I began my sojourn in the port city of Kochi 70 years ago.
At that time we humbly called it the municipal town of Ernakulam. We reserved the name Kochi for the throbbing trading town across the placid backwaters.
Ernakulam was small enough for us to traverse by foot.
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Jam was a pleasant bread-spread which we never tasted in the streets.
A metropolitan was a high priest and we had two of them facing each other – one belonging to the Syro Malabar Church and the other to the Latin Church.
Our town was far from being a metropolis even during its heyday as the capital of a princely state.
City of Pillars
Today’s Kochi is a city of pillars, as the historic Vijaya Nagara was called in the times of the eponymous Deccan empire. My geographical location can be pinpointed by the number assigned to the nearest metro pillar.
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We can travel safely on the pillars, overcoming jams and blocks. Ground realities are camouflaged by aerial fantasies. It is a wonder atop, not a wonder on wheels. The word Metro is shortened from Metropolitan Railway, which elsewhere is mostly underground.
Though not an enthusiast in the beginning because of persisting skepticism about the absolute necessity and viability of the project, I had the opportunity to get involved with it from its embryonic conception.
I was there in the Transport Minister’s room, as the MLA representing Ernakulam, when the issue of awarding the consultancy service was debated.
There was sharp difference of opinion between the then Transport Secretary, Nalini Netto, and E. Sreedharan. I sided with Sreedharan and the reason was obvious.
Years later, at the time of execution of the project, I was in the vanguard of the agitation to bring the renowned Metroman to the project with inherent power and explicit authority.
It added credibility to the project and instilled confidence in the public.
Firmly on track
Now, the first phase of the project is ready to operate. We are not disappointed. We are elated, in fact – at least for the time being. Our speed was not condemnably tardy.
The first phase of Bengaluru Metro is set to become fully operational along with the partly completed Kochi Metro on June 17, a decade after the work began. Kochi Metro’s work started with the re-construction of the North railway over bridge seven years ago.
The first train started running on Bengaluru Metro tracks in 2011 and the project reached the terminal stage only now.
Ten years is a long time to build 42.3 km of tracks, even by Indian standards. Kochi Metro should not emulate the sluggish Namma Metro. We should complete the first phase – up to Petta via M G Road – without pushing the deadline.
A metro passage abutting the backwaters was my proposal but Sreedharan was not favorably inclined towards it.
Such a route would have been an exhilarating experience for the commuters.
The High Court would have become more easily accessible to the general public. The congestion created by the lawyers would have been eased.
Moreover, the prestigious artery of the city would have been saved from the ignominy of becoming the nether region of the elevated metro tracks.
Certain things will happen and it is not possible to alter them later. Now, we can think of a suburban railway to reach the High Court.
A social milestone
There are certain memorable events in the annals of this great city. One was the reclamation of an island and the establishment of a port. Bristow’s marvelous creation earned Kochi the sobriquet – Queen of the Arabian Sea.
Another was the construction of an airport at Nedumbassery which made Kochi really international.
Now, we have the Metro which elevates Kochi on a par with Indian metros.
This is only a beginning. Once commissioned, the Metro will slowly spread its tentacles to every part of the sprawling city.
A day will come when we will not miss a flight because of an unexpected block in the highway.
Apart from the assured rapid transport, there are other benefits in the offing.
Kochi will unknowingly become a planned city. If its genesis and growth were in accordance with a meticulous plan, there would have been no necessity for a metro at this stage.
The KMRC and DMRC are teaching us to make use of our natural advantages, including waterways, to develop sustainable infrastructure which is a desideratum for the development of a modern city.
Now, we know how to construct reasonably enduring roads and bridges.
Metro is not just another mode of urban transport. It is a culture. It will dramatically transform the attitude and behavior of a society which is rather unruly and uncouth.
The people will stand in the queue, make way for others, accommodate the needy and above all learn certain primary lessons in cleanliness. There won’t be any spitting or littering.
If Delhiites can be tamed without resistance, Keralaites will be more amenable to the clues and instructions.
We will become a more cultured and disciplined lot. And that will be the lingering and everlasting bequest of Sreedharan and his metro men to this metropolis in the offing.
(The author is a former Member of Parliament and former Member of Legislative Assembly from Ernakulam)