KOCHI: E Sreedharan has a razor-sharp memory and speaks with clarity of thought on complex social and economic issues, for which he seems to have viable solutions at the end of the day . He does not reject India’s cultural past like many modern-day technocrats but at the same time envisions a society that is based on professionalism, moral and ethical values.
At 85, as the principal adviser of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), his expertise in building Metros and rail networks is still sought after by state governments though he has been politely turning down the offers – the most recent from Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis – and is not planning to take up any new projects.”I will be here till the Kochi Metro rail begins its operation till Pettah, but Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) will be doing the Kakkanad stretch,” he assures, sitting erect on his favourite made-to-order wooden armchair at DMRC office at Ernakulam South railway station.
Excerpts from the interview:
How does a culture of a particular area change with the arrival of the Metro?
It will change a lot. People will become disciplined and inclusive. To travel in a Metro, certain discipline is required. You have to stand in queue and be considerate for others. The social attitude changes and when you see that the Metro is clean, you preserve it.
Do you think we should have more flyovers in the city to mitigate traffic congestion instead of putting massive investment in Metro rail?
Both are necessary. You can have flyovers at critical points. Even for flyovers, land has to be acquired because flyovers also need service roads and road traffic has limitations. On an average, a Metro can take 40,000 people per hour, whereas roads can take only 8,000 people per hour. The Kochi Metro that we are in the process of constructing is looking at a futuristic population for the next 100 years. But you should remember that one line alone is not enough for the city. We need a third line to Mattanchery once the Kakkanad stretch is over and then a fourth line right from east to west, connecting all these lines. Every train can accommodate 950 people and the frequency of the train can be reduced from four minutes to 90 seconds, six times less. That is the beauty of the new sys tem called communication-based train control system, which is being introduced in Kochi Metro rail for the first time in the country.
Which was your most challenging project till date?
The Konkan railway project no doubt was the most challenging one, not Delhi Metro. It was a difficult terrain and I used to travel along the road route to Karwar. We had to acquire properties of 40,000 land owners and could get most of the land through consent letters. We explained the impor tance of the projects and they agreed. In Goa, for instance they wanted the alignment to be shifted to the interiors and powerful politicians were behind it. The then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao even stopped the project for one year but thankfully an expert committee said that the old alignment was the correct route.
How important are follow-ups?
It is not enough to just complete a project but we need to nurse it like a baby. I was disappointed the way Konkan railway was neglected after I left. They have not done electrification on this route till date. Do you know we can ply trains at 160 km per hour on that route?
There is this popular notion that even if a politician is corrupt, as long as he is able to bring in good projects, it is good for the state. Your view?
I don’t approve that proposition. I feel a politician can do good things and yet remain non-corrupt. If one starts doing things for personal remuneration then that person will lose sight of the purpose. One should be concerned about what one can give to the society than what one can get. I always tried to convince politicians to do things in a transparent way as its results can be enduring than taking short cuts.
In Kerala we are facing a huge problem for acquiring land for developmental projects, especially for projects like Metro. What is the solution?
Normally, I never go to politicians for solving this issue, though we can use government machinery as they have the powers. We used to be proactive and request a person who loses his land and house by telling him we will find another accommodation and pay rent for six to ten months.
How long can we expect your service?
Eighty-five years is quite an advanced age (he smiles beatifically).But still I have got the mental energy and physically too I am fine. But I will definitely slow down. I will not take any new assignments. However, I will be here till we finish Pettah stretch, which means another two and half years, because that is my commitment to the people of Kochi. But for the Kakkanad stretch, I won’t be there though I will be available for any consultation which I have told Elias George. KMRL and DMRC are two sides of the same coin. KMRL will do the maintenance and operations and our job is over once we hand over the Metro to them. KMRL has got the technical experience to construct the Kakkanad stretch as DMRC had trained KMRL engineers. I have full confidence in their expertise.
How do you foresee the future of India?
I have high hopes for India as we are growing at a fast rate. We cannot blame only the government for farmers’ suicides as money has been misused. Siphoning off money is there everywhere. Even big contractors take advance for projects and siphon off money and then they struggle for money . Look at how Reliance Mumbai Metro is bleeding because of its inflated project cost. All this needs to stop. I am very disappointed about deteriorating moral values. We had a rich tradition, the nation coined ahimsa and stressed a great deal on dharma, ethical values. These are being lost and sadly even governments do not think of nurturing back these values.
How can we change it?
You go to a foreign country and you can see the difference. They are so considerate to their neighbours and fellow passengers. We need to inculcate these values right from home and in schools. Making money should not be the only pursuit.
Look at our education system. The academic part has gone up while the moral part has come down. Why we do not have good teachers here?
In the west, some of the most brilliant minds become teachers but here that profession is seen as something not worth the money . In Germany, for instance, the highest paid people are the teaching fraternity . I have now started an organization called Foundation for Restoration of National Values in New Delhi. We plan to begin a chapter in Kerala soon.
How do you rate PM Narendra Modi?
During the past three years there has been no allegation of corruption against the BJP government, which is a good thing. We need to go beyond petty politics which is happening in Kerala. Whoever is in power opposes the other one, which is bad as we all should now start thinking in terms of the larger interests of the society.