West Bengal gets 66% more funds for Railways, Kolkata Metro project big gainer

KOLKATA: The frosty relations between the Mamata Banerjee government and the Centre has not co me in the way of budgetary allocation with the state receiving 66% more funds for railway projects than last year. Only poll-bound Uttar Pradesh has got a higher allocation.

From Rs 3,820 crore in 2016 17, the allocation for railways in the state has gone up to Rs 6,336 crore in 2017-18. A big chunk of the funds will go into Metro projects, some of which are nearing completion. This is the biggest outlay since 201112 when Mamata Banerjee, then railway minister, announced new Metro projects and allocated Rs 10,888 crore. Since the NDA came to power in 201415, the state had received Rs 2,907 crore, Rs 3,615 crore and Rs 3,820 crore in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17, respectively.

“A lion’s share of the outlay will go towards completion of Phase-I of the E-W corridor, the Noapara-Dakshineswar and Noapara-Airport stretches of the existing Metro as well as the Joka-Majerhat and New Garia-Ruby links so that these stretches can be commissioned by June, 2018. Details will be known on Friday when the Pink Book is published,” a railway official said.

In 2016-17, the allotment for four Metro projects in Kolkata was Rs 517.98 crore. There has been much progress since in getting land cleared with help from the state government.

However, the announcement of a new Metro Railway Act and Metro Policy has come as a surprise and led to speculation that it is a move to corporatise Metro Railway to slash subsidies. Jaitley hinted at greater private participation in construction and operations of Metro corridors.

Metro Railway hasn’t been able to reduce operating ratio that hovers around 250%, the highest among all railway zones. South Eastern Railway, in contrast, recorded an operating ratio of 82.6% till December, 2016. Though there has been no announcement of fare hike in the Budget, railway officials don’t rule a mid-term hike in select classes.

On the aviation front, Bengal’s fledging dream needed a budgetary boost but the amendment proposed in the Airport Authority of India Act to help monetise unused assets to raise funds for development of other airports can lead to city side development at only Kolkata airport. AAI has been waiting for the state to allot land at Bagdogra airport to set up a new terminal.

In Kolkata, AAI has already appointed a consultant to prepare a report on the utilization of land along VIP Road and Jessore Road, including the plot where the NAD Colony is located. Among the projects proposed are hotels, malls and multiplexes. “We will also check out if the cityside section of Behala airport can be commercially exploited,” an official said.

The funds accrued from the commercial development could go into development of Cooch Behar airport that needs an extension of the runway to enable ATR operations. AAI has handed over Malda and Balurghat airports to the state government on a 30-year lease and runway carpeting work is underway at the latter. There is hope of Cooch Behar, Andal and Behala being included in the regional connectivity map.

The multi-modal logistics parks, together with multi-modal transport facilities proposed by Jaitley , has put the spotllight on National Waterway-I from Allahabad to Haldia (1,620km) with seamless interface of river, road and railway.

Under NW-I project, there is a proposal for second multimodal terminal at Kalyani, Tribeni or Balagarh in addition to the Rs 517 crore Haldia MMT. The state is parallely working on a Rs 1,000 crore project that includes multi-modal connectivity across river, integrating road and railway with RoRo and ferry servies.

Bengal is also likely to be a beneficiary of the 2,000 km coastal connectivity project where roads have been identified for construction and development. The road can help the proposed ports at Sagar and Tajpur besides benefitting Haldia and Kolkata Port.