E Sreedharan, former managing director of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for his “personal intervention” to stop the Aam Aadmi Party government’s “proposal of free travel to ladies in the Metro”.
Talking to The Indian Express Friday, Sreedharan said, “Two-thirds of the funding for Delhi Metro comes from the Japanese government. DMRC has the responsibility to service the loan while keeping fares uniformly low for everyone. If we have to pay back the loan in time, we need maximum revenue. With concessions being brought in, the government will have to step in and start subsidising DMRC, which then loses its freedom and will find it difficult to survive.”
Sreedharan, known as ‘Metro man’ for his pivotal role in implementing the Delhi Metro rail project, said the decision to not allow concessions of any kind in Delhi was taken by him at the inception of the project.
The AAP government recently announced free Metro rides for all women in Delhi Metro, suggesting that it would give more mobility and employment opportunities to the less privileged, and ensure a safer commute for women. Sreedharan, however, countered the view, saying, “Metro is safe as it is. It is not a move to help women but to help AAP get women’s votes with the elections around the corner.”
“We can’t give concessions to just one section. There are more deserving groups such as the elderly, students, people with disabilities, those with cancer… we aren’t giving concessions to any of them right now,” he said. Outlining the exigencies of loan repayment, Sreedharan wrote in his letter to Modi, “If ladies are to be given free travel concession in Delhi Metro, it would set an alarming precedence to all other Metros in the country… The disease will spread to all other Metros making them dependent on state government for subsidies.”
The letter points to the fact that even DMRC officials who travel on duty have to purchase tickets, and are reimbursed by DMRC separately. It also cites the instance of the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, during his first Metro ride from Kashmere Gate to Shahdara in 2002, walking up to the ticket counter to purchase a ticket, sending out “a powerful message to all that no concession whatsoever would be given to any section of society… till the loans are repaid”.
Sreedharan told The Indian Express, “Even when Prince of Wales visited, he purchased a ticket. Also a year’s free ride for women works out to Rs 1,000 crore and as the fares increase, so does the burden on Delhi government.” He said this money could be well invested into expanding the Metro line. He added that if at all they wish to still go ahead with it, the Delhi government must make it mandatory for women to purchase tickets so DMRC doesn’t lose its revenue stream and its independence, and the government can on its own reimburse the women beneficiaries directly.
He said that as the DMRC MD, there was pressure on him to give concessions to MLAs and MPs but he stood firm. “When I provided a special ladies coach in Metro, the then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit objected saying that there should be no such preference. But it was during one of my inspections at Connaught Place Metro that I noticed a woman struggling to board train after train with an infant in hand and another small child in tow. That very night, I issued the orders as there was no financial loss in it,” he said. He added that in this case, the union government, as a 50% Joint Venture partner in DMRC, can step in and prevent the other party, that is Delhi government, from acting unilaterally.