Saturday, January 14, 2006

The discreet charm of the Metro, Dec. 18, 2005

Sheila Dixit may be one of our best chief ministers, but Elattuvalapil Sreedharan will do more to knit the vast and disparate people of Delhi into one wholesome community. I rode in his Metro the other day and I came away convinced that we are about to create a new public culture in the nation’s capital. The Metro was clean, quiet, and efficient, as I had expected, but I also felt a sudden bond with strangers. For twenty-two minutes, as I rode in the comfort which the Mughal Emperor would have envied, I observed people recover some of the grace and friendliness that they normally reserve for relatives and friends. I felt connected to every person on the train. It was the same feeling I had as a child when I first rode on Mumbai’s suburban train in the 1950s.

As I came out on the street, however, my old fears returned. So did my revulsion for the filth around me. I felt separate instead of connected. The child inside the Metro had become an adult who felt the old status anxiety that I feel when I ride in my car, when I am more aware of differences with others than similarities. I wanted to stand away from the crowd than be a part of it. When public spaces are not kindly, you seek escape behind the barricade of your car or your gated home. When ordinary life lacks dignity, you run in search of physical and psychological cover. When you ride in a DTU bus you want to distance yourself and to feel superior to others.

Nothing could be nobler, more human than to feel deep inside that we are all one in every way that really matters. To feel this, however, you need to share unthreatening public spaces. Since we are not a culture of public squares and piazzas of say, the Mediterranean countries, we need to create other opportunities for rubbing shoulders with fellow citizens, and build empathy and respect for them. I sometimes get this nice feeling in a small town bazaar, but I usually feel this connectedness on Sunday afternoons when I am surrounded by picnickers in Lodhi Gardens. Sometimes when I am watching cricket on TV, I want to rush into the street and accost the first stranger to tell him about Pathan’s bowling. Music is also a great leveller, and I remember the same feeling at a Spic Macay concert years ago, listening to Malikarjun Mansur surrounded by hundreds of students.

Delhi’s Metro offers a great chance to change the city’s public culture. The best way to return the compliment to Sreedharan would be to encourage the new culture to spill out from below to above the ground. The challenge for Delhi’s government and its citizens is to make public spaces around the Metro clean and pleasant as well. Particularly old Connaught Place, where I used go as a boy to “eat the air” as we say in India. It will need more than the Metro, however, to create the new culture, Vyom Akhil, my friend in Orissa, reminds me. It will need educating boys not to urinate on the road, nor to halt their scooter in the middle of traffic in order to answer your mobile phone. But a new mode of transport is a powerful way to bring about a civic and democratic revolution in what has always been an unkind city. After all, Mumbai’s superior public culture originated, in part, in its better transport system.


Anonymous said...

Very disappointing! As an ex CEO
of a MNC you have not looked at
the financial profile of DMRC.

Some salient features of the financial profile:-
(DMRC First phase )

Total Capital Rs.10,000 Crores

Loan(Japanese Consortium)
Rs.6,000 Crores

Annual depreciation
(for assets of Rs.9,000 Crores
over a period of 30 years)
Rs. 300 Crores

Annual Interest on Loan
(For Rs. 6,000 Crores @ 5%)
Rs. 300 Crores

Annual installment of loan
(Loan returned in 20 Years)
Rs.300 Crores

These are approximate but
realistic figures.

So DMRC needs to generate a
minimum of Rs. 900 Crores annually
(a)Take care of Depreciation
(b)Cash generation for interest on
(c)Cash generation for return of

This does not cover
(this is small compared to a, b, c
in Capital intensive project)

(a)Work force salaries
(b)Electricity for running
(c)Other sundry expenses

DMRC turnover for 2007-08 was Rs.
550 Crores

So you can see the huge shortfall of around Rs. 500 Crores every
year. This is borne by the
Central Government. Should be
called a subsidy to the rich &
very rich of Delhi. The metro is
used by middle class & higher who
already own two or more cars. By
these standards all PSUS
were operating efficiently.

I have not seen such profligacy in
my life time In India!

Sushil Markandeya

Medical Blog said...

To feel this, however, you need to share unthreatening public spaces.