That day, when Elias George stepped into the Kochi metro train, which was travelling from Palarivattom to Aluva, a man approached him.
“Aren’t you Elias George?” he says. “I am Fr. John (name changed). I want to congratulate you on a job well done.”
“Thank you,” said George, the Managing Director of the Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL). The priest then introduced his son and daughter-in-law. “They live in Kuwait, so before they returned, I wanted them to have a ride in the Metro,” says Fr. John.
It was a gratifying moment for the senior bureaucrat.
When George took over as the MD over four years ago, following his stint as Chairman, Kerala State Electricity Board, he was apprehensive. “There were so many hindrances in completing this mega project,” says the 60-year-old.
“Firstly, everybody has a different political and social view. Secondly, we had to acquire 600 parcels of land through the district administration. I was worried about whether we will be able to pull it through. On top of that, there was a tussle between the DMRC (Delhi Metro Rail Corporation) and the KMRL. We are the client and they are the country’s leading Metro agency.”
Looking back at how things happened, he says, “In Kerala, for a project to succeed, you have to make people believe your purpose is genuine. The public always thinks that any person who is involved in such a massive project has a hidden agenda. Once they were convinced about our sincerity, the whole of Kochi supported us.”
One day, a trader, Mohammed, met Elias in his office and said he had 10 cents of land at Aluva. It was the third time the government was acquiring his land. First, the National Highway acquired some, followed by the public works department. “Now the Metro wants my last ten cents,” said Mohammed. “But take it, Sir. My children will have a better tomorrow. The Metro will provide job opportunities.”
Another major plus was the presence of E Sreedharan, the principal adviser to the DMRC.
“Sreedharan has got tremendous project implementation experience and skills. He knows how to manage contractors. More than anything else, because of his reputation and stature, nobody, especially the labour unions, would come and harass us,” George says.
The ‘us’ here is the thousands of migrant labourers from Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Assam. In fact, they comprised more than 90 per cent of our work force.
Very early in his stint, George noticed that the hierarchical structure of the KMRL was hampering creativity. So, he decided to end it. “We became like a start-up. When I retire this is something that I will propagate, apart from how we were able to set up the fastest first-phase metro project in the country.”