Mamata Banerjee had taken East West Metro from the state government and handed it over to the railways in 2012 and that, given the present state of affairs, was the biggest blow to the project that spawned dreams of India’s first train ride under a river.
In the absence of any stake in the project, the state government has shown little interest and it has become impossible for the railways to sort out the many tangles on the route. As a result, work on the Rs 4,875-crore project covering 14.67km from Sector V in Salt Lake to Howrah Maidan has come to a grinding halt on most stretches.
The unavailability of land has hit East West at Duttabad in Salt Lake, Bowbazar in central Calcutta and even in front of Writers’ Buildings.
“The moment the state government is a stakeholder in the project, it ensures that land is available. But in East West Metro, for whatever reason, the entire stake of the state government was transferred to the railways and that is the biggest risk (to the project),” K. Subrahmanian, managing director of Afcons, the construction company that got the contract to implement the project between Howrah Maidan and Central.
“The non-involvement of the state government means land problems won’t be solved,” he said.
Afcons and its 50:50 project partner Transtonnelstroy, a Russian company, had bagged the Rs 938-crore contract to build a “transportation tunnel” from Central station till Howrah Maidan via the Hooghly in March 2010. But since then, it has been able to complete only 12 per cent work because of land-related problems and has sought a Rs 257-crore compensation from the Kolkata Metro Railway Corporation (KMRC), the implementing agency for the project.
The route map between Howrah Maidan and Central could not be prepared because of differences between the railways and Writers’ over the alignment and the state’s reluctance to acquire a 2-acre plot at Bowbazar for which even Calcutta High Court has cleared the decks.
“In Metro rail projects in Delhi and Chennai, the state and central governments have equal stakes. A senior IAS officer is made the managing director of the project and that person pushes things,” Subrahmanian pointed out.
For the East West project, the state government and the Union urban development ministry were at first equal stakeholders. It was Mamata Banerjee who initiated the transfer of the state government’s stake to the railways during her tenure as rail minister. The formal handover was decided late last year at a meeting of the Union and state governments. Now, the railways has a 74 per cent stake while the Union urban development ministry has 26 per cent.
An official of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC), the implementing agency for Delhi Metro, said the corporation had used an amended Metro Rail act to acquire land with the help of the Sheila Dikshit government. “A separate committee was set up to handle the land issue and it was settled in three to six months,” he said.
But in Calcutta, with the state having no ownership of the East West project, even a 375-metre stretch of land at Duttabad could not be handed over to the railways in four years. “We have written at least five letters to the state government in the last two months, requesting for the land in Bowbazar but there has been no response,” alleged a KMRC official.
State government officials said they were not involved in the project’s developments since the transfer of stake. “Earlier, we used to attend the meetings and keep ourselves updated. But now there is no such need,” said a state transport department official.