The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bridge too far draws near

Calcutta, Nov. 10: A bridge that almost never was may finally take shape, bringing Calcutta and Haldia closer and breathing fresh life into Bengal’s infrastructure drive that was flagging after an initial burst.

Japan has agreed in principle to fund the Raichak-Kukrahati bridge on the Hooghly, which will shorten the distance between Calcutta and the port town by about 50 km.

The cash-strapped Bengal government also found another source today to fund two proposed high roads in Calcutta. It decided to divert proceeds from the sale of land for a logistics hub along Kona Expressway and a multiplex project, amounting to Rs 125 crore, to the Vivekananda Road flyover and the elevated road from Park Circus to Parama Island.

The bridge, mooted a few years ago but virtually mothballed for lack of funds, will reduce travelling time by road from Calcutta to Haldia to less than one-and-a-half hours from over two-and-a-half hours now.

“Japan has informed the Union finance ministry that they have decided in principle to fund this project,” Laxman Seth, the chairman of Haldia Development Authority, said.

He said Japan has agreed to bear the entire project cost of Rs 1,500 crore. If the claim is borne out, it will be a breakthrough as the Centre was insisting that the state should pick up 20 per cent of the tab. A resultant standoff had cast a cloud on the fate of the bridge proposal, which at one stage looked as good as stillborn.

The bridge project is now expected to get off the ground by next year and be completed in three to four years. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has taken up a feasibility study.

Once the bridge is built, road traffic will no longer need to go through NH-6 (Bombay Road) to reach Haldia. Instead, vehicles can take the Diamond Harbour Road and then cross the Hooghly at Raichak to reach Kukrahati, adjacent to the port town (see map).

The proposal for the bridge was among 20 projects languishing on the drawing board ' mostly because of a funds crunch ' after being announced with fanfare.

News of the Japanese funds offer coincided with the signing of a pact to build the Kona logistics hub, billed Southeast Asia’s first such facility. Spread over 108 acres, the hub will have a truck terminal, multi-utility warehouses, cold storage, spare parts shops, motels and hotels.

The memorandum of understanding was signed by the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority, Havelock Properties (the implementing company for the consortium of Unitech, Salim Group and Jurong International) and Universal Success Enterprises.

Municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya said the money from the land sale would be spent on pending projects because “amader abhaber sansar (our government is cash-strapped)”.

Bengal received some free advice, too, from a German delegation. The team has suggested the setting up of a development council on the lines of one in Hong Kong to improve perception of Bengal abroad.

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