Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wither Mumbai Metro

Ramesh Ramanathan, co-founder Janaagraha, is a man I continue to admire, for a variety of reasons, the main one being his faith and efforts in the area of participatory democracy.

He has an interesting article titled "The courage to demand" (link here, registration required) in today’s Mint. His piece is based on Transport For London’s ad, looking for a Managing Director (Planning).

This is the ad he’s talking about. The parts worth highlighting – and as Mr. Ramanathan has done – are as below

The Managing Director (MD), Planning will play a central role in defining the future development of transport policy and the transport network. This is a new role reporting directly to the Transport Commissioner.

It includes responsibility for:
  • Providing world-class strategic transport planning direction for London's transport network, including input into wider Mayoral policies
  • Developing the Mayor's Transport Strategy, including informing wider policy documents such as the London Plan and borough land use plans
  • Co-ordinating planning and development of major capital projects such as interchanges, as part of TfL's £10 billion capital investment programme
  • Effective joint working and close collaboration across the business and Greater London Authority group to ensure implementation of policies and projects
  • Close co-operation with London's boroughs to ensure effective on-the-ground delivery of the Mayor's Transport Strategy
  • Liaison with European and international transport planning networks to bring best practice from elsewhere to London and influence development of wider transport planning and policy
  • Developing and sustaining relationships with Government departments and other stakeholders to ensure engagement and buy-in to TfL's vision, strategies and plans.

And then, this bit on who can apply – this is really something.
We want to be as diverse as the city we represent and welcome applications from everyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, faith or disability. Applications are especially welcomed from women, people from black, asian and minority ethnic groups and disabled people, since they are currently under-represented at this level.

Mr. Ramanthan then goes on to wonder what the ad for the Bangalore Metro Chief, would look like...
Managing director, Bangalore Metro Rail. Compensation of Rs30,000 per month, with perks including housing, help, car. A learning opportunity for a generalist manager with no background in transportation management. Reporting to the chief minister of Karnataka through a fuzzy structure that includes the principal secretary, the chief secretary, and the urban minister, you will be responsible for delivering an urban mass transport solution that’s totally disconnected from other city transportation modes—bus, road, taxi, pedestrian—with no inter-institutional coordination, and plenty of jurisdictional territoriality.”

Additional information could read: “In the four years since its inception, the Bangalore Metro has only managed to create a broad blueprint for a rail-based mass transit system, with financial projections escalating from Rs4,000 crore to Rs6,500 crore. Public support is suspect. Timing, cost and quality of implementation are uncertain. Your role as managing director is unclear, with minimal authority to take any substantive decisions. If, despite the odds, you do a good job, you will surely be transferred in two years. This job is open only to IAS officers. Others need not apply, since this is not an equal opportunity position.”

Ironic? Of course. True? Sadly yes. I’m particularly stumped by that “In the four years since its inception..” part.

Lets do the obvious extrapolation to the Mumbai Metro.

Depending on what you mean when you say inception, the Mumbai Metro is a whopping 40 years old, because it was first conceived in 1967-68 (more detailed time-line in my earlier post here).

Or if you take the relevant date for “inception” as the date of the contract being awarded for one leg (i.e. the Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar leg, or VAG), then we’ll turn one on May 18, 2007.

Or if you consider the day the VAG leg was flagged off, then we’re, oh lets see, only nine months old. Which is a baby compared to a four-year old project.

Probably, Mumbai Metro1, i.e., Reliance Energy and MMRDA (the partners for VAG), breathe easy knowing that Bangalore Metro hasn’t achieved much in four years since inception. And that's bad news for Mumbaikars.

I agree with Mr. Ramanathan when he says “We don’t give the best people a shot at running our public institutions. We must not settle for mediocrity”. Out here in Bombay, we're doing fine with indifference, leave alone mediocrity, thank you very much. Metro or no Metro, life goes on.

Whither Mumbai Metro or wither Mumbai Metro? Time will tell.