Is Delhi Metro jealous of its architect Sreedharan?

E Sreedharan, the superstar engineer who presented Delhi with its state-of-the-art Metro, wants to build a similar train service in his home-state Kerala, but apparently the Delhi Metroand some lobbies aren’t too enthused by his plan.

G Pramod Kumar October 23, 2012 15:10:28 IST
Is Delhi Metro jealous of its architect Sreedharan?

E Sreedharan, the superstar engineer who presented Delhi with its state-of-the-art Metro, wants to build a similar train service in his home-state Kerala, but apparently the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and some lobbies aren’t too enthused by his plan.

It’s shocking that the hindrance to Sreedharan’s leadership role, that is delaying the take-off of the Rs. 5100 crore Kochi Metro, comes from the same organisation that he built and nurtured.

Post Delhi Metro, Sreedharan had become a legendary son-of-the-soil in the state and was projected as the alternative name for Kochi Metro. The government had sought his assistance in the planning stages itself and he agreed with a promise of completing the project within a pre-set period. Both the state and the engineer wanted the new rail system to benefit from the expertise of DMRC.

Is Delhi Metro jealous of its architect Sreedharan

What is the issue with Sreedharan? Reuters

Reportedly, Sreedharan was authorised to represent the DMRC and take decisions on its behalf for Kochi Metro. However, it turns out that DMRC has some reservations about his sweeping decision making powers that might conflict with government rules, particularly related to competitive bidding.

Reports indicate that some civil servants are also not happy with the unquestionable stature that Sridharan commands. Somewhere, it seems that they dont't want him to be the only hero and hog all the limelight. But the reality is that even before the Metro construction began, the state, the media and the people have already declared him the superstar and the endeavour, a future-blockbuster.

Although it hasn’t admitted publicly what exactly the roadblock is, the state cabinet decided on Monday that it would ask for the intervention of both the surface transport minister and the Prime Minister to get Sreedharan and DMRC in.

From available information, it may be deduced that DMRC has some issues which might be procedurally correct. And gone are the days, when Sreedharan was demigod, when Delhi and the country didn’t know how to construct a modern megastructure with transparency, accountability and efficiency.

The opposition was quick to charge that certain lobbies want Sreedharan out so that they can pocket “commissions”. Opposition leader VS Achuthanandan even accused an IAS officer of subterfuge.

As the situation gets more complicated with the state government looking helpless, the opposition doesn’t want to miss the opportunity to club together the alleged lobbies and the state government. CPM state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan said Chief Minister Oomen Chandy had a role in the attempts to exclude Sreedharan. Former finance minister Issac Thomas said that the motives of the government and the Chief Minister were suspect.

The allegations are not without any ground. A state cadre IAS officer, who earlier headed the Kochi Metro Rail, was accused of blocking Sreedharan’s involvement right from the beginning. Reportedly, while the government was clear about partnering with DMRC and Sreedharan, the officer sought to find alternatives. Although without admitting that he was a stumbling block, the government finally removed him.

Apparently, even after his removal, he didn’t stop pursuing his case. CPM parliamentary member P Rajeev recently released a letter written by the officer to Sudhir Krishna, Secretary, Ministry of Urban Development enquiring about Sreedharan’s authority to represent DMRC.

Rajeev alleged that the officer’s letter, even after his removal from the post, smacked of a conspiracy to keep Sreedharan out. Subsequently, the Chief Minister also admitted that Sudhir Krishna had informed him about DMRC’s limitations in taking up projects outside Delhi.

The opposition’s story of conspiracy against Sreedharan by a “commission” lobby assumes some credence in view of the shadow-fight against the technocrat. Perhaps DMRC has genuine procedural concerns or it wants to move out of the shadow of a legend.

Oomen Chandy, however, didn’t mention why the DMRC was reluctant to take up projects outside Delhi.

Is it a capacity issue? If so, it is a pity that a homegrown organisation is reluctant to undertake projects within the country. It in fact goes against the principles of institutional capacity building.

Reportedly in the state cabinet meeting, a majority of ministers wanted an explanation from Tom Jose, the officer who defied the state government’s decision on the issue. In the state’s language media, the officer is already the villain and Sreedharan, the hero. Not a day passes without both appearing in the headlines.

For the opposition, the villain is just the front for the state government which is playing double games. But the reality is somewhere between procedures, ego, jealousy and perhaps some unseen vested interests.

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