For a long time now, the Delhi Metro Project has assumed the status of a ‘holy cow’ that was above question or criticism. This was mainly because of the deservedly huge reputation of its chairman, E Sreedharan. But the
12th July accident at the construction site has set off a much-needed debate on various issues including the Comptroller & Auditor General’s rap to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) for exaggerating the ‘ridership’ figures to justify its high project cost. According to discussions on a Delhi Metro yahoo group, the DMRC had projected a ridership of 31.85 lakh passenger trips per day in 2005; but had not exceeded 6.62 lakh passengers even in November 2007. In fact, contrary to its projections, it has ordered coaches to handle only five lakh passengers, with the result that the metro is crowded the moment the passenger load increases during peak hours. Consequently, the metro fares have remained high and expected benefits such as reduction in road traffic have not materialised. If the government intends to spend large sums of money on infrastructure projects, it is imperative that the
media stops gushing about long-delayed and expensive projects. For instance, the Worli-Bandra sea link
in Mumbai—which took 15 years and nearly three times the original cost—is being touted as a construction marvel, when better bridges have been built significantly faster and cheaper around the world. Similarly, the blind faith in the extremely expensive and unviable Metro Rail Project and the personality cult created around Mr Sreedharan has prevented India from looking at significantly cheaper and newer public transport alternatives such as monorails in second-tier cities such as Pune, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. At the same time, truly path-breaking projects of their times, such as the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, receive no media coverage even though privatisation has led to higher tolls and a huge decline in maintenance and security standards. India needs infrastructure spending, but it also needs an alert press and public to ensure that taxpayers’ money is well spent.