Wishing a Happy 85th birthday to the Metro Man E.Sreedharan, the man behind two of the greatest engineering projects in modern India- Konkan Railway and Delhi Metro, pulled off under the most challenging circumstances.
While Sreedharan is widely acclaimed for the Delhi Metro, for me the Konkan Railway was a far bigger achievement. One of the most challenging project, considering the terrain involved, to me wud be Sreedharan's greatest achievement.

And to think that Sreedharan was actually bought out of retirement for Konkan Railway, his tenure had come to an end in June 1990. It was the then Railway Minister George Fernandes who appointed him as CMD of Konkan Railways, and the rest as they say is history.
Elattuvalapil Sreedharan was born in Karukaputhur, a small village in Kerala's Palakkad district, he graduated from the Victoria College in Palakkad. His classmate both at school and college, was the former Chief Election Comissioner, T.N.Seshan.
Incidentally both Sreedharan and Seshan got admission into the Civil Engg course at JNTU, Kakinada( then Govt College of Engg). However Seshan was not much interested and joined MCC, while Sreedharan went on to do his Engg at JNTUK.
After his graduation, Sreedharan worked for some time as a lecturer at the Govt Polytechnic in Kozhikode, and in 1953 he cleared the Engg Services Exam and joined the Indian Engineering Service( IES). Was initially posted with Southern Railway.
While Konkan Railway and Delhi Metro, are often touted as Sreedharan's flagship achievements, there was one more as remarkable as those two at the start of his career, rebuilding the Pamban Bridge near Rameswaram, an equally great feat,
On Dec 22, 1964, Rameshwaram was hit by a deadly cyclone, that devastated the area, and turned Dhanushkodi into a ghost town, killing around 2000 people. More than that Pamban Bridge was washed away in the storm, cutting off the only link with the mainstream.
This is the Pamban Bridge connecting the island of Rameshwaram with the mainland. Now this is the only link it had to the outside world then, and the destruction of the bridge meant it was totally cut off and marooned, literally speaking.
Sreedharan was a Dy Engineer in Southern Railways, when the cyclone devastated the Pamban Bridge, and he was given just 6 months to restore the connectivity. Not at all an easy task, considering the challenges involved, for starters the bridge was right in the sea.
The Pamban Bridge was completely in the sea, no dry land, around, not even small islands. Add to it the waves, the salty air, and you had to restore this bridge back to normal in just 6 months. Just imagine completely surrounded by water and working, yes that was the challenge.
Well Sreedharan restored Pamban Bridge back to normal in just 46 days. Yes just a month and 15 days, right on the sea. In a country where projects run beyond schedule and cost, Sreedharan had this knack of finishing them well before time, within budget.
Just imagine working in the sea, to restore a damaged bridge, that was the only link for Rameshwaram to the main land, fighting against the waves, the crazy winds, the salty air that can rust, Sreedharan did it in just 46 days. Heroes are not found just in movies.
We rightfully acclaim Sreedharan for Konkan Railway and Delhi Metro, but not many know of his work in rebuilding the destroyed Pamban Bridge, an equally great achievement, Today when you travel on it, take time to thank this man, for restoring it.
Am just sharing a video of a train travelling over the Pamban Bridge, absolutely goosebumps. Now just imagine Sreedharan and team working in these conditions to restore the bridge way back in the 60s, Whew #Respect
Sreedharan worked for some time with the Kolkata Metro too as Dy. Chief Engineer from 1970-1975, where he played a major role in it's construction, and then left for India's largest shipyard at Kochi, where he faced another set of challenges.
Kochi Shipyard was running into heavy losses, when Sreedharan took charge. Add to it Kerala's notorious trade unions, and he had the unenviable task of turning it around. He not only turned it around, also ensured the first ship MV Rani Padmini was launched during his time.
Sreedharan was due for retirement in 1990, actually by then itself he had Pamban Bridge and Kochi Shipyard to his credit. Cud have happily spent the rest of his life peacefully, living on the glory of these two. But then destiny had bigger plans for him.
Call it destiny, Sreedharan who was about to retire in 1990, was given an extension by then Railways Minister George Fernandes, and put in charge of the toughest engineering project post Independence, the Konkan Railways, a challenge so daunting.
Even the British who boasted of their expertise in Railways, did not dare attempt Konkan Railways, they called it impossible. You had to build 760 km of railway track in a region filled with dense forests, the most poisonous snakes, landslides, hills, valleys.
It was not just the terrain, you had to acquire around 5000 ha of land from around 42,000 owners, build 2000 bridges, blast around 90 tunnels through Basalt rock,a soil prone to collapse, and hard to bore through. This was Konkan Railways.
Not to mention the fact that Sreedharan had to deal with land acquisitions, Chief Ministers and sundry Netas in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka. And of course sundry Environmentalists, NGO busy bodies trying to put spokes in the wheel. This in India is an even harder task.
And Sreedharan got just 8 years to complete Konkan Railways. Yes 8 yrs not just for building it in the toughest terrain possible, but also dealing with land acquisition issues, environmentalists, Netas seeking their share, clueless Babus, a real unenviable task.
And a 60 plus Sreedharan bought out of retirement, not only completed the Konkan Railway beating the odds, he did it in 7 years within the stipulated time given to him. Yes completed the toughest engineering project within time, tackling all the issues.
The building of the Konkan Railway is a separate thread by itself, but fact is Sreedharan completed this project within time, with no major cost overruns. This in a country where even laying a normal road takes ages, and shoots up the bills. Superheroes don't wear capes always.
Konkan Railway connected 3 major ports- Mangalore, Karwar and Mumbai, cut the travelling time from Mumbai to Mangalore by around 16 hrs, bought connectivity to people of Konkan and Canara region. And the man behind it Sreedharan.
Konkan Railway wud have been enough for Sreedharan to rest his laurels upon, but once again destiny beckoned him to another challening project, the Delhi Metro. A project that had it's own set of challenges in one of the most crowded Indian city.
Kolkata had the first Metro in India, but it took 22 years to build just 16 kms of it. Add to it shortage of funds, labor, just about everything. And constant interference from Indian Railways.
Sreedharan once again had the responsibility of pulling off the Delhi Metro, within schedule, in a city notorious for traffic snarls, meddling babus and Netas, sundry NGOs, and the great Lutyens crowd. More than the physical challenges, these were even more daunting.
First things first, Sreedharan cut off any external meddling in Delhi Metro, he was the boss. In a city notorious for Sifarish and "Jaanta hai Ki Mera Baap Kaun", he ruthlessly rejected any reccomendations, and meddling. He was the boss of the project and made it clear.
There were anecdotes, about people in Delhi walking in with recco letters to Sreedharan, and coming out with nothing. And this in a city that runs on it, was nothing short of an achievement by itself. The Lutyens brigade was put firmly in it's place.
And knowing the delays associated with Govt funding, Sreedharan directly approached Japanese Bank of International Cooperation for funding the Metro. Got a 5 billion USD loan sanctioned,and the Govt furnished the rest.
Sreedharan completed the first phase of Delhi Metro within schedule, he got in the best international consultants. The Lutyens Babu brigade, were firmly put in place, literally asked to take a hike. And he completed within schedule, no cost overruns, an achievement really.
From the tag of Metro Man to the Padma Shri to one of Asia's heroes by Time in 2003 to Padma Vibhushan to Chevalier, and sundry other honors, I can only say one thing, Elattuvalapil Sreedharan bought value to those honors. Salute sir for what all you have achieved.
Today Sreedharan leads a happy and retired life in Kerala, he is also a member of the Vaishno Devi Shrine board. He has 4 kids, eldest son is a Vice President at TCS, another is a doctor in UK, his daughter runs a school in Bangalore, while another works for ABB.
Elattuvalapil Sreedharan we in India will forever be grateful for Konkan Railways, Delhi Metro and Pamban Bridge. You are a true Bharat Ratna for us always. You are an inspiration for us. Happy 85th birthday sir, you truly are an icon for modern India. #Salute #Respect.
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