The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), India’s most extensive metro network in India with a daily ridership of 60 lakh, has been shut since March 22, 2020, due to countrywide lockdown. As the country is opening in a phased manner now, there is still no clarity on when the DMRC will be permitted to resume the services. In a conversation with Dr. mangu Singh, Managing Director, DMRC, He Talks about How the pandemic will hit the organisation and biggest challenge so far. Here are the edited excerpts:
What is the current status of metro operations in Delhi?
Dr. Mangu Singh: Passengers trains have been completely stopped. We run two trains every day but only to check if every system is working. The government has not given any permission to start operations. So we don’t have clarity.
There have been news stories of the DMRC working on some standard operating procedures (SOP). What are those for?
Dr. Mangu Singh: We prepared an SOP right after Lockdown 2 was announced. We were getting ready in the hope of getting a go-ahead from the government. They wanted to have SOPs for all metros in place. Since the Delhi Metro is the largest metro operator in the country, we prepared an SOP after consulting and a lot of discussions with other metro organisations. That does not mean we are getting ready to resume operation.
The SOP requirements are very demanding. So we quickly got into action to make those arrangements. From drills to equipment, we started preparing and getting things in place. The exercise will be useful when we begin operations.
Like in India, are metros in other parts of the world also shut, or they are operational?
Dr. Mangu Singh: To my information, many metros across the world remain to run, Although the traffic is very low. Most European and American metros are running. In China, they suspended operations for some time but have restarted operations now. Singapore, too, restarted metro service but with a lot of stringent guidelines.
The level of traffic is very high in India. Our metros are very crowded. The risks involved in restarting operations are much higher. Today, in NCR, there are 2.5 crore smart cards in circulation. Unlike say airlines or trains, the moment you start metro services, you can’t have a restriction on the number of people using the service.
How hard has the lockdown been for the DMRC? Let me first state some positive things we have done during the period.Dr. Mangu Singh: We realised we have 13,000-plus people and no physical work. So we decided to do some productive work. We innovated on working virtually. It was not in our culture. Right from project site coordination to inspection, most works was done physically — we immediately switched to working online in a big way. From e-filing systems to design coordination everything is happening virtually.
A person sitting in the UK is now giving us inputs on design. This initiative is working very well. Today, we are a paperless organisation. The second thing we worked toward improving the knowledge of our people. More than 1,000 employees have enrolled in online courses.
Improving their skills and capabilities brought in a lot of positivity in these times while negativity is high. I also created a group to rethink the last five years and identify some of the big projects we have done and discuss what could have been done differently. We are gathering these inputs into case studies. These will be very valuable in future.
What are the DMRC’s biggest challenges in these times?
Dr. Mangu Singh: We are not making a single paisa. There is no earning. We have been hit in other areas too. We have high fixed costs. Variable costs are small. The energy bill is 30% of it. But even there, we can do little to save as we still have to run all systems and do all operational drills.
Our tenants’ businesses, too, have been affected badly. They have written to us asking us to defer rental payments. We are looking at government guidelines on this. If we take coercive action against these tenants, some of them might be forced to go away. We need to support them at this hour. The pandemic has still not settled down. So we are yet to take a call on these things.
We don’t have a revenue-share model with our tenants.
How are you dealing with the loss of revenue streams?
Dr. Mangu Singh: We have some resources but not enough to tide over the situation. The biggest area of concern is repaying the loan given by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for construction work. We are requesting the government to reschedule the loan repayment and defer this year’s payment to next year.
What is the update on the construction activities that were underway?
Dr. Mangu Singh: The DMRC is currently engaged in building 61.67 km of new lines under Phase-4 of expansion plans. The corridors that are being constructed are Janakpuri West-RK Ashram, Tughlakabad-Aerocity and Maujpur-Majlis Park. Also, the DMRC is engaged in the construction of two more corridors in Delhi-Najafgarh-Dhansa Bus Stand, Dwarka Sector 21-ECC Centre.
Construction work has been hit badly. When the lockdown started, we followed the government directive about not retrenching workers. Our contractors took care of the labourers. But now they have all gone back to their hometowns. Our contractors are quite handicapped. This will affect our projects, and there will be delays. I have a feeling labourers will start coming back around September-October.
The pandemic scare might force people to use private transport. How do you see public transportation evolving in the face of this?
Dr. Mangu Singh: For the time being, there is fear in the minds of people. It will affect public transport. It will also mean more use of private vehicles as people will avoid the use of public transport; therefore, we will attempt to follow social distancing guidelines and instil confidence in people that metro is a safe mode of transportation. It is a big challenge.
(The article First appeared on The Economic Times and authored by Malini Goyal)