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Tram takes mayor fancy

Mayor Subrata Mukherjee has spotted a streetcar he desires. In fact, he has his eye on 319 of them.

With the road-repair squabble between the Calcutta Tramways Corporation (CTC) and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) refusing to go away, the mayor has offered to take over the 125-year-old public sector loss-making enterprise.

'The CTC can no longer be allowed to mess up the city's roads,' mayor Mukherjee said on Sunday.

The tramways, with a track length of 63 km, was taken over by the government 27 years ago. It has a fleet of 319 trams and 340 buses.

Repair of damaged tracks is squarely the tram company's responsibility, the civic body has maintained.

CTC managing director Shankar Narayan Pal admitted in a report to the high court that it cannot take up repairs due to paucity of funds. The government has not agreed to bail it out either.

Even so, is the mayor merely flexing his new-found money muscle' Could he want to take on the CTC's 6,000-odd work force, Rs 62-crore annual wage bill and annual expenditure of Rs 98 crore'

The company's current market worth is pegged at around Rs 100 crore, but a revamp will cost Rs 700 crore.

The CTC, at least, isn't taking the mayor seriously.

'The mayor is a political man, so we shall not react to the proposal,' said managing director Pal. 'Let us wait for word from municipal commissioner Debashis Som and the government.'

With the civic polls coming up, the takeover bid is being seen more as a means of making a point: not only has the CMC's financial condition been described as A+ by Credit Rating Information Services Limited (Crisil), its stock is rising with national and international funding agencies.

However, in the corporate context, the Crisil rating means the CMC's money is just about safe. Also, the civic body's own resource-guzzling workforce is a strain.

Finally, funds flowing into the CMC are for development work, not taking on a sick public utility.

Mayor Mukherjee has also made it clear that his motive is not heritage preservation. 'I wouldn't be unhappy to see tramcars go, as we need faster public transport,' he stressed, not wanting, however, 'to be perceived as anti-trams'.

His suggestions include phasing out CTC operations in congested arteries and introducing tram services on a concrete bed along the Bypass.

He has written to chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for a meeting on how best the CTC could be run.

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