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The Yuletide Ride On Delhi Metro

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By Sidharth Mishra

Of the many Yuletide memories of the national Capital, one which has a remarkable impact was to be the part of the first metro ride 18 years ago. Delhi Metro having completed 18 years of operation, is all set to step into adulthood with Prime Minister Narendra Modi scheduled to launch the driverless coaches on December 28.

The ride on the morning of December 24, 2002 on the 8.4 kilometre long Shahdara — Tis Hazari section was culmination of ‘Great Expectations’. Like Victorian novelist Charles Dickens’ novel with the same title (Great Expectations), Delhi Metro too was a runaway success, when it was thrown open for passenger service on December 25, 2002.

The success of the service was never in doubt, as it incased the vision of Delhi Metro’s founding Managing Director K Sreedharan, who brought a cultural change into the way infrastructure projects were executed in the national Capital. Sreedharan was hugely lucky too as he had another notable visionary Sheila Dikshit, as Chief Minister of Delhi, as his boss.

Dikshit in her own way was bringing a cultural change in the way politics was practiced in the national Capital. She understood the changing social and political milieu and the demand for a modern transport system, which would be much more ‘effective’ than the Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC) buses.

Thus, in Delhi Metro the city got its first ‘smart’ public transport service. Interestingly during the period of construction of Delhi Metro, there were different political parties occupying seats of power at Raisina Hill (the Central government) and Old Secretariat (the Delhi government). But the statesmen in then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, his deputy Lal Krishna Advani and Dikshit, always put their heads together to iron out the creases, though at times much to the chagrin of local Delhi BJP leadership then represented by former Chief Ministers Madanlal Khurana and Sahib Singh Verma.

The quadraplet of Vajpayee, Advani, Dikshit and the then Lieutenant Governor Vijay Kapoor had their heart beating for Delhi. While Kapoor and Dikshit belonged to Delhi, Advani and Vajpayee had represented Delhi in Parliament at different times and also spent a lifetime living in the city.

They all meant well for the national Capital and came together tiding over their political differences to give city an unmatched infrastructure. The fact that Kapoor was contemporary of Dikshit’s late husband in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) also helped the matter.

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation is a joint-venture of the Centre and the Delhi government and its progress is closely dependent on the two governments concurring on the issues affecting it. Sadly, the Metro has had some difficult time in the past few years with the Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government often at loggerheads with the Centre, which also cannot be said to be as accommodative as Vajpayee-Advani were vis-à-vis Dikshit.

Nevertheless, the Metro today operates a network of 390 kilometres spanning 11 lines, adding 380-odd kilometres to its network when it started 18 years ago. More than the figures, it’s the network’s credibility of punctuality and seamless service which has turned it into city’s lifeline and also brought a social and cultural transformation in the national Capital.

True to its reputation, the Delhi Metro did not rest even during the Covid-spurred lockdown. Locked in their houses, the views from many a window of the Metro doing its maintenance runs gave hope to many about the better times to return. Soon after the lockdown when restrictions were curbed, Delhi Metro was back running and setting up new benchmarks of hygiene and preventive measures.  

(First Published in The Morning Standard: 


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