“Next station is Laxmi Nagar. Doors will open on the left. Mind the gap.”
For the uninitiated, the aforementioned is an announcement that is made in the Delhi Metro every time the train arrives at any station. For a frequent traveler in the Metro, this is just another component of the “Metro jargon” that they are now well apprised of. Like any other day, I boarded the Metro at Karkardooma station, part of the Blue line (the one which goes up to Dwarka) to get down at Rajiv Chowk, the busiest station on this route, anticipating reaching my destination in not more than 20 minutes. Upon reaching Laxmi Nagar, I heard that frequent announcement which I now seem to have memorized so well that I can proficiently substitute the recorded voice if it ever goes awry. A tiny glitch though, the doors did not open at Laxmi Nagar!! For anyone who was a spectator to the adverse technical snag that occurred on the Noida — Dwarka route on Tuesday, the 1st of June, 2010, would know the plight of the four lakh odd passengers who were stranded either at the Metro stations or inside the coaches of the trains. The old and not-so-golden memories of the tightly packed and exceedingly swarming Blue line buses were brought back on the Blue line of the Delhi Metro!!
Abuses were hurled at the fellow passengers as well as at the inability of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) to manage the situation, new friendships were forged among people who were similarly perturbed by the abrupt advent of this catastrophe, and people feared that they would perish in the suffocated coaches of the train. Important meetings had to be put off as the supposed conveners of the rendezvous were stuck in a jam packed Metro train. The problem occurred when the train reached a particular station but the doors refused to budge. When the doors did not open, the coach of the train laden with nearly 150 passengers panted for breath. The delayed halt at the stations was a cause of worry for the passengers inside as well as outside the train. The sight of the platform overflowing with people who were waiting for the train from the crammed coach of the Metro was nothing short of being abysmal.
For me, my first day at office started a good 20 minutes late, as I was a part of the audience that witnessed how the Delhi Metro struggled to survive with the Automatic Transmission Server (ATS) failure. Technically, the problem was solved within a few minutes. Practically, the technical snag overstretched for a period that was difficult for anyone to bear. The problem lay with the fact that while the trains were struggling to run as per schedule on the designated routes, the crowds on the stations swelled manifold. Consequently, every train had to carry passengers beyond its capacity. For a nation where people have perfected the art of traveling on rooftops of tourist buses and passenger trains, the already overcrowded trains did not mean switching over to the DTC buses or EMU trains for a journey to their respective workplaces. The recurring request/order of, “please shift a little” was made, screamed and hurled at every person possible.
Personally, I have always gleamed with pride while traveling in the Delhi Metro. For me, and for a humungous proportion of the overcrowded capital city, the Delhi Metro has been synonymous with development, convenience and efficiency. If there is one aspect wherein the city can consider itself to be well – resourced when the question of CWG — 2010 preparations is raised, it has to be the functioning of the Delhi Metro. I have always viewed the Delhi Metro as the most reliable mode of public transport. Even though, lately, the DMRC has come under the scanner due to the increased number of mishaps that have occurred at the construction sites and the technical glitches that have ailed its smooth operation, by and large, the Delhi Metro has fulfilled much of its promises.
In the same breath, a journey in the Metro, irrespective of the destination, evokes immense respect and gratitude for that one man who has worked at the backdrop of the changing face of the city. Mr. E. Shreedharan, Managing Director of the DMRC who has been at the helm of affairs ever since its inception can never be thanked enough for transforming the lives of a million people by providing them with a faster, more convenient and affordable means of transport. A person commuting from the confines of his place of residence does not have to worry about the endless traffic jams with the Delhi Metro now at his behest. The ambitious Delhi Metro Airport Express Line from the New Delhi Railway Station to Dwarka linking the Indira Gandhi International Airport is underway scheduled to commence from September 2010.
However, the fateful journey on the day of the technical snag changed quite a few perceptions about the Delhi Metro. The vulnerability of this excellent mode of public transport was exposed when asked to serve a few thousand people beyond its capacity in one go. The air-conditioned coaches notwithstanding, never in my life have I valued the presence (rather, the absence!!) of oxygen so much. At the same time, the inability of the commuters to deal with a problem that could have occurred while using any public service was unnerving. It was shocking, and at the same time, shameful to view people resorting to nearly violent means to grab a niche inside the coach of the train. What could have been a situation well — handled transformed into a mini — scuffle to hop into whichever train reached the station first. Better sense did not prevail and, at one point, it seemed that the Metro would humbly submit to the 250 odd passengers present in nearly every coach. It did at certain points, coming to a halt for longer than usual thereby delaying its own schedule as well as the passengers’.
Does this uncalled for tryst work as a killjoy in my belief in the Delhi Metro? Does my faith stand shaken and stirred? For a means of transport that ferries nearly 10 lakh passengers around different parts of the city faster than any other, such an episode should be a lesson to be learnt to help avert such incidents in future, howsoever clichÃ©d this advice might sound. Technology has a remarkable way of developing; it acquaints people of its dynamism through the challenges that it can pose ahead of them. This should comfortably pertain to the Delhi Metro as well.
The problem lies where it has always been. We are too pre-occupied counting our miseries thereby completely, and blatantly, disregarding one of the most treasured presents that we have been endowed with. This was pretty evident during this particular journey as well. The Metro is the younger cousin of the various means of public transport that we know of. And if we can excuse our democracy for being too young to become perfect, I am sure the Metro has every reason to trip, have a not-so-nasty fall, rise and go ahead!!