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East-West trip takes a U-turn
- Cash crunch path for route-chop plan

Pipe dreams are made of these, paved by paucity of funds and steered by sloppy planning.

The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government is poised for another infrastructure U-turn ' scaling down the Rs 4,500-crore East-West corridor, citing lack of funds and virtually running itself out of the race for the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) project.

Cash-strapped Calcutta's loss could be a gain for Bangalore, Hyderabad or Mumbai, cities also vying for the mega project.

The committee of secretaries, led by chief secretary Asok Gupta, has told E. Sridharan, managing director of Delhi Metro Railway Corporation, to put in place a truncated project plan, in view of the Bengal government's limited resources.

The Rs 4,500-crore Metro Rail project would require the state government to shell out a total of Rs 2,400 crore ' computed as the state's share of the project cost, plus loan repayment and interest payment to the Centre ' spread over six years.

'At this point in time, we can, at best, provide no more than Rs 100 to Rs 120 crore a year,' chief secretary Gupta and finance secretary Samar Ghosh reportedly told Sridharan, who has prepared the full project report for the proposed mass transit system.

Gupta asked Sridharan to prepare a separate project report for about 12 km, from Salt Lake to Writers' Buildings, instead of the proposed 23-km route linking New Town Rajarhat with Dasnagar, Howrah, officials said on Wednesday.

That would mean cutting out plans of the much-touted passage under the Hooghly.

The committee of secretaries had hooked up with Sridharan and his team on Tuesday for a video presentation of the project report, when Gupta said: 'Let us consider implementing the project in phases to neutralise the pressure of funds on the state, now starved of cash.'

Sridharan explained to the committee of secretaries that Calcutta would have to forgo the East-West Metro project if the government could not arrange the requisite funds, a precondition to the crucial Planning Commission clearance. Bangalore, it is learnt, has secured ' or is poised to secure ' the clearance by earmarking funds to the tune of Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 crore.

Sridharan then suggested a few revenue-raising steps that, too, were shot down by the committee (see box).

Gupta later said the government was determined to implement the East-West Metro. 'We have given Sridharan our views and we will take a decision after getting the final project report.'

Urban development secretary K.S. Rajendrakumar added that 'all possible avenues to raise funds' were being explored in order to keep hope of the project afloat.

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