A Recipe for Disaster

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Despite a series of recent high-profile mishaps, the Delhi Metro has been mysteriously slow to appoint a security consultant, reveals Shantanu Guha Ray

Aftermath Police and metro officials at the site of the july 12 accident
Aftermath Police and metro officials at the site of the july 12 accident
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

CLEARLY, THE fault lines run deep. But they also run wide. As the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) has found, there are several reasons for the July 12 accident that killed six people and injured 15 others. And while a good deal of the blame rests with site contractor Gammon India, — which has been indicted by an expert committee — some of the responsibility also rests with the DMRC itself.

Barely 48 hours after the collapse of an under-construction section on the elevated Central Secretariat-Badarpur line, DMRC Chief E Sreedharan was told it wasn’t just Gammon India that was responsible for the mishap, but that flaws in design and the use of poor construction material contributed to the accident. Sreedharan, known for possessing a keen eye for detail, knew his people were at fault as well.

Equally, the results of expert examination in a series of other mishaps that soon followed — one just the next day, when the broken section was being lifted — have revealed that a pillar with such flaws and cracks was not just a one-off. DMRC then decided to blacklist its design consultants and take action against some officials. Arch Consultancy Services and Tandon Consultants were debarred for two years, Gammon India issued a show cause notice and Vijay Anand, DMRC director in whose jurisdiction the accident occurred, was sent back to the railways.

Other heads rolled as well: two deputy chief engineers, responsible for design and site supervision, were suspended. And Rajan Kataria, Chief Engineer (Design), is to be issued with a penalty charge-sheet.

Is this enough to ensure the future safety of passengers? In private discussions, Sreedharan has lamented the cause of the accident. But he also reiterated that the issue of passenger security, should be on the top of the minds of DMRC officials.

In fact, his officers have told Sreedharan about the imminent appointment of a security consultant firm and its impact on the functioning of the metro.

Sreedharan’s focus on security issues also assumes importance since the Delhi government has given clearance for the DMRC to begin work on Phase III. Following the green-lighting of the third expansion of the network, DMRC is set to start preparing the Detailed Project Report. The Report will cost Rs 3.19 crore, which will be shared equally by the Delhi government and the ministry of urban development.

In Phase III, the DMRC aims to cover a length of 120 km in the National Capital Region (NCR). Also ready to begin operations by the end of next month is the 13.1- km corridor that links populous east Delhi to suburban Noida in the NCR. The new line to Noida was delayed by a month due to the non-availability of trains.

Since the expansion of the network is a constant and the metro currently carries over 1.5 lakh passengers during peak hours, it’s not surprising that security is an issue that is engaging the DMRC boss.

But despite Sreedharan’s concern, and the fact that a security consultant firm is to be appointed, highly-placed sources in the DMRC say that not many in the corporation seem to be paying any heed to potential security concerns.

Quite the reverse, in fact. A little over a month before the accident, the DMRC — which currently operates 68 stations and will soon have 140 stations — issued global tenders for a consultant, ostensibly because the corporation was concerned about passenger security and the fact that the metro poses a prime target.

The tenders were to be submitted between June 1 and June 10, after acquiring a tender form for Rs 5200 ($156). As per the initial notification, the tenders were to be opened on June 16 between 1500-1530 hours. “The idea was to get the best possible company to oversee security issues,” the sources told TEHELKA, adding: “The criteria required necessary completion of three such projects of national or international level worth $50,000. The firms were to be in business for the last 10 years.”

BUT SUDDENLY, DMRC — vide a corrigendum dated 12.06.09 — extended the time and date for submitting tenders, up to July 1. Inexplicably, the corporation once again extended the time, vide another corrigendum dated June 26 — up to July 16. Finally, vide a corrigendum dated July 15, the time given was extended once more — this time to July 21.

If the delay allowed wasn’t bad enough, what’s worse is the fact that DMRC also lowered the standard of technical qualifications required for submitting tenders vide another letter, dated July 18, which, according to sources, stated, “The new criteria reduced the mandatory requirement of completion of three assignments to one and also reduced the cost of the projects from $50,000 to $20,000.”

The proof of this lowering of standards is a letter written by DMRC General Manager AK Gupta, a copy of which is available with TEHELKA. “The firm should have executed at least 1(one) project as security consultants for big establishment such as airports, railways, metro railways, nuclear reactors, convention centres, stadiums, sporting events, hotels, passenger ships, embassies or other big installation for values not less than $ 20,000,” says Gupta in the letter.

What prompted the change? Repeated attempts to obtain a response from DMRC have proved futile.

The DMRC seems to be reaping the benefits of the fact that there is no one to replace them

All this has happened at a time when the metro has been identified as the preferred mode of transport in Delhi. A recent study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India said that despite recent casualties and obstructions in ongoing Delhi Metro projects, a majority of the city’s working population will still prefer the metro to other modes of public transportation for their daily commuting as the credibility and popularity of DMRC projects is unlikely to be adversely affected by them. Releasing their findings on ‘Metro Projects’, Assocham secretary general D S Rawat said that it is estimated that over 70 lakh working people waste five hours a day commuting due to the current heavy congestion. The study said that almost all wage earners will spend less than two hours commuting after the metro network is fully set up. Most of the working population is expected to shift to metro transportation and avoid other forms of transport, says Rawat.

Perhaps someone needs to commission a study that polls views on how well people think the Metro is handling passenger safety issues of security against potential terrorist strikes. It’s possible that like many political parties, Delhi Metro too is reaping the benefits of the TINA (there is no alternative) factor.