Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Messing up Kochi Metro Project?



The expectations of the people were that Kochi (Cochin)’s metro rail project would move quickly with the internationally accepted Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) as the nodal agency and India’s ‘Metro Man’ E. Sreedharan in charge. A company under the name Kochi Metro Rail Ltd (KMRL) was formed for the project. It has 11 Directors with the Chief Minister as the Chairman, 5 more ministers, 4 IAS officers including the Managing Director, and the Mayor of Cochin.  

It is reported that the state government wrote to the Ministry of Urban Development in Delhi that "The Kochi Metro Rail Limited (KMRL) was set up to coordinate with other government departments to effectively implement the project," A noble objective. Probably KMRL would run the Metro once it is completed. We see that DMRC which is constructing the Metro project in Jaipur has asked the government there to start recruiting station masters, train drivers and support staff so that they can be trained in time, for the Jaipur Metro Rail Corporation.

DMRC was asked to do two preliminary jobs for the project. Keralites who are quite gullible sometimes believed that here we go ahead with the Rs.5000+ crores scheme in association with DMRC and Sreedharan. But last month the PWD Minister announced that the work would be awarded through a global tender. It was also heard that the KMRL has submitted an affidavit in the Kerala High Court confirming this.

State government sources have reportedly asked why the DMRC cannot take part in the global tender. The answer is simple. They are not interested. There is enough work on hand already for them in different cities. It was Sreedharan’s interest to bring a metro to his home state that kept him and DMRC involved in the Kochi project. Sreedharan the man and DMRC the organization have great worldwide reputation for their efficiency and integrity. I believe that Sreedharan has stated that DMRC doing the project would bring down the cost by over Rs.300 crores. Is KMRL interested in that?

KMRL may not have had the time or inclination to study how DMRC operates. They float global tenders for specific areas. In Jaipur the world renowned group Mott MacDonald was brought in to advice on tenders. When the argument for global tender became weak, a new gimmick was introduced – without that procedure Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) would not grant the necessary soft loan for the project.

There are different ways of successfully managing such situations which many major projects may face. But here nothing was necessary. In projects undertaken by DMRC, JBIC does not insist on that clause. A phone call to Jaipur or Delhi or Japan by KMRL would have clarified the position. One is tempted to think that what the Kerala government wants is Sreedharan’s name but project management by its own selected people.

Of course, the project can be successfully completed without Sreedharan and DMRC. But it takes time. Organizing a large team of experts may involve two years or so.  A new gang may need more time for implementation. Finalizing the global tender might itself require a longer period. All these would mean cost escalation as well.

It is said that tomorrow a final decision is to be taken about awarding the contract. If Sreedharan and DMRC are to be involved now because of public pressure, there is the danger of a variant of the Kerala Crab Syndrome quietly creeping in. The government departments may not provide the required cooperation. Sreedharan has publicly stated that the KSEB and the PWD are not cooperating with the present work.

The Chief Minister would certainly be aware of all these. Let us see what he does.


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