PALACE ROAD: Completing a Metro system is easier than running it successfully, according to E Sreedharan, popularly known as the Metro Man.
Now in his 80s, he still has the sharpest, youngest mind in the boardroom of Vishwanath Associates, where he addressed an informal press conference on Tuesday.
Talking about Namma Metro in Bengaluru, he said the more delayed a project gets, the more difficult its sustainability becomes.
Pre-judging soil quality, appointing technocrats and not bureaucrats, anticipating problems, and taking advice when needed can help along a project of this scale, he said.
“A leader has to be a role-model. Everything flows from him,” he said.
The man who repaired the cyclone-swept Pamban Bridge between Rameswaram and mainland Tamil Nadu in just 46 days, has stories that, like him, never grow old.
He recalled the time when he was helming the Konkan Railway project:
“A politician did not like me. He wanted me removed and I am not someone who will persist in a role where I am not required. Things came to a point where the PMO got to hear of this conflict and I was asked, ‘So what is the real issue between the two of you?’ When I said I would leave rather than succumb to political pressure, I was told, ‘The PM wants you to stand up to anyone who stands in your way and do what you need to in the best interests of the nation.’ The PM was PV Narasimha Rao. That is the kind of a leader you need.”
He attributes the fissures in governance and the lack of a self-respecting work culture to the absence of inspired leaders.
“A team leader must take full responsibility for the results. He must be given complete freedom to resist political interference. The basic strength of a leader is performance, the results he produces,” he said.
He attributes the goodwill he has earned to his manner of working.
“I have a different style. It is based on discussion rather than confrontation,” he said, attributing his strength to fight ‘battles that must be fought’ to the Bhagwad Gita.
He names as his ideal Govind Parameswara Warrier (G P Warrier), the man best known in Kerala for laying the Kollam-Eranakulam line, the backbone of that state’s transport network.
“Oh, he was my inspiration and still is. Such an upright man!” Sreedharan said.
Although he sees a dearth of such figures in politics, he believes the corporate sector is developing differently.
About his work at the Foundation for Restoration of National Values, which he has founded, he says it is an attempt to bring back ethical discipline in the way the country is governed.
And though he works with administrators and leaders at the highest level, he concedes that to build a nation of game-changers, a beginning must be made at home and in schools.
“How you are educated, and what you imbibe from your parents and teachers is crucial to what you become. And though I have worked in so many diverse areas, it is my wife who has successfully managed the home front,” he said.
And finally, after a life-time of problem solving, does he long for retirement? “If am needed somewhere, I will not shirk my responsibility. It is not in me to procrastinate. And work is not a burden. I foresee problems before they happen and so when they do, there is no stress. Only preparedness,” he said.
A hero's life
How do you sum up Elattuvalapil Sreedharan in a few stock phrases like Metro Man and Karmyogi? He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2008 and the Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 2005, and named one of Asia's heroes by Time magazine in 2003, but those honours can't fully indicate the magnitude of his work. Sreedharan changed the template of public
transport in India. He is a visionary who sees the links between what is and what can be. Even today, he fearlessly rams into political inertia and incompetence at every level, but is at pains to tell journalists, "Let us not discourage them (the people behind the Bengaluru Metro). We must provide answers, not just criticism." At Tuesday's event, he spoke about the necessity of a high speed Metro line between Bengaluru and Mysuru, and his labour of love, the Foundation for Restoration of National Values.