Still on the rails | india | Hindustan Times
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Still on the rails

india Updated: Jul 29, 2009 23:32 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC)

One more pillar with cracks. It may look like the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) is running out of luck, but this has nothing to do with luck. It’s time to look for new heroes. The old ones may be rusting.

For many years, E. Sreedharan, the DMRC chief, could do no wrong. Even if he did, he was quickly moved out of harm’s way. But that’s only when he was allowed the rather common luxury of human folly.

The DMRC chief is no common Indian. He belongs to the category of the rarest of the rare. There is no one quite like him anywhere in India, and there won’t be one for a long while.

Despite the many years in government service, which in itself can be a taint for some, there has not been even one allegation of impropriety against him — not even as an internet joke.

That’s the power of the man who single-handedly changed the way India builds, taught Delhi how to behave itself and showed the country the way forward, becoming in the process an institution.

But the question we need to square up to now is this: are we hanging on to this man for our selfish interests, despite the fact that at 77, he looks fit enough to continue for a few more years?

Questions about Sreedharan have been asked around at Metro Rail for a while now. It’s time for them to move out and be discussed outside, among other stakeholders like you, me and the rest of us. There are several strands to that debate.

The first one is about Sreedharan, the Metro chief for eternity. Officers waiting to replace him move on in frustration and not for the lack of required skills. There is just no vacancy at the top.

The second is about Sreedharan, the banyan tree. It’s said his larger-than-life presence prevents subordinates from coming into their own, show their leadership skills. No matter what they do, he always gets the credit, and they the criticism.

The third is Sreedharan, the absentee Metro chief. As a global icon he travels quite a bit, giving lectures and attending seminars. And he has a lot to share. But how does he find the time to run Metro?

There is nothing drastically wrong with Metro. It still runs the most efficient transport system anywhere in India. And it continues to build a world-class metro rail network that all of us are very proud of. But what do you make of the string of recent accidents — just bad luck or a wake-up call?

The Comptroller and Auditor General, whose office audits government’s expenses, caught very early a tendency to cut corners to meet deadlines, by lowering testing standards, in the 55-km-long first phase.

The Metro has vehemently countered this charge, contained in a report tabled in Parliament last week. The auditors said the standards were lowered, that’s the alarming bit, on request from the Metro’s contractors.

All the recent accidents and cracks have been blamed on contractors, a different set in each case. But can you really blame them for taking it easy when in the past they got away with it? This is not about luck or bad times.