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Pay cess and die on street

Calcutta, Feb. 18: A truck hit a pothole next to the tram tracks, lost control and killed a cyclist today.

The government has collected Rs 1,000 crore through a cess on fuel to fund transport infrastructure but still says it does not have the money to repair roads with tram tracks.

For the past four years, the government has been levying a cess of Re 1 on every litre of petrol and diesel but what it has been doing with this money is not known.

The Assembly subject committee on transport has summoned finance secretary Samar Ghosh next week to explain how the fund has been spent.

'It is quite clear that not much of it has been spent on the repair of city roads. The transport department has not implemented any new scheme, except for the Japanese-funded flyover projects, in the last four years,' said Sadhan Pande, chairman of the committee.

Roads laid with tram tracks are supposed to be repaired by the Calcutta Tramways Company, but it told the high court recently it did not have the Rs 53 crore that would be needed.

In 2001, the government had introduced the fuel cess to create a special fund for transport. Finance officials said the government collects Rs 300-350 crore a year from the cess. But they could account for less than 10 per cent of the Rs 1,000 crore collected.

Even transport minister Subhas Chakraborty has no idea how the money is being spent. 'The entire fund is handled by the finance department and only the finance minister can say. All I can say is that the transport department has no money to take up any project,' Chakraborty said.

Dasgupta refused to speak, saying 'at the moment I am very busy preparing the budget'. The budget is expected in March.

What he did promise, though, is a committee to monitor road conditions. This committee will take two months to study and then draw up a priority list. Until then, citizens can die on the streets of Calcutta.

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