Does India want its ‘Metro man’ to resign?

July 13, 2009

If the early comments on the Great Debate are anything to go by, it seems there is still a lot of goodwill towards Elattuvalapil Sreedharan.

The man behind the Delhi metro, seen as one of India’s most successful infrastructure projects, resigned on Sunday after part of a rail bridge in the capital collapsed and killed six people.

Sreedharan had enjoyed a towering profile as a civil engineer who got things done — and quickly. In the words of his spokesman, Sreedharan “can walk into the prime minister’s office. He has a reputation that he carries.”

Business students from as far away as Harvard have studied the metro’s success.

In contrast to the delays, cost-overruns and red tape that have plagued projects for decades, the subway’s first phase finished on budget and nearly three years ahead of schedule, with 99.5 percent of trains running on time.

All eyes were on the second phase, which is due for completion when the city hosts the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

But the deaths have raised questions whether the quick building came at the expense of human lives.

When he submitted his resignation, the 77-year-old Sreedharan won praise for accepting “moral responsibility” for the accident.

I interviewed Sreedharan recently, and his words now seem almost prophetic. His drive for speed was clear.

In his office, as in many others in his organisation, hangs a clock counting down the days to the next deadline.

“For us, time is money,” he told me. “We can’t allow one day to waste.”

But Sreedharan also outlined his well-known spiritual bent which he encourages his employees to follow. He fits yoga and meditation around his workday.

Behind his desk, reads a sign quoting Sanskrit scriptures: “Whatever to be done I do, but in reality, I do not do anything.”

He emphasised the importance of integrity, which he said made the government trust his organisation enough to let go of most of the decision-making.

“People should be prepared to take decisions and not pass on the buck,” he said. “We should be able to trust people in power, which means people in power should have a proven integrity.”

Delhi’s chief minister Sheila Dikshit has since persuaded Sreedharan to withdraw his resignation. Many want him to keep his job, saying the project is better off with him on board.

An editorial in the Indian Express said the resignation was “decidedly not what the Metro project needs.”

“This, in a sense, is a test case for infrastructure policy: will it continue to revolve around individuals and their differing degrees of commitment to these projects, or can we ensure that these crucial projects, which undergird our economic future, roll out successfully with stronger institutional checks and progress reviews?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has recruited Nandan Nilekani, the engineer-entrepreneur who co-founded Infosys Technologies and helped propel India’s rise as an IT giant, to head a government authority on national ID cards.

Singh said India needed experts like Nilekani from outside the political system. Singh may feel the same about Sreedharan.

As Dikshit said: “The metro and the country needs him, because he has done good work not only in Delhi, he has done it all over India.”


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[…] Sreedharan had enjoyed a towering profile as a civil engineer who got things done — and quickly. In the words of his spokesman, SreedhaRead more at 3/does-india-want-its-metro-man-to-resig n/ […]

Posted by India: A billion aspirations »…. REFILE-UPDATE 1-Gammon…. | Australia News | Report as abusive

we can’t have one rule for Sreedharan and a diff set for others. He may have delivered in the past, but this is about building for the future… I think the blame has to be shared by all. The central and state govts might have pushed him to deliver ahead of that godforsaken Commonwealth Games.

Posted by Mathai | Report as abusive

There are some whose integrity and conscience dictate their actions. Here is a man who takes his responsibilities seriously and owns up to them without a second thought. Unfortunately such people are too few while compared to those who have no such qualms.

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

Sreedharan sir is a malayali. His integrity cannot be questioned. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Posted by Gopi Pillai | Report as abusive

This is typical middle-class bias at work. Sreedharan is persuaded, nay, forced to withdraw his resignation. If he weren’t so suave, ‘meritorious’ without a patina of soft hindutva, these very beautiful people would’ve been baying for his blood.But no, six labourers have very replacable lives, their deaths are hardly a matter. They are incidental, cannon fodder before the march of ‘progress.’ Sreedharan is above all that, as he presides over the fetish that is the Metro.Sreedharan is irreplaceable, not because he is ‘efficient,’ but because he is representative of the trope of development that is removed from the ‘political,’ which in the final analysis is a political project tailored for the benefit of a particular class.

Posted by Cheri | Report as abusive

“Whatever to be done I do, but in reality, I do not do anything.” Wow. (Other) Government departments should adopt this as their motto!

Posted by kapil | Report as abusive

I think the debate or the topic is not worng where the project of such huge area covered . Accident like such occur presently should be discounted . it never means that we allow this but its unavoidable some time. in past incident had occurred, but it not means that he should resign. i am not in favor.

Posted by Amit Daga | Report as abusive

@MathaiI agree it is difficult to have one rule for Sreedharan and one rule for the rest. Perhaps the government should send out a strong message to the Sreedharans of this world that safety comes first.But perhaps the question remains — however much to blame he is for the deaths of 6 people, to what extent do the public and the government trust Sreedharan to carry on with the job? Can you can ignore his past if it shows the way to what he can achieve in the future? Is he the problem, or is he the best man to fix the problem? How sure can we be that a better man will be put in charge?I’m also not sure the Commonwealth Games were much of a factor. They might have driven Sreedharan to push a tiny bit harder, but phase 1 was completed 3 years ahead of schedule without a big sports event hanging around Delhi’s neck.

Posted by Madoo | Report as abusive

If you want to hold Mr. Sreedharan accountable for what happened, how about holding politicians like Sonia Gandhi, Mulayam Singh, Karunakaran, Sarath Pawar, Bal Thakre, Raj Thakre etc… accountable for their actions.The person to be accountable in this case (bridge collapse) would be the Engineering firm and its supervisor for not following instructions or procedures properly. Mr. Sreedharan does not stand there and watch them pour contrete all day long. Its the job of the supervisors on site that should be held responsible.

Posted by Mamta | Report as abusive

The accident brings to the fore whether we are trying to build Rome in a day. It is time to deliberate on the speed at which the phase 2 is getting completed to meet political milestones like commonwealth games. Are we compromising safety for speed?When the whole of india is getting into the infrastructure band wagon it is something to be contemplated seriously. While Sri.Sridharan remains the icon for infrastructure development we should remember that all the infrastruture projects will not have the sridharan tocuh, though we hope it gets. So we have to be doubly cautious about safety norms.

Posted by Munir Ravi | Report as abusive

[…] Sreedharan had enjoyed a towering profile as a civil engineer who got things done — and quickly. In the words of his spokesman, SreedhaRead more at 3/does-india-want-its-metro-man-to-resig n/ […]

Posted by The Hindu : Front Page :…. India: A billion aspirations »…. | Australia News | Report as abusive

India’s ramshackle infrastructure is a example of what no one should follow. A Delhi metro that though widely boasting in India is essentially a second rate system.

Posted by Job | Report as abusive

The fact that at the age of 77 Dr. Sreedharan is working on such imperative projects and is wanted by other nations to develop their metro projects speaks for the kind of professional he is. The kind of effort being put into the development of delhi metro is fantastic and according to me, Dr. Sreedharan is the man behind it. I, as an indivisual want him to carry on the project with the same zeal.

Posted by r | Report as abusive

Thou should never walk under a Delhi metro construction without fear! This was not the case until Sunday, but people will be wary of the metro work in New Delhi.Sreedharan has been a shining example, reminding us how quickly the country can be transformed if more officials like him come forward to help mould India into a truly great 21st century nation. While we need to be grateful to Sreedharan, it is also sad despite our claims as a vibrant democracy, we still look upto individuals to get things done. This shows a lack of faith in our system.Instead of debating whether Sreedharan should stay, we should bring pressure on the ruling class to put in place efficient systems in place!

Posted by ananth | Report as abusive

I think the debate or the topic is not worng where the project of such huge area covered .

Posted by karthk | Report as abusive

The managing director of prestgious delhi metro has creatde history by succesful completion of konkad railways..and on way to create history after finished complete network.we are very proud of him.

Posted by amit | Report as abusive

Our motherland’s President – Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Chief Election Commissioner – Sri T. N. Seshan, Metro man – Elattuvalapil Sreedharan…to name a few …have inherent majestic splendor ; they have done a great job towards the progress of our country, and eternal vigilance is their watchword.

Posted by Dr. Madgaonkar | Report as abusive

It appears Delhi metro has now sacked a director after the accident. Does that change anyone’s opinion on whether Sreedharan should have been allowed to resign?

Posted by Matthias | Report as abusive

Dear Writer,The heading itself a good to write comments to this subject.Indians and foreign experts are fully appreciating of wonderful works,execution of civil projects by Mr.Sreedharan and his team.He had done a excellent jobs on Railways ,and Delhi metro projects.This is not a fault of him.Some contractors bad jobs had made him to think twice of running projects.We will wait and see of the Governments commission findings.Let him continue to do more good works for nations development activities.There should be a good quality,good engineering audits for an big metro rail,fly over,road projects.

Posted by krishnamurthi ramachandran | Report as abusive

Sreedhar should not allowed to resingn from his post.Hurdles or difficulties wil come accross during big and challenging project,Only man like Sreedhar who can ablity to complete this project as he was done with erlier projects (Koankan Railways and Ist Phase of Metro Train of Delhi.).We all should support and co operate in this situation in order to complete the Project.

Posted by siraj | Report as abusive