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When a section of the Metro span under construction in South Delhi collapsed on Sunday, it dealt a tremendous thwack to the reputation of our landmark public transport project. Until recently, the Metro was Delhi's pride and joy, held up as an exemplar in efficient large-scale infrastructure building. Its chairman E Sreedharan has been long celebrated for his laser-like focus and integrity, as the Metro success story went from strength to strength, from actually starting on time, running three heavily-peopled lines and working 24x7 to wrap up work by next year's Commonwealth Games. Sreedharan has now resigned from the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, taking "full moral responsibility" for the accident that killed five people and injured many others, inflicted damages worth six crores and set the project back by several months. This is the second big setback to the Metro, after a bridge gave way near Laxmi Nagar a few months back.
Sreedharan's decision to resign (despite his tenuous involvement) is of a piece with his sterling sense of responsibility and leadership. But at this point, it is decidedly not what the Metro project needs. Obviously, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation and its contractors have much to answer for — and the Centre has announced a comprehensive inquiry into the causes of the mishap. This is, in a sense, a test case for infrastructure policy: will it continue to revolve around individuals and their differing degrees of commitment to these projects, or can we ensure that these crucial projects, which undergird our economic future, roll out successfully with stronger institutional checks and progress reviews? Sreedharan's resignation might be prompted by his outsized sense of personal probity — but it should not cloud the larger, more vital question of the Metro's lapses in particular and the way we handle infrastructure initiatives in general.
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