E Sreedharan: More Than The Metro Man



Name: E Sreedharan
Age: 80


Why He Won: For building some of the largest infrastructure projects since India’s independence, despite working for a government organisation. He faced a lot of interference from politicians in the early years, but Sreedharan put his foot down and demanded that he be given a free hand.



In 2000, following a long and ugly public spat with the Ministry of Railway, E Sreedharan wanted to quit Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC).

He had wanted to use coaches of standard gauge—used by metros globally—for the Delhi Metro, while the ministry wanted to use broad gauge, like the rest of the rail network in India.  

The issue went to a group of ministers, which favoured the railway ministry. Sreedharan, who had been selected on the basis of his competence, found that the government did not trust his judgement. He saw no reason to continue with DMRC. 

He then turned to the Bhagwad Gita. For more than 15 years, he has been reading a couple of stanzas every day and ruminating on their meaning. 
On that day in 2000, he reflected on the central theme of the Gita, where Arjun—looking at the gathered armies—feels despondent, drops his weapons, and tells Krishna he will not fight. Krishna says that, no matter what, Arjun has to fulfill his duty. 

Sreedharan decided not to quit, but, instead, to stay on and fight his battles. 

Before Delhi Metro…
The Delhi Metro had not been Sreedharan’s first battle.

In 1963, he had been given six months to repair Pamban Bridge, which connected Rameshwaram to the mainland. Sreedharan, barely 30 at the time, took 46 days. 

In the 1990s, he was in charge of Konkan Railway, a 760-km stretch cutting across the Western Ghats. Nearly 150 bridges and 92 tunnels had to be built. He took seven years, from the initial survey till the launch.

But, Delhi Metro presented its own challenges. The memories of the Kolkata Metro—building the 17-km stretch had taken 22 years—were still very strong. The cost of the project had overshot its budget 14 times; fatal accidents and building collapses had followed underground digging. The experience made politicians across the country shy away from taking up another metro project for years. 

Policy makers largely viewed work on the Delhi Metro through this prism of scepticism.

But all this changed when things started moving fast. Sreedharan, too, got his way: After the first phase, the metro moved to standard gauge. 
Delhi Metro carries 2.2 million people every day and earns Rs 4 crore a day, more than enough to cover operational expenses and interest payments (60 percent of the project was funded through debt). 

World over, a metro train is considered late if it is delayed by two minutes. For Delhi Metro, this is one minute. With such an exacting standard, it has been punctual 99.97 percent of the time. Sheila Dixit’s electoral success—she was elected Delhi’s chief minister three times in a row—is attributed to the Metro.   

…and After
Sreedharan retired from DMRC in December 2011. He was 65 when he had taken up the project. “But, I had felt very young then, both physically and mentally. Today, it’s slightly different. I have become a little old mentally, and very much more bodily,” he said. He wanted to retire to his ancestral village, and live a placid life in Ponnani, on the coast of Kerala. 

He moved to Ponnani, but his retired life did not work out the way he had planned. Kerala’s Chief Minister Oommen Chandy wanted Sreedharan’s help in implementing the Kochi metro project. 

In terms of engineering, it is not a tough project. The terrain is flat; the train lines were to run above the ground; he has the support of both the Centre and the state. The Kerala government also agreed to Sreedharan’s wish of making DMRC the implementing agency for the project.  

But a project of this size does not come without its difficulties. Tom Jose, the MD of Kochi Metro till August, had differences with Sreedharan. After moving out, he told a newspaper that the Kerala government was depending too much on a single person. 

There will be further problems: The rails will pass through some crowded spots, people will have to put up with construction, and the project will have to be completed in three years. 

Recently, Sreedharan went to the Kochi refinery of Bharat Petroleum to speak to its top executives on project management. He spoke to about 20 senior officials, shared his experiences, and took questions. The senior officials, many with greying hair, lapped it up like undergraduates listening to a star professor. 

This role—of listening, advising, motivating—seems to fit him like wheels on a track. He is a good speaker, and his advice doesn’t come across as pontification; it’s almost like a suggestion. His sense of humour—which sparked off a few spontaneous bursts of laughter at BPCL—reveals the absurdities of corporate life. 

Sreedharan could well have opted for a placid life, and yet sated his sense of duty by being a source of knowledge, wisdom and inspiration. Why would he take up responsibility that might pull him into the world of politics, bureaucratic turf wars and even put his reputation at some risk?

To know why, one needs to look not at what he has accomplished, but how.



The Delhi Metro is now a part and parcel of every Delhite's life. Just like the local trains in Mumbai which are the city's lifeline, the Delhi Metro has become a quintessential part in the Capital's day-to-day activities. But, putting the Metro in place was a formidable task and E Sreedharan is credited with this rare feat.

A classmate of TN Seshan, the former Chief Election Commissioner of India in school, he was born in Kerala on July 12, 1932. Sreedharan graduated as an engineer from the Government Engineering College, Kakinada. He joined the Indian Railways in its Engineering Services. This was through a nationwide selection process and his first assignment was in the Southern Railway as a Probationary Assistant Engineer in 1954.

In 1963, he got an opportunity to prove his caliber. A huge tidal wave washed away parts of Pamban bridge that connected Rameshwaram to mainland Tamil Nadu. The railways set a target of six months for the bridge to be repaired while Sreedharan's boss, under whose jurisdiction the bridge came, reduced it to three months. Sreedharan was put in-charge of the execution and such was his dexterity at his work that he restored the bridge in 46 days. The Railway Minister's Award was given to him in recognition of this achievement. In 1970, as the Deputy Chief Engineer, he was put in-charge for implementation, planning and design of Calcutta Metro, the first ever Metro in India. Cochin Shipyard launched Rani Padmini, the first ship it built, when he was its Chairman and Managing Director (CMD). He retired from Indian Railways in 1990.

They say life begins after retirement. Something like this happened with Sreedharan also. The government needed his services and such was his reputation as a diligent worker that he was appointed CMD of Konkan Railway on contract in 1990. Under his stewardship, the company executed its mandate in seven years. The project was unique in many respects.

It was the first major project in India to be undertaken on EOT (Build - Operate-Transfer) basis and the organizational structure was different from that of a typical Indian railway set-up. The project had 93 tunnels along a length of 82 km and involved tunneling through soft soil. That a public sector project could be completed without significant cost and time over-runs was considered as an achievement by many.

His hard work, ingenuity and pool of talent was recognized and by mid-2005, he was made the Managing Director of Delhi Metro. Under his able guidance, all the scheduled sections were completed by their target date or before and within their respective budgets. But this task was not without bottlenecks. Sreedharan overcame such hurdles by assembling a motivated team of professionals, bypassing India's notorious bureaucracy and visited sub-way systems around the world for tips.

In recognition of his stupendous achievements, Sreedharan was given the sobriquet of 'Metro Man' by the media. In 2005, he was awarded the Chevalier de la a Legion d'Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) by the Government of France. He had announced, formerly, that he would retire by the end of 2005, but his tenure has been extended by another three years to oversee the completion of the Second Phase of Delhi Metro. In the first phase, his greatest feat has been that he has cracked down on kickbacks and stayed within the budget. He proudly says, "The contractors are grateful not to have to give bribes to get a project". This achievement has spread pride and hope. Many Delhi denizens feel that if more such things could be done, New Delhi could stand in a competition with any other capital in the contemporary world. Meanwhile, Sreedharan has consulted with Hyderabad and Bombay about possible metros. Undoubtedly, he had laid the road map for such ambitious projects and given India an efficient transport system to boast of one of its smoothest rides in memory.

Elattuvalapil Sreedharan (Malayalam: എലാട്ടുവളപ്പില്ശ്രീധരന്; born 12 June 1932) was the managing director of Delhi Metro during 1995-2012.

E. Sreedharan was born on 12 July 1932 in the Palakkad district of Kerala. His family hails from Karukaputhur, near Koottanad, Palakkad district, Kerala. He completed his studies at the Basel Evangelical Mission Higher Secondary School and then went to the Victoria College in Palghat. He later on completed his Civil Engineering from the Government Engineering College, Kakinada (known as JNTU). He, along with his wife Radha, have four children.


For a short tenure, he worked as a lecturer in Civil engineering at the Government Polytechnic, Kozhikode and a year at the BombayPort Trust as an apprentice.

Later he joined the Indian Railways in its Service of Engineers. His first assignment was in the Southern Railway as a Probationary Assistant Engineer in December 1954.

In 1963, a cyclone washed away parts of Pamban Bridge that connected Rameshwaram to mainland Tamil Nadu. The Railways set a target of six months for the bridge to be repaired while Sreedharan's boss, under whose jurisdiction the bridge came, reduced it to three months. Sreedharan was put in-charge of the execution and he restored the bridge in just 46 days.[1] TheRailway minister's Award was given to him in recognition of this achievement..

n 1970, as the deputy chief engineer, he was put in charge for implementation, planning and design of Calcutta metro, the first ever metro in India. Cochin Shipyard launched Rani Padmini,the first ship it built, when he was its Chairman and Managing Director (CMD). He retired from Indian Railways as Member Engineering in 1990.

Though he retired, the Government needed his services and he was appointed the CMD ofKonkan Railway on contract in 1990 by the then railway minister, George Fernandes. Under his stewardship, the company executed its mandate in seven years. The project was unique in many respects. It was the first major project in India to be undertaken on a BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) basis; the organisation structure was different from that of a typical Indian Railway set-up; the project had 93 tunnels along a length of 82 km and involved tunneling through soft soil. The total project covered 760 km and had over 150 bridges. That a public sector project could be completed without significant cost and time overruns was considered an achievement by manya.

He was made the managing director of Delhi Metro and by mid-1995 by the Delhi Chief Minister Sahib Singh Verma[?], all the scheduled sections were completed by their target date or before, and within their respective budgets. Sreedharan was given the sobriquet of Metro Man by the media. In 2005, he was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) by the government ofFrance. He had announced that he would retire by the end of 2005, but his tenure has been extended by another three years to oversee the completion of the second phase of Delhi Metro.

In July 2009, Sreedharan resigned as the managing director DMRC, taking moral responsibility for the collapse of an under-construction bridge (at Zamrudpur near Amar Colony) that killed five people.[2] However, due to popular demand, Delhi's Chief Minister Sheila Dikshitrejected Sreedharan's resignation, and he withdrew it a day later.[3] Sreedharan stated after his withdrawal that he will ultimately be quitting from his position but only after the completion of the Phase II of the Delhi Metro Project.[4]

After 16 years of service with the Delhi Metro, Sreedharan retired from service on 31 December 2011. His successor is Mangu Singh, who is an Indian Railways Service of Engineers (IRSE) officer of the 1981 batch.[5] After his retirement from DMRC, Sreedharan has been appointed as Principal Advisor of the Kochi Metro Rail Project.[6] Sreedharan also has an advisory board slot at Foundation for the Restoration of National Values, with members like business tycoon Ratan Tata and a former chief justice of India. The foundation aims to "bring in good values in all areas of national life, to cleanse corruption in high places," says Sreedharan.

[edit]Awards and accolades

§                    Railway Minister's Award (1963)

§                    Padma Shri by the Government of India (2001)

§                    Man of the Year by The Times of India (2002)

§                    Shri Om Prakash Bhasin Award for professional excellence in engineering (2002)

§                    CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) Juror's Award for leadership in infrastructure development (2002–03)

§                    One of Asia's Heroes by TIME (2003)

§                    AIMA (All India Management Association) award for Public Service Excellence (2003)

§                    Degree of Doctor of Science (Honoris causa) from IIT Delhi.

§                    Bharat Shiromani award from the Shiromani Institute, Chandigarh (2005)

§                    Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) by the government of France (2005)

§                    CNN-IBN Indian Of the Year 2007: Public Service (2008)[7]

§                    Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India (2008) 51525

§                    D.Lit. By Rajasthan Technical University, Kota, Rajasthan, in 2009

§                    Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Honoris causa) from IIT Roorkee, 2009.



How many people in Delhi know a man called E. Sreedharan? He is 70 +. He should have retired a long time ago with enough achievements to boast about to his grandchildren. Most of his working life he was yet another unknown engineer with the railways, until he took up the challenge of building the Konkan Railway that reduced the Mumbai-Kochi distance by one-third. Everybody said it wasn’t possible. Also, that it would cost too much money, will be a white elephant, will be technologically impossible, and will ravage the environment. The usual reasons why no new infrastructure can be built in India. There were PILs filed, processions taken out. He defied them all and built India’s first, genuine railway project of any notable size after the British.

When the government was short of money, he raised public bonds and that was a decade ago when such things were unprecedented. Sreedharan did not stop there. Everybody laughed when plans to build a metro rail in Delhi were announced. But Sreedharan took up the project. He is a modest man. It is not the self-effacing version of modesty which politicians wear, but the genuine kind. E. Sreedharan, architect of the Konkan Railway and the Delhi Metro Rail, believes that all his achievements were the result of team efforts.

Focus and passion. Probably these are the keywords. But when he is asked about the mantra of success, Sreedharan again downplays his role. “I have been lucky enough to pick up the right people for the right job,” he says, sitting in his sparsely furnished office.

After the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) was set up, one of the first things Sreedharan did as managing director was to instill a “sense of corporate culture”.

“In private organizations run by the Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis, it is not difficult to stick to deadlines,” says Sreedharan. “The word of the boss is final.” In a government set-up, where there are too many bosses and too few juniors, it is next to impossible. But not totally impossible, as Sreedharan, has proved. He believes in working with slim organizations. While it took more than two decades to build the Kolkata metro (“The result of bad planning,” says Sreedharan), Delhi stuck to its deadline of December 2002.
In Delhi, he did not have to face many hurdles. There were no stay orders, no dharnas. People in the Old Delhi area (Chandni Chowk) did object to their houses being demolished. But the DMRC used the tunnel boring machine technology to solve this problem. It has ensured that there were no major traffic bottlenecks, no demolition.

Sreedharan insists he does not have any special skills to get the best out of people. “I always found that people cooperate if you work for a good cause,” he says.
Is he a workaholic? “No,” says he. “I am committed to my work but not a workaholic.” His colleagues agree that he does not believe in making people stay on in the office if they have finished their given task. “He even takes a nap in the afternoons,” says a colleague.

“I believe that when an officer is given a particular task, he should be made responsible to finish it,” says Sreedharan. He almost has an obsession with deadlines. (In the early years of his career, it earned him 20 transfers.) Every officer in DMRC keeps a digital board which shows the number of days left for the completion of the next target.

He thanks God for giving him success. “I am a religious person but religion does not mean going to temples. To me it means leading a virtuous life,” he says.

Mr. Sreedharan wakes before dawn, meditates, reads the Bhagavad Gita and does yoga every morning. He also walks 45 minutes in the evenings.

Success and virtue, a rare combination in today’s world, But they run side by side in Sreedharan’s life. Like rail tracks.



A man who by the virtue of his hard work and dedication brought comfort to the lives of masses, E. Sreedharan is an icon of our times. His work and vision has redefined public transport, be it the Delhi Metro as well as several projects with Railways across India. He is known for his clear thinking and adherence to deadlines. At the age of 79, he handed over the reins as the Managing Director of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation(DMRC), a responsibility he shouldered for a decade and a half, on 31st December 2011 having magnanimously transformed the lives of millions of people.

Here are five very powerful lessons to be learnt from the exemplary life of E.Sreedharan :

1.                 Let deadlines motivate you rather than pressurize you
In the earlier part of his career, Sreedharan faced 20 job transfers due to his dedication to deadlines, perhaps because his work ethics were difficult for others to match up to. Nevertheless, he remained undeterred in his method and approach. He took up the daunting task to restore a bridge within a tight deadline of six months. By the time he assumed the task, the time was reduced to half, yet, Sreedharan was able to accomplish the unimagined, by completing the restoration work in 46 days and making the bridge operational.

Can we ever imagine ourselves taking up a task whose deadline approaches twice as fast! It would render us distressed and distraught. And may be we would try to find a route to evade and escape. This example teaches us that we must look at the deadline from a perspective of being a motivator than a stressor. We may never know, it could bring out the best in us!

2.                 Start your day early, finish your day early
Inspite of handling projects of such magnitude, Sreedharan is known to never have stayed in the office beyond 6pm, and has never liked people working late too. He was simply disciplined and gave his hundred percent when on the job. It is also known that he is a very early riser, waking up at the crack of dawn and retiring to bed early to allow himself the required rest. His personal habits allow him to devote time to his health, do yoga, and keep himself filled with youthful energy even at a ripe old age of 79.

When we have a busy schedule, we find it to be an easy excuse to not be able to take care of our health. Your waking time is a critical aspect which decides how much you will get out of your day, and eventually your life.

3.                 Work with honesty, others will co-operate
Sreedharan has help thousands of people to success. But when asked, he has not claimed a method to his leadership. He has simply done his best, with full devotion and with a sense of honesty. People have looked up to him and in return have reciprocated by doing their best too.

He has set an example. People have followed. He is a man who has led people by his personal power though he wielded immense positional power.

4.                 Believe in your self, believe in the impossible
His career has seen many occasions where he has gone against the tide when he was convinced of his own purpose. Thus making him a self-driven and persevering professional. He has been able to achieve what no one before him could even have imagined. The summary of his industrious career is for us to enjoy, as we shall all travel with comfort and speed ever after because of him. His work with the DMRC has put the name of Delhi’s metro rail facility on the world map, at par with international standards.

Though we all have the potential, yet we may find it difficult to answer ourselves whether we have given our best always and been able to create unprecedented results. Let us take inspiration from Sreedharan’s life to do our best in all that we take up, and achieve the unachievable.

5.                 Let awards and accolades not affect you, and similarly, let not criticism deter you.
Many awards and accolades have come his way, but Sreedharan was never to be carried away. He has been decorated with Padma Vibhushan as well as many other prestigious awards internationally. But to this day, he remains a humble man whom we have not seen much in the newspaper or other media. He has silently toiled, without being moved by praise or criticism.

We all desire praise, but we forget that praise and criticism are both meant to make us better provided we know how to take it in our stride. Let us not make it our goal to achieve praise and reward but set personal standards for excellence. Also, when we meet unjust criticism, let us not become bitter but accept it as someone’s opinion. To be able to remain focused and passionate about our work we must be able to remain poised in both of these emotionally stirring situations.  



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