Free Press Journal

Karmayogi — A Biography of E. Sreedharan


This fascinating book looks back on an extraordinary career full of sterling achievements-Sreedharan’s years with the Railways, the building of the Kolkata Metro and the Konkan Railway, followed by the Delhi Metro, and the many metro projects he is involved with now.

Karmayogi — A Biography of E. Sreedharan

M S Ashokan

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 250; Price: Rs 250

The book under review was originally written in Malayalam by M S Ashokan who is a senior journalist with the reputed Kerala daily “Deshabhimani” and is also an author. The translator Rajesh Rammohan is famous for his translations of the works of N S Mahadevan and K R Meera. His translation of “Litanies of Dutch Battery” by Mahadevan fetched him the Vodaphone-Crossword Prize for Best Translated Fiction in 2011.

Sreedharan is a colossus hailing from Kerala distinguished for his unparalleled role as a technocrat who modernized and expanded India’s transportation systems which equal the best in the world.

He was born on 12 June 1932, completed his education at the Basel Evangelical Mission Higher Secondary School and then went to the Victoria College in Palghat. He later on completed his Civil Engineering from the Government Engineering College, Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh .For a short tenure, he worked as a lecturer in Civil Engineering at the Government Polytechnic, Kozhikode and a year at the Bombay Port Trust as an apprentice.

Later he joined the Indian Engineering Service in 1953 conducted by the UPSC. His first assignment was in the Southern Railway as a Probationary Assistant Engineer in December 1954. His greatest achievement was his leadership of Konkan Railway Project which linked the financial capital of India—Mumbai to the northernmost area of Kerala. It is an engineering feat and traverses over the West Coast of India negotiating the tough terrain that lies between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea.

The Konkan Line runs through 59 stations, spanning three States and covers 760 kilometres. There are 92 tunnels along the route out of which nine are more than 3 kilometres long and the longest one is 6.5 kilometres long. This project has 149 large bridges and 1819 book reviewmedium to lower bridges. Over 21 kilometres of the bridges cross water bodies. The tallest via-duct in the country was erected between Nandi and Panvel. Its pillars are 64 metres high, smaller than the Qutub Minar by only 4 metres. Unarguably an engineering marvel which took only seven years and a quarter to be completed. It must be emphasized that he had ensured unparalleled power as well as freedom of choice. He took a guarantee from the Minister, George Fernandes that there would not be any external intervention or influence during his mission’s planning and delivery.

By 2014 Sreedharan had been a technocrat who had completed sixty years of public service. He joined the India Railways Engineering Service in 1954 and retired in 1990. He founded Konkan Rail Corporation and spent seven years there. He became the Managing Director of the DMRC in 1997 and retired when he was seventy-nine.

His first assignment was the Pampan Bridge when he was thirty one. The bridge connected Ramesawram to Tamil Nadu. The earlier bridge was swept off in the fury of waves, Sreedharan recovered 126 girders consumed by the sea and re-installed them. The new bridge was constructed in record four months. He was given a cash award of Rs. 1000/-by the Railway Ministry.

Sredharan joined the Calcutta Metro in 1971 and was with them for five years. Calcutta Metro runs 16.45 kilometres underground. Sreedharan not only completed this much heralded project but also laid down the foundation of modern infrastructure engineering in India. He   became the Managing Director of the Cochin Shipyard. However, the Ministry created trouble on his Grade fixation. In 1981, under Sreedharan’s leadership, the shipyard launched its first ship, the ‘MV Rani Padmini’.

The Delhi Metro is a feather in his cap. He was here from 1995 to 2012. Sreedharan was given the sobriquet of ‘Metro Man’ by the media for his grand success in executing the completion of the Delhi Metro.

After his retirement from DMRC, Sreedharan has been appointed as Principal Advisor of the Kochi Metro Rail Project. A large number of awards have been conferred on him. He was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2001, the Padma Vibhushan in 2008, the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 2005 by Government of France and was named one of Asia’s Heroes by TIME magazine in 2003. Recently he has been appointed to serve the United Nations’ High Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport (HLAG-ST). He was invited by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to serve on his HLAG-ST for a period of three years. This is an extremely well written biography of one of the greatest sons of India, who set a high standard of leadership.