After Bengal govt, now railways too reluctant to execute Kolkata Metro project

Kolkata’s hope of getting a modern metro rail network seems to be hitting a dead end, as within a year of West Bengal government’s exit, now the Railway Ministry says it is reluctant to take forward the Rs 4,676-crore East-West Metro project citing lack of fund.

“We are reluctant. The project has been thrust upon Railways by Mamata Banerjee,” minister of state for railways Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury told RailNews. Indian Railways currently has a 74% stake in the project, while Union Urban Development Ministry will hold the balance 26%.

Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation (KMRC), which is executing the project, was originally floated in 2008 a 50:50 joint venture between the Union urban development ministry and the West Bengal government for developing the East West metro connecting Salt Lake to Howrah.

However, later in 2010, during Mamata Banerjee’s tenure as Railway minister, an in-principle agreement was signed, enabling railway take over majority stake.

After taking over as West Bengal chief minister in 2011, Banerjee strongly pursued the stake-handover case with the Centre, with her partyman Dinesh Trivedi and later Mukul Roy at the helm of Railway ministry.

Just months before TMC’s parting away with UPA in 2012, Banerjee managed to get the cabinet nod allowing Railways to take over the project despite opposition from urban development ministry. Japanese Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC), which is financing  half of the prject cost as loan, too had opposed the move. But for the cash-strapped Bengal government stake hand-over came as huge respite.

But, now Railway Ministry too is citing lack of funds for the project. “Railways already have too many pending projects. In all cities, it is state government taking the responsibility for the metro projects. Whay it will be different Kolkata?  The railways have inherited a huge financial liability with this project,”  Chowdhury said.

When asked whether Railways is looking for an exit route from the project, he added, “We are discussing the matter with Urban Development ministry. Talks are at preliminary level. We will see what can be done.”

Incidentally, the project which is in the midway had a budget allocation of only Rs 100 crore for the current fiscal. “funding is an issue. But anyway what is the point of higher allocation if it cannot use it because of the state’s noncooperation?” asked  minister of state for railways.

The 15-km metro project here, is indeed facing land acquisition problem, as some of the land losers have moved Calcutta High court to get back their land. Although the Calcutta High Court’s judgment went in favour of handing over the land to KMRC, state has suggested realignment of the route as solution of the dispute.

Sources say, caught in the middle of all this, some contractors have already threatened to pull out. Officially, the project is running two years behind schedule. But, given the hurdles both at management and operational level, officials say, it is now almost impossible to meet even the revised deadline of 2015-16.

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