Around this time in 2011, the Capital’s bureaucratic circles were abuzz after legendary Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) Managing Director E. Sreedharan decided to hang up his boots. Even as many senior bureaucrats and technocrats were vying for the coveted position, the mantle was passed on to someone who was neither in the limelight nor was eyeing the top job — Mangu Singh, the then director (Works) with the DMRC.
The soft-spoken Dr. Singh is going to complete five years at the helm of the Delhi Metro, which has now spread to different parts of the National Capital Region and ferries close to 30 lakh passengers per day. After 19 years in the DMRC, including nearly five years as its Chief, Dr. Singh is a picture of tranquillity as he sits in his tastefully done up office at Metro Bhawan near Connaught Place.
It has not been a cakewalk for Dr. Singh, who had Dr. Sreedharan’s colossal shoes to fill. Popularly known as “Metro Man”, Dr. Sreedharan became a cult figure for building the Delhi Metro from scratch and creating the DMRC’s reputation as an infallible lifeline of the Capital.
Comparisons with his predecessor — a living legend — is inevitable, but it is an area Dr. Singh avoids carefully: “I don’t compare myself with anybody. I’m satisfied with myself.”
Dr. Singh is a content man due to the “quantum of work done, the type of decisions taken and the stand taken on various issues,” in a period of just five years. “I’m satisfied as far as the work culture and the spread [of the network] is concerned,” he said.
On fears over the DMRC losing its independence in the absence of Dr. Sreedharan’s towering presence, Dr. Singh said: “We have maintained the independence of the organisation and kept it free from outside interferences.”
“When I took over, we were carrying about 15-16 lakh passengers every day. The number has almost doubled today, but not the network. The challenge is to carry such huge traffic with the same infrastructure,” Dr. Singh said.
Apart from the NCR, the DMRC is now constructing sections for metros across India, including one each in Jaipur and Kochi, two in Vijaywada and one in Mumbai, which also has a metro rail corporation of its own. The DMRC has also branched outside the country and is now a general consultant and is building a metro system in Bangladesh.
Despite visible achievements, Dr. Singh, a man of few words, prefers to let his work speak for itself. “There’s no need of talking. People should see the work. What is the point of crying out from the rooftop?” he said.
The biggest project in hand for Dr. Singh when he took over was the Phase-III expansion of the Delhi Metro, a project bigger in scope than Phase-I and II combined. The expansion, however, has been in the news for some delays.Many problems
“Land acquisition has become very difficult. The facility of land availability during Phases-I and II was not there in Phase-III,” he said.
With the new Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, in place, getting land has become even more difficult, Dr. Singh added.
“With the new Act, not even a single inch of land has been acquired till now in Delhi. At many locations, we had to directly negotiate with the parties. Sometimes parties can be very unreasonable if you feel that without their land the metro cannot be constructed,” he said.
The type of technology being used for Phase-III is also new, thus taking more time.
“Phase-II was the easiest, because it was basically an extension of Phase-I as far as technology was concerned. However, in Phase-III we are using an entirely new technology, which needs more trials and testing,” Dr. Singh said, adding that the technical approval process, which is given by the Indian Railways, is also different and the role of railways has become bigger.
“In spite of all these things put together, I think the DMRC has done a commendable work. All physical work would be more or less completed by December, except one small stretch. Opening of lines will depend on trials and testing of new technology.”
The ‘Heritage Line’, which connects Kashmere Gate to Central Secretariat while cutting through Old Delhi, has been the most challenging engineering endeavour for Dr. Singh’s team.
“There were many challenges and the work was held up for years in Jama Masjid area. The initial approvals itself took time, apart from crossing many important structures, railway lines, old buildings in Daryaganj,” Dr. Singh said, promising to start the line by this year end.
Agreeing that last-mile connectivity remains a problem area due to lack of efficient feeder services, Dr. Singh said: “This is an area where we feel really helpless. The reason being that at some point the DMRC had agreed to start the feeder bus system, but expecting the DMRC to facilitate the system for nearly 30 lakh people is too much,” he said.
Instead, he said, other modes of transport like the Delhi Transport Corporation buses should be reoriented and their routes rationalised to sort the problem.Revenue
With the Delhi Metro’s fare remaining unchanged since 2009 and the new fare-fixation committee not recommending a steep hike, the DMRC is looking at alternate sources of revenue. This include semi-naming of stations, advertisement in trains, digital display boards, which are going to debut at more stations soon, and property development.
The DMRC is now concentrating more on developing residential schemes than commercial ones since the corporation has realised that the former helps with more upfront money while the latter only generates rental income.
Funding for Delhi Metro’s Phase-IV still remains unclear, but the DMRC is hopeful of getting a soft loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
“This has to be discussed by the government. We have proposed a JICA loan, but the government has to take a final call,” Dr. Singh said.