"The city wanted this metro."
He elaborated more upon the project, challenges and strategies applied in conversation with Shriyal Sethumadhavan.
It's a double celebration for you with the Kochi Metro Reach-1 becoming operational and winning the CW Man of the Year award this year. How does it feel?
It's a great feeling and recognition for the kind of work my team of young boys and girls are doing. It's just about empowering them; stay out of the way, and their ideas and energy and their passion will see the project through.
Briefly speaking about the journey of the Kochi Metro...how has it been?
We started the process with a lot of trepidation because Kerala is not easy to do infrastructure. A lot of people questioned the need for a metro. You've got to align all the stakeholders in a place like Kerala. While there were a lot of doubts, we learnt as we went along and did a lot of original thinking. With the energy and ideas from my team, we could carry it forward and now the metro is completed within cost and budget.
How did you strategise to succeed amid existing challenges in Kerala?
First, I took a lot of trouble in selecting the right people and keeping precisions in my team. Some of the top engineers were the best the country could offer. Instead of calling them for an interview, in the case of some, I went to their workplaces and sold the idea of Kochi Metro; they got convinced by my dream and vision and gave up their comfortable jobs. So, I had a good team, which I recruited personally, and they are the ones who did all this wonderful work.
How has the success of this project changed the overall mindset about project execution in Kerala?
If you want a project to happen, it will happen. One main reason I believe we could complete the Kochi Metro in time is because the city wanted this metro. We could work so hard because we felt the energy and push of the citizenry behind us. Everything else melted away in that huge momentum of the will of the people for the project to happen.
What are the key learnings from the success of this project?
Get the financing right, get the land acquisition sorted, get all the stakeholders to agree on what the project should be like and how it should be done, get the project structuring well in place, and the rest will follow.
Tell us about the water connectivity project.
In India, there is minimal organised urban water transport, and Kochi is the right city for it. About 20 per cent of the city area is in the lagoon. So, it is going to be a great project and the first-of-its-kind in the world. These boats will have the same look and feel and experience of the metro along with the same ticket and timetable. You interchange smoothly from the metro station into the water metro.
How would you define true achievement?
We have given opportunities to many poor people to work on the metro system. Also, transgender people have been given a place. Most of all, when I see the smiles on the faces of the citizens, there's no feeling like that on earth. These are the lasting achievements.