On the day of inauguration of Kochi Metro by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s Metro Man says the Centre needs to take the lead on more public transport.
A board is tucked prominently in his Kochi office: “Whatever to be done I do. But in reality I do not do anything”, a line from the Yoga Vasista Ramanaya, is dear to his heart.
‘Metro Man’ E Sreedharan has revolutionised the way urban India commutes. He is a household name and speculation is rife that he’s in race for President; but he refuses to be drawn into a discussion on this. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will showcase his latest venture, Kochi Metro, on Saturday. He spoke to the Hindustan Times about the challenges before the country and his future plans. Excerpts:
Q: You helped change the concept of urban mass transport in the country. What are real challenges before the country in this sector?
A. The real challenge before the country is to reduce personal vehicles and promote public mass transport system. This is particularly needed in our cities. Unfortunately, sufficient attention is not being paid for improving the public transport system. Metro rail is best suited to our cities, if the population is more than 2 lakh. The pace at which metros are being introduced in our cities is deplorably low. Every year China is building 200 km-long metros in its cities but our rate is well below 20 kms. The central government will have to take a lead to introduce more metros and ensure that they are financially sustainable.
Q : For the post of President, your name is apparently doing the rounds. Did anyone contact you in this regard?
A. It seems to be the wish of some people. I can’t comment on this.
Q. Konkan Railways to Kochi Metro, you were in the limelight for more than five decades. Did you see any change in the work culture?
A. I don’t find any perceptible change. If at all, there is deterioration, except in the private sector. We have to change a lot.
Q. You were behind many metro projects. What was the most challenging project?
A. I love taking up challenges. I consider the underground line of Mumbai City, Airport to Colaba, the most challenging.
Q. What future you visualise for the country? Is it on right track?
A. No doubt the country is on the right track. But we need more speed. While the progress on the economic front is visible we need to transform our nation with good ethics and values.
Q. India boasts of one of the largest rail network. But it ails badly. Why?
A. Ours is the fourth largest network in the world. It is the lifeline of the nation but technologically we are far behind rest of the world. The work culture in the railways has to change a lot, from bureaucratic to a more friendly and efficient style.
Q. It is often said in Kerala that controversy is part of your life. Did you face any such while working for Kochi Metro?
A. Fortunately there have been no major controversies and the project has gone through smoothly. So we completed the first phase in record time. It was a good team work. I won’t be there for the second phase of Kochi Metro. KMRL (Kerala Metro Rail Limited) is now competent enough to chug on. It is not time for any controversies.
Q You are turned 85 this month. Your future plans?
A. I have decided to slow down my pace a bit but I am available to the country whenever my services are required.