Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute | November 14, 2014 | 03:26 pm IST A month ago, the Supreme Court bench of judges thought out aloud when they wished for someone like an E. Sreedharan to come in and save the Ganga rejuvenation project.  The “metro man” as he has come to be known has been appointed head of a “one-man committee” to ensure transparency and accountability in the Railways by its newly appointed Minister, Suresh Prabhu. Fifty-eight years on the job and still counting, Elattuvalapil Sreedharan was a retired IES (Indian Engineering Servies) officer in 1990 when he reached the grand old age of 60. But the man who was awarded the Padma Shri and the Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India in 2001 and 2008 respectively, has refused to retire, and has subsequently built a legacy and a story worth telling.  He first shot to fame as the main man behind the execution of then the Calcutta Metro in 1970 after which took the task of rebuilding the Pamban Bridge in Tamil Nadu. The bridge and the town of Dhanushkodi were destroyed in a coastal cyclone in 1964 in which more than 2000 lost their lives. The three month job of rebuilding a structure which connected Rameshwaram to the mainland was completed in 46 days. When you consider that the same stretch of 2.3 kilometers was rebuilt in 2006 due to a flash flood after six months, you can’t help but marvel at the task’s enormity in ’64. After being promoted as the head of Western Railways in 1987, he was appointed CMD in charge of building the single line Konkan railway in 1990 by the then Railway Minister, George Fernandes. Ninty-three tunnels were to be constructed along an 82 kilometer stretch. During the construction of one of these tunnels, his team hit a stone wall and another tunnel had to be dug. Sreedharan asked them to start work as soon as possible and not worry about the budget. “Don’t worry about that. I’ll take care of it. The more the work is delayed, the more it will cost. So, start now”. A mammoth task which spanned 760 kilometers and over 2000 bridges was completed without much fuss despite having to negotiate marshy terrain and blasting through basalt rocks.  Having personally travelled the length of the Konkan, you have to concede that even if not a landmark, it’s a remarkable feat of structural engineering.  The man from Palakkad was then appointed director of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation in 1995, and as accolades from the government kept coming along his way, he completed every deadline on time and within the stipulated budget. His handling of the Delhi project was historic in terms of size, and a complexity which totaled 168 kilometers.  Image Courtesy: DMRC Facebook page President A.P.J. in the Delhi Metro His single-mindedness again came through early on in his tenure, with him insisting on the Japanese as consultants to the project. The Railway minister preferred the Germans, who had lobbied harder but Sreedharan would have none of it. “I refused to give in. And refused to even give him any explanation”, he said later. He reportedly cut the Government funding off, working on a self-acquired loan of $5 billion from the Japanese Bank of International Co-operation.  There were problems towards the end of the project in 2009, with the Delhi-Gurgaon line after farmers objected to the route and took the matter to court. The man from Kerala instructed his team to build a station framework from pre-fabricated steel. As the case got settled after six months, Sreedharan’s team had a readymade steel-box station to be put in. Talk about thinking out of the box. His stint at the DMRC was over at the end of December 2011, after 16 years of distinguished service. The KMRC (Kochi Metro Rail Corporation) then took him on as a principal advisor and he has also since been working on as an advisor to the Lucknow and Jaipur Metro projects. He is also overseeing the metro projects in Andhra Pradesh currently.  There are abundant tribute pieces for the man and it’s easy to get emotional while writing them.  Sheer facts though, are enough to tell the story of someone who didn’t just go about his job; he changed lives while he was at it. And as India’s largest and the world’s seventh largest employer needed a shake up, Prabhu could look no further than metro man, E Sreedharan.

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