Kolkata Metro Rail project faces hurdles one after other

Kolkata:  One hurdle has been cleared, another remains. The yawning gap between two East-West Metro pillars near Swabhumi, off the EM Bypass, has finally been bridged, but a fresh roadblock at Duttabad has reared its head, threatening to indefinitely delay the Rs.4874 crore project.

For the last four years, Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation (KMRC), the implementing agency for the rail link between Salt Lake’s Sector V and Howrah Maidan, has been hitting one stumbling block after the other. It managed to break the Swabhumi jinx by relocating 60 families that had earlier refused to move.

The slum-dwellers of Sevokenagar were shifted to temporary structures within the Subhas Sarovar complex in February last year, allowing KMRC to construct three new pillars along the 120-metre stretch in 10 months. There was stiff resistance from land encroachers at this point.

But even as this gap was bridged, barely 1.5km away, at Duttabad, where the stumblimg block – how to relocate 115 families was cleared only after chief minister Mamata Banerjee herself intervened, a new impediment has surfaced.

Remember the yawning gap between piers near Swabhumi, off the E M Bypass? It has finally been filled up. Even as the bridging is an indicator that the Rs 4,874-crore apparently jinxed East West Metro project is inching its way through the city, the project has hit a new hurdle at Duttabad.

Construction company Gammon India had earlier pulled out of the Duttabad part of the project after waiting four years for the Bengal government to remove encroachments along the stretch where 12 pillars were supposed to be built. The blueprint was then changed and KMRC engineers modified the design so that seven piers could be constructed. This way, instead of 115 families, only 58 would now be relocated. The distance between a pair of pillars was thus increased from 25 to 90 metres, with an “improved” technology.

But the design of the 365-metre elevated stretch of the rail corridor is now being modified after contractors quoted steep rates in response to a bid call.

A source said the contractors quoted such a huge rate that the engineers have modified the design of the viaduct from pre-stressed balance (PSB) cantilever (a type of concrete girder) to steel girders. The change in technology should bring down the cost considerably, since the hi-tech equipment needed to construct PSB girders will not be required for steel girders.

Now, more design modifications are in store for a project that has already suffered huge time and cost overruns. The strength of the relatively low-cost steel girders is more, claimed a KMRC engineer and hoped that the bridging of the gap of the elevated corridor at Duttabad could be pulled off at an “affordable” cost.

The 14.57km corridor project has already suffered huge cost and time overruns and is plagued with an acute funds crunch.

Since the chief minister herself took the initiative to sort out the Duttabad problem, KMRC hopes the government will now be more supportive. It will be easier to position the pillars along the Duttabad stretch and bring down the gap between them. “The super structure can be constructed using pre-fabricated steel girders, which will save time and money,” said an engineer working on the alternative design.

Instead of 90 metres, the distance between a pair of piers will be brought down to accommodate steel girders, he said.

The city’s most ambitious project between Howrah Maidan in the west and Salt Lake in the east suffered a jolt over transfer of shares between the state government and the railways. Though the Mamata Banerjee government transferred its 50% share (making railways a 74 % stakeholder and the Union urban development ministry retaining 26% share), the deadlock over the realignment of the route and trouble related to land acquisition on B B Ganguly Street are yet to be resolved.

A ray of hope emerged after the Bengal government constituted a hi-power committee where KMRC MD H K Sharma was included along with the state chief secretary and senior department secretaries. The committee met for the first time last month.