Who bungled Namma Metro? BMRCL ex-Chiefs unite against Sreedharan

bmrcl namma blrBangalore: Who bungled the Namma Metro? If the startling revelations made by the father of Konkan railway and former MD of Delhi metro, E. Sreedharan, are to be believed the officers who succeeded V. Madhu were to blame for the design changes and delays. However, namma Metro officials have denied allegations of not following the norms or ego clashes.

Reacting to Sreedharan’s allegations, former BMRCL Managing Director N.Sivasailam said, “We have to take all these with a pinch of salt. The decisions are taken unanimously by the board and all these issues were discussed. Unlike Delhi, here it is not a one-man decision. I was there for 62 months and we had 64 board meetings. The certification from DMRC was of no help. So, we got the certification from the Ministry of Railways alone as it was necessary. In fact, we are the first one to have received certification under the Metro Act. After all BMRCL is an independent body. In fact, after Sreedharan retired from DMRC MD post, Bengaluru metro had the best and successful team until it was dismantled in 2013. Bengaluru’s contribution in Kochi metro is evident. We helped them in getting the third rail in place.”

Sivasailam also alleged that Sreedharan had a role in delay of Phase 2 of Bengaluru Metro. He said, “We had requested DMRC to prepare Phase 2 Detailed Project Report (DPR), much before Delhi phase 3 talks started. But Sreedharan first submitted the proposal of Delhi Phase 3 to the government, as he wanted Delhi metro to get funds before Bengaluru. He made sure that Phase 2 DPR got delayed. In fact, Bengaluru opened its first line in four-and-half years. We started in January 2007 and we finished by 2010-11, while Delhi took five-and-half years to open its first line. And most importantly we followed all the norms.”

On failure to take up underground line work on a priority basis, as suggested by DMRC, he said, “The first underground tender was cancelled by the board and it took eight months to call the next tender. I had exchanged many letters with Sreedharan, where he had said that he has no expertise in underground tunnelling. And we had to revise the entire DPR.” On the issue of keeping DMRC in loop about BMRCL’s activities, Sivasailam said, “There was no need for that.”

Sreedharan had alleged that due to ego issues BMRCL has overlooked almost all the suggestions made by DMRC and this led to delay and escalation of costs. The former Delhi Metro MD had said, “When we suggested a different approach for Majestic intersection, the then MD Shivasailam wanted to scarp our contract. They did not adhere to any of our advices nor kept us in loop. They felt they are as big as DMRC. And now it has been over four years that DMRC and BMRC have no correspondence at all.”

Shivasailam’s predecessor V. Madhu said, “DPR gives a general picture, but when you are on the field things might be very different. Delhi has alluvial soil, but in Bengaluru the soil profile is different. Some places you will find them mixed, again at some places, within a distance of 15 metres, it will be soft soil.” On taking up elevated section first, he said, “There was so much public pressure on us that we wanted to start with something, so we took up MG Road to Byappanahalli stretch.”

Phase I: Too many deadlines missed

Bengaluru metro construction began in 2006 and for the 42-km long Phase 1, only four stretches, out of nine, have been thrown open to public. The initial estimated cost for the project was Rs 5400 crore, but today has almost tripled to Rs 13,845 crore. Missing deadlines have become a perennial issue.

So far three deadlines for Phase I – December, 2012; December, 2013 and March, 2015 have been missed. It remains to be seen if the authorities will be able to meet the mid-2016 deadline to complete the Phase I and Bengalureans will finally be able to avail those services.

Experts bat for Technocrat Chief

E. Sreedharan has also raised the technocrat versus bureaucrat debate. He opined that projects like metro rail need a technocrat, who is capable of taking fast and correct decision, who would complete the work in a time-bound manner and will be accountable. Is it time to have a technocrat as head of agencies that carry out public projects like BMRCL and high speed rail?

City experts seem to agree with Sreedharan. Biocon founder Kiran Majumdar Shaw said, “Any high intensity projects like metro needs good technical expertise. It will be helpful if these projects are headed by technocrats, who have a strong understanding to technicalities. It will be helpful in execution of the project if the head has a better understanding of technical aspects. Or else we need a strong technical team.”

Voicing a similar opinion, Sanjeev V. Dyamannavar, member of Praja, an advocacy group, said, “We definitely need technocrats to head such organisations as they will be able to avoid delays that we are witnessing now. He will be able to anticipate eventualities in a much better way.”

BMRCL has had five IAS officers as chiefs and Sreedharan feels this has affected the project heavily. He said, “If phase 2 is to be implemented well, we need a technocrat who will be able to complete the project on time. IAS officers cannot take prompt decisions and are unaware of the technical difficulties that might come up. Today Lucknow and Kochi metros are doing very well, as both are headed by technocrats.”