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Always on Track

The book chronicles the many milestones of E. Sreedharan, the man known for his integrity and engineering acumen.
By Vijay Kumar Dutt | Print Edition: April 10, 2016
Karmayogi: A Biography of E. Sreedharan By M. S. Ashokan (Pages: 264 Price: Rs 250 Penguin Books)

The success story of the Metro Rail projects in India, beginning with the commissioning and operations of the Delhi Metro and expanding in record time to almost all eligible cities of India - and now SAARC countries as well (with work on Dhaka Metro Rail starting in Bangladesh) - has few parallels across the world. Karmayogi - A biography of E. Sreedharan is the story of the pioneer who single-handedly achieved this incredible feat, against all odds.

I have known Sreedharan for three decades. M.S. Ashokan is to be congratulated for narrating this inspiring story in a way that is very readable as well as enjoyable. The book is a translation by Rajesh Rajmohan from its original contribution in Malayalam. Having seen Sreedharan working from close quarters, I must say that both the authors have succeeded in bringing alive the personality of the Metro Man.

The first chapter, 'The story of Sreedharan', starts with the event of January 8, 2013, when Sreedharan made it possible for the city of Kochi - the first B-class city of India - to have a Metro Railway ahead of many larger cities in India. This project at Kochi - which Sreedharan achieved by overcoming many obstacles - takes you back to various events in the life of this incredible man, acting as a prelude to the events covered in the following chapters. The reader is told about his feat in restoring the Pampan Bridge to Rameswaram in 1964, as a young engineer, and the construction of the Konkan Railway - the missing link in the map of Indian Railways that even British Engineers, while building a 54,000-km network of the Indian Railways, found impossible to undertake.

In the following chapter titled 'The Charms of Childhood', the reader is taken through Sreedharan's childhood and college days, which were full of struggle. The chapters 'The First Train Journey' and the 'Fledgling Years' describe his adherence to the path of integrity, despite all odds against him. It is an inspiring example for young India, as both 'Make in India' and 'Start-up India, Stand Up India' can only be achieved by producing cost-effective and better quality goods and services.

The chapter 'Pampan: The First Signature' is the story of rebuilding of the Pampan bridge which, along with the Pampan-Dhanushkodi passenger train, was washed away on December 23, 1964, in a cyclone. The feat of restoring the 2,345-metre-long bridge in record time, 24 days ahead of target, by the innovative work of salvaging drowned girders from the 50-foot-deep sea bed has been described very vividly. This was the first global recognition of Sreedharan's capabilities.

This is followed by a chapter called 'Metro-Bound', which chronicles the commencement of the Calcutta (Now Kolkata) Metro Railway project and the first exposure of Sreedharan to the Metro Rail technology, which was to be instrumental for his future role in the Metro Rail movement of India. The book, thereafter, goes on to describe Sreedharan's work as CMD of Cochin Shipyard, narrating events during the commissioning of the first ever ship 'Rani Padmini'. The work of Sreedharan in uplifting the fortunes of the PSU Cochin Shipyard, riding against the pressures from politicians and the trade union, is well brought out.

The book covers in detail the events after his return to Railways, from deputation till his superannuation from regular Railway service. His relocation to Madras (now Chennai) as the Chief Engineer (construction), his brush with higher authorities in the interest of work and major railway projects accomplished are touched upon. The events of his elevation as Chief Administrative Officer and then General Manager, Central Railway, before taking over as the Member, Engineering, of Railway Board, bring out the struggles of Sreedharan accurately.

The ensuing chapters in the book cover the making of the Konkan Railway. This is the story of an Indian engineering marvel bisecting the Western Ghats, built under Sreedharan's leadership. The JV with the four States of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala, cutting across diverse political leaderships, and the task of achieving the Gandak river road-cum-rail bridge - 896 metres long - between Chhitauni in Uttar Pradesh and Bagaha in Bihar, are very well described. The political issues in Goa and technical solutions adopted by Sreedharan are lessons for young engineers of today.

The final chapters in the book cover Sreedharan's contribution to the evolution of Delhi Metro Railway and the success of DMRC, achieved with integrity. Rs 42,000 crore was spent with no complaint of corruption.

The last chapter 'Amid the Grace' is about the life of Sreedharan in his hometown Ponnani in Kerala. His simple life at 79 years, full of devotion and, at the same time, immersed in work of the Metro Railways and Monorails all over India, is a glowing example of what human endeavour coupled with integrity and hard work can achieve. The book will be enjoyed not only by the railway fans, but readers the world over. However, some jarring, inadvertent mistakes in the text could have been avoided. The authors and publishers may consider rectifying these at an appropriate juncture.

The writer is former Additional Member (Electrical) of the Railway Board

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