E Sreedharan

E Sreedharan- On The Eve of His Retirement

Mr E Sreedharan is one of the most competent bureaucrat we have in India. He will be retiring soon after putting the Delhi Metro on its feet.
Conversation of The New York Times correspondents Heather Timmons & Pamposh Raina with Sreedharan in question-answer form is reproduced below. It is an interesting read.

At a time when corruption seems to stalk nearly every corner of the Indian government, the Delhi Metro’s star shines brighter than ever. Under Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, the 9-year-old Metro provides stellar service, completes projects on time and under budget, and is making a profit, despite having the lowest fares of any metro system in the world outside of Kolkata.

The Delhi Metro’s more than 200 clean, comfortable trains now carry 2 million passengers a day, and it has embarked on a third phase of expansion, a new line that will ring Delhi, connecting suburbs like Gurgaon with Dwarka.

Mr. Sreedharan, 79, a life-long bureaucrat with more than three decades in the country’s railways, has been the architect of this Metro’s success, building a 7,000-person organization that, to all appearances, is corruption-free, from the ground up.

Ahead of his retirement at the end of this year, he spoke to India Ink about how Indian society and government need to change, and the ways his spirituality makes him a better manager.
Q.  The Delhi Metro has continued to be a success at a time when many other agencies are mired in corruption. What did you do to keep this agency on the straight and narrow?
A.  That’s a big question that cannot be answered in one or two sentences.

When we wanted to build the Delhi Metro, we said we would do it in a different way, creating a new organization and a new company with a lot of freedom for taking decisions.

The board of directors is supreme in taking decisions, we depend on the government only for only two or three items like funding and land acquisition, and the rest is entirely left to us.

We have built up a team here drawn from the Indian Railways which is highly motivated and professionally competitive, a very competent team. The whole credit should go to the team backing me.
Q.  How did you pick the team?
A.  I was with Indian Railways for 36 years so I knew a lot of people. So I could hand pick, choose the right person for the right job and then get him trained.

The main thing was the reputation for integrity, then the reputation for hard work, professional competence and the knowledge and the aptitude to work in a team. If they work as a lone worker, that is not going to help us.
Q.  Could you apply these same principles to an existing organization? If someone said to you, “Go fix Air India,” would that be possible?
A.  It is possible. What is required is the right work culture of the organization, the values of the organization, the way the team is built up and the way they are motivated. You need to define the roles and the goals, very precisely.
Q.  What’s the best way to motivate people? Is it praise, or salary or something else?
A.  The best way to motivate people is to set an example for them. I can’t sit in an air-conditioned room and make others do all the work. Here I try to set an example in all manners, everything, whether it is punctuality or inspections or the standards for specifications, finishing of the work, anything.
Q.  Does this organization pay more than other government jobs?
A.  We pay exactly the same, these are government salaries. What is a motivation is the good work environment that they have, and a good environment for learning things. Once people work in Delhi Metro for five or six years, their market value is so high, they are in demand by everyone afterwards.
Q. Yet, many say a reason for corruption in government agencies is that salaries are too low?

It is not true. No one can say that government salaries are low, so they have to be corrupt. It is totally wrong. Today the government salaries are very decent. It may not compare well with the private sector, but it is very, very comfortable.

Corruption has become a part of public life in this country mainly because of a lot of black money going around.

There are many laws, regulations, agencies and institutions already set up to prevent corruption, but they are not effective. We have an anti-corruption bureau, a vigilance organization, a big strong audit organization, we have got a huge police force, but the police themselves are corrupt, so what is the use?
Q.  How do you fix that?
A.  Some basic transformation is required. I would start with the police themselves. We have been talking about police reform in this country for the last so many years. The Supreme Court has given a directive to the governments in 2001 to implement these reforms, but not even one state government or central government has implemented these reforms.

Why? Because it does not suit the politicians, it does not suit the police, themselves.

Corruption has somehow spread into the national fabric, and it takes time to get rid of it.

People want to make easy money, particularly the politicians, and they are the people who are breeding corruption in this country.
Q.  What is one rule or regulation that should change to curb black money, and hence corruption?
A.  A simple thing — most of the black money is coming today through property dealings. The government knows very well that a particular property has a certain market value, but it is registered at one-third the market value, so two-thirds goes as black money. Why can’t the government insist that the registration be at the market value?

And when people are caught for corruption, why are they not punished immediately? It takes years and years. It takes years to get justice.

But this has nothing to do with the Delhi Metro. We have had tried to have a very clean organization. When we suspect anybody is indulging in unethical matters, immediately he is sacked.
Q.  Can you tell us about bringing spirituality into this organization – you give copies of the “Bhagavad Gita” (a Hindu scripture) to all managers. How does that help you and them?
A.  You see, spirituality has no religious overtones. The essence of spirituality is to make a person pure in his mind and his thoughts.

When I started reading our old scriptures, like the “Baghavad Gita,” I found it was useful for day-to-day life, so I started practicing it.

I consider it an administrative gospel, one that will help you in doing things like running an organization like this.
Q.  Do you have a favorite quote you share with employees?
A.  Mainly I tell them “Do your work without expecting any return out of it.” It is called Asangathu Vaa. You do it for the sake of the society, of the organization you work for.
Q.  You’ll be serving as an adviser on the Indian Railways safety committee. What else is in your future after you retire?
A.  No particular plan, except to retire really and spend more time on spirituality.
Q.  Would you sit on the Lokpal board if asked?
A.  No, no I would not like to take up any of these responsibilities. I am in the fag end of my life. 

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