Hyderabad: From questions like “Does Hyderabad even require a Metro?” to becoming a role model for the upcoming Metros in the country, Hyderabad Metro Rail has stood tall despite the innumerable difficulties it faced and has won the city over. In an exclusive interview to this newspaper, HMRL MD N.V.S. Reddy is confident about steering phase 2 of the project and make it even better than Phase 1. Handling the negotiation with religious structures, to the upcoming Hitec City Metro line, a self-assured Mr Reddy said that Hyderabad was
reorienting to the Metro and had gracefully accepted this addition.
At the onset, Mr Reddy informed his engineers that they were not building the Taj Mahal, but building a Metro which would solve socio-economic problems and so the women safety aspect was key. He said, “We spoke to several groups of women to understand their problems. Now we have 64 cameras with 360 degree vision and the data is stored for 15 days which creates a fear psychosis that somebody is watching thereby making it more secure for women to commute. We provided enough lighting and are working on last mile connectivity now. Cities can’t be for cars, but for people. With the alignment of Hyderabad being the best, I wanted to extend the scope of it further with the Metro.”
What are the key concerns you faced while making the Metro what it is today?
Everyday there were agitations and we needed police protection and some of the debates where like?” (something missing here). When a religious group stopped us, the lower communities were the first ones who supported and stood by us. Surprisingly some engineers unfortunately supported this, to stall the project. Nobody can teach you to handle these kinds of situations. A religious structure would take 1 to 1.5 years. Bengaluru metro got stalled for 6 months due to the presence of the Ambedkar statue. But here in Hyderabad, HMRL was able to build that confidence among different caste and religious groups. Even today, people of Kukatpally express gratitude. My first victory was Kanchalamma temple near Nagole, when the entire community stood by us. We had to negotiate about 30 religious structures.
You have time and again said that people with vested interests are trying to stall the project. Who are they and what were their vested interests?
I had to acquire 3,000 properties for this project, lawyers were going around, NGOs including all anarchists led by some big names tried to stall the project. I don’t want such troubles for my enemies. We had a lot of adverse reports. My effigy was burnt three times and my general manager had to touch the feet of a godman, to allow the project to continue. There were commercial interests behind the religious structures which we had to tackle. General Managers had to speak to the respective heads and convince them. Some people have the habit of creating problems by filing RTIs to stall the project even at this point. I would reveal one day when I retire on what transpired. There are properties where I got threatening calls. But I have to give due credit to the lower strata of the society.
For MGBS-Falaknuma Metro, there are several heritage and religious structures and roads are narrow. How are you planning to handle these issues?
We have already completed the markings and there were no protests. People seem to be welcoming the Metro in the Old City. We are not taking the road where there are heritage structures, instead it will be done on the Mandi road, which is 500 metres away from monuments and there is no change in alignment. Though we are giving names of the Salarjung museum, Charminar, we are slightly away from the monuments.
The Metro was planned a decade ago, but new projects like strategic road development plan (SRDP) have been planned in the city, can these projects hinder the Metro extension project?
For SRDP projects, GHMC refer their plans to us and we ensure that they do not come in the way of the metro after discussions. It becomes a bit of a technical challenge, when a flyover and metro have to go up simultaneously. At Mindspace, there is an underpass, flyover and above that Metro has to run. There is no land but different solutions are available. So we might go for a steel bridge. There would be no issue to connect to Raidurgam.
For old city, Metro is another means of transport. But for new city where there is a dearth of connectivity it is a necessity. What is your take on this?
Hitec City is definitely crucial for us. The Metro will do well there rather than the patronage that we are seeing currently. We are planning many skywalks and street level works of higher standards at Hitec City. Ultimately people need to go to the airport from different areas, so be it Old City or new city, the Metro will connect all parts.
You have faced criticism from citizens and the court also took suo-motto cognizance of a letter written by a citizen on parking, what do you have to say about it?
I cannot change the city’s behaviour overnight. We created a parking facility, but still some of the people behave irresponsibly. Some of them deliberately do not walk even for a few metres, and beat up our security guards. We don’t want to be tough with commuters slowly the city has to learn. We will give our version to the court on how systematically we have done parking and are creating smart parking and multilevel parking facilities.
Footpaths look wonderful, but experts claim that they are not scientific and disabled-friendly. What is your response to that?
To make it disabled- friendly, we are putting up ramps, and we are putting boulders to avoid two-wheelers from entering on sidewalks. Some boulders will be removed to make it further disabled-friendly and even now some wheelchairs can go through them. Like the saying goes, a tree that gives fruits gets the maximum hits from stones. HMRL is in a similar position. HMRL is a responsive organisation, we will do it.
Where are the Multilevel parkings (MLP) likely to come up?
We have identified places across the city which includes in Secunderabad at old Gandhi hospital, Opposite Hari Hara Kala Bhavan, Malakpet at Jail Garden, TSIIC’s has two sites one near Lemon tree and Raidurgam side, Old city near Khilwat. Initially 20 places have been identified and in-total 45 places. We are finalising documents for MLPs after seeing the best practices of the world. Nampally will be the first one and will change the face of the area and is getting a good response.
What are the parameters for picking 20 spots for developing MLP facilities?
The key criteria is government lands which are closer to transportation hubs. We want to make MLPs hubs of activity which are closer to MMTS, Metro or bus stations. The availability of a big chunk of government land, minimum 1 acre is needed. The MLP near Monda market is going to make a big difference for Secunderabad station. It is going to be a beautiful MLP with buses at one level, may be a good hotel or multiplexes or shopping mall.
When is DPR for Metro phase 2 expected and why is there a delay?
Phase 2 is a government-funded project and since it is on the outskirts, it won’t be amenable for a PPP. The conditions which the government of India has put are tough as the ridership figures must emerge from different studies. There is a comprehensive mobility plan that needs to be prepared and those figures need to be taken and extrapolated to the metro corridors. We are already doing it. The draft DPR is ready. In a week or ten days, we will give the DPR Phase2.
The Central government did not want to compensate the remaining amount for viability gap funding, due to the increase in ticket prices. What is your say?
L&T is still at it. We have written to the government. We got most of the money, but some folks think that this can be stalled. We got Rs 1,204 crore and we are yet to get another Rs 254 crore. We faced a much bigger challenge and we are hopeful of resolving this.