Railways to hand over stakes for E-W Metro

Kolkata: As the railways grapples with a serious fund crunch, the ministry has decided to transfer its stake in Kolkata’s East-West Metro project to the urban development ministry.

Junior railways minister Adhir chowdhury said: “After much effort, I managed to include Rs 100 crore for the E-W Metro project in the current budget. But the amount is nothing compared to the requirement. So in the last meeting, I wanted to know the intent of our ministry on the project. I told them categorically that if the ministry wants to undertake the project, it must do justice to it, otherwise, the stake can be transferred to the other ministry concerned.”

The railways will transfer much of its stake to the urban development ministry so that the latter becomes the biggest stakeholder and more funds are drawn into the lagging project. Chowdhury hinted that the division of stakes between railways and the urban development ministry would be 49% and 51% respectively.

“My stand is very clear. I want the project to be completed on time so that people of the state are benefitted. Who is implementing the project is immaterial. Since the railways has little funds, let the other ministry do it. We are there to extend all kinds of help,” Chowdhury said, adding that he would personally approach the ministry of defence and finance and seek clearance on the required site for the Joka-BBD Bag Metro.

However, he said the state government must come forward and help clear the hurdles to the project in other areas.

Sources said the decision was taken since the urban development ministry was the co- conceptor of the E-W Metro project along with the then state government in 2008. Like in other megacities, the state and the urban development ministry had 49% and 51% stake respectively in the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation (KMRC) – the special purpose vehicle created for implementation of the project. KMRC applied for loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency for majority funding.

But after Mamata Banerjee became the railway minister, it was on her insistence that the state transferred its share to the ministry of railway. So did the urban development ministry. The railways became biggest stakeholder with 74% stake, while the urban development ministry was left with 26 % stake. The logic behind the transfer was that the railways could easily integrate the E-W Metro with its existing and upcoming metro projects.

The then Left Front government in Bengal, too, agreed as it was relieved of its financial burden.

But the scene started changing fast with the Trinamool snapping its tie with the Union government. Mamata, who was instrumental in planning the widest urban metro network after Delhi, apparently lost interest in its speedy implementation, with a Congressman becoming the railways minister and her betenoire becoming the junior railways minister.