in Delhi. Some of them also request me for photographs.
The Metro has changed the way Delhiites travel…
The Delhi Metro has changed the city for the better. People are sure of the time they will take to reach their destinations when travelling by the Metro. It has reduced congestion on roads and taught people discipline - they don’t litter and have learnt to stand in queues. Every part of Delhi has its own culture, but Metro has integrated the Capital, leading to a levelling of culture. There is a perceptible change towards public property.
In earlier interviews, you have said that you don’t like Delhi. Has your relationship with the city changed in the last 14 years?
I feel like a stranger in the city. I don’t gel with the high class and find people selfish. I feel that people in Delhi do not have humane concerns for others, unlike Kolkata or Chennai, which are more cosmopolitan.
Well, is there anything that you like about Delhi?
I like the city’s open green spaces, its gardens and wide roads. But I can’t bear the extreme cold in the winter. I do not find summer to be a problem. The language used here is another problem. I am not comfortable with Hindi, but it’s my mistake that I haven’t been able to learn it. I have not seen many parts of the city yet. I go only where the Metro goes.
DMRC introduced Delhi to the best construction practices such as barricading, washing tyres of trucks carrying soil and others…
Before we started work on the Metro, our senior officials visited other countries to get a sense of how it was done internationally. There, we observed the benefits of barricading, mechanization and other processes.
Did you face any political or bureaucratic pressure while constructing the Metro?
Initially, when I was asked to join DMRC, I refused as I was already 65-years-old and didn’t need a job. But when I agreed, I demanded full independence, my own team and no interference to deliver the project. They honoured my conditions.
Your tenure is going to end. How do you feel about moving out? Will DMRC function in the same fashion after you?
I feel the way one feels when he goes for a job after finishing with studies. I am going to start a new phase of my life. I can’t say that I made the Delhi Metro; it is the Delhi Metro that made me what I am today. We have an excellent team, which will remain, even though the leader is going out. Delhi is a large city and the Metro hasn’t even covered half of it. Much work requires to be done.
In hindsight, is there anything you could have done differently?
Not very much. We have done things in almost a perfect manner. Though one of the things that I would have wanted to do differently is putting in place an efficient feeder bus system. There was lot of resistance from the state transport authority and the police would impound our vehicles for the smallest of reasons. Everyone was out to harass us.
You have given Delhi a world-class public transport system. Are there other civic services that you believe can be changed for the better?
Delhi’s water supply, sewerage, power supply, mosquito menace and open drains are a shame. The Delhi Development Authority could have also done so much for the city. Look at the condition of Yamuna, despite the Yamuna Action Plan being in place for so many years. These agencies need competent professionals.
What are your plans after leaving DMRC?
I will go back to my village and detach myself from everything for spiritual pursuits.