‘Metro-Man’: The Man who transmuted railway infrastructure in India

“Integrity is the only thing that makes every project successful”, said none other than the Metro Man of India, who changed the dynamics of engineering in the country. With a sheer intelligence and a proficient zeal to breakthrough before deadline is what defines Indian Engineer Elattuvalapil Sreedharan. Born in Karukaputhur, Palakkad district of Kerala, Dr. E.Sreedharan is awarded with Padmashri and Padma Bhusan for his contribution to Indian Engineering. Sreedharan is critically acclaimed for leading the historic Konkan Railway project and Delhi Metro project. And holds a record to complete restoration of Pamban Bridge within 45 days in 1964 that was heavily damaged in the Rameswaram Cyclone.

E. Sreedharan studied engineering at Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University in Andhra Pradesh and persuaded Indian Engineering Service Exam in 1953. After receiving successful merit in the IESE, Sreedharan joined the Indian Railways in 1954 as an Probationary Assistant Engineer in the South division of IR. In the year 1964, a massive cyclone struck the coastline of Pamban Island that devastated the Pamban Railway Bridge. It was E. Sreedharan who was designated to complete the restoration process of the bridge within 6 months. But, Sreedharan settled a record by completing the restoration in just 45 days. His achievement was coherently recognised and was later awarded by the Railway Mantri Puraskar. From there on, Sreedharan never had to look back.

Back in 1970, E. Sreedharan was given the responsibility of planning, designing and implementing the first underground metro project, the Kolkata Metro. He was positioned as the Deputy Chief Engineer of Kolkata Metro project that was built in a stretch of 25 kms.

The Konkan Railway Project 1990:

After getting elected as a member of the Indian Railway Board in 1990, the GoI appointed Sreedharan as the Chief Managing Director for the Konkan Railway project that also happens to be the first turning point in E. Sreedharan’s engineering career.

The Konkan Railway Project until now is one of the biggest and most difficult infrastructural railway construction by Indian engineers after Independence. The Konkan Railway connects the Southwestern Coast of India with the rest of the country. The 760 km long broad gauge railway line connects Mumbai in the West to Mangalore in the South. The project was concluded in seven years of time span and records to have piers (a solid support designed to sustain vertical pressure) as tall as Qutub Minar.

E.Sreedharan once in a conference described the Konkan Railway project to be one of the most difficult in the history of railway construction in India due to the prevailing terrains. 93 tunnels had to be bored through over a length of 82.5 km and the longest of them all is near Ratnagiri that is about 6.5 km. Moreover, more than 147 major bridges were built along the tunnels.

While narrating the construction scenario in India, Sreedharan mentioned that technical hurdles were less troublesome than financial assistance. “The most challenging job was not technical but financial. Raising funds for the project was extremely difficult. During the course, the Railway decided that the construction will be done through borrowed money. The Railway gave one third cost of the project and the rest two third were raised from the market through B.O.T, Built, Operate and transfer basis,” said Sreedharan.

The Delhi Metro 1997:

After the successful launch of Konkan Railway Project, E. Sreedharan spotted the limelight for his peer dedication, execution and zero delay in completion. The construction of Delhi Metro gave Sreedharan the title ‘Metro Man’ of India. For the Delhi Metro Project, Sreedharan was appointed as the Managing Director in 1997 by the then Delhi Government. The authorities handed the Capital Metro project to Sreedharan along with free decision-making choices and required investment funds.

Within a year of joining, Sreedharan formulated the governing body, Delhi Metro Railway Limited (DMRL). In 1998, the actual physical construction was flagged off. Sreedharan had a free-hand in choosing his team for the Delhi Metro Project and thereby appointed professional engineers whom he had worked in the India Railways and Konkan Railway Project.

The Delhi Metro is India’s longest metro line covering 389 km of distance that was designed, structured and implemented under the leadership of E. Sreedharan. The Metro Man not only revolutionised the travelling mode in the Capital but slashed the deadline from prescribed 10 years to 7 years. “ When the deadline was given to me, I decided that people of Delhi cannot wait for 10 years. It needs to be done fast and accurate”, quoted E.Sreedharan.

The Delhi Metro subsequently helped the capital to reduce huge amount of traffic congestion and more than 1 lakh tonnes of fossil fuel is saved each year with the inclusion of Metro service. The metro has also helped to reduce frequent road accidents as 1.5 billion commuters ply via metro daily in the Capital.

Transparency in Career:

Comprising a engineering career of more than six decades, E. Sreedharan has remained consistent with his work. Talking about corruption, Sreedharan in a interview conveyed that measurement books ( a record book maintained for the work done by the contractor, or for the materials received in the site or services rendered) play a negative role for the whole engineering system. “The measurement book is the biggest culprit to bring in corruption. During the Delhi Metro Project, I opted out the measurement book and as a result within 48 hours our 80 percent bills got passed”, he said during an interview for Dilli se Dill.

In 2011, Sreedharan retired from the DMRC and settled in his hometown. Despite availing retirement, he remained active and headed the Kochi Metro project as well. E. Sreedharan became the Man of the Year in 2002 by Times of India; In 2008 and 2011, he received Padma Bhusan and Padmashri respectively.

Entering Politics:

The 88-year old Indian Engineer recently had decided to contest in the upcoming Election in Kerala with a party ticket from the Bhartiya Janata Party.

E.Sreedharan spotted the media buzz again after his decision to contest the election holding the support of the Saffron Brigade. According to Sreedharan, the BJP is doing a splendour in the construction arena. Sreedharan suggests that in order to uplift the aspect of development in Kerala, BJP needs to render its footprint in the State.

-Rituparna Dutta

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