There are 20,000 open manholes in the city threatening the lives and limbs of pedestrians, according to a Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) estimate. Drug-addicts, ragpickers and shanty-dwellers have stolen most of the covers. It costs the civic body Rs 60 lakh annually to replace them.
Since cast-iron covers fetch a better price for thieves, they are being replaced with reinforced cement-concrete (RCC) covers. There were over 140,000 cast-iron manhole covers in Calcutta. The count is down to 60,000. But even the RCC covers are being stolen.
The covers of about 20,000 manholes, of the 250,000-odd in the city, are stolen every year, said a civic official. The covers can be easily sold to scrap dealers. The RCC covers are smashed to sell the iron rods inside.
Mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya has recently asked councillors to be vigilant to prevent the theft of manhole covers.
Tushar Ghosh, special officer of the transport infrastructure development department of the CMC, said: “Manhole cover thefts are more common on the fringes than in areas such as Bhowanipore, Esplanade, BBD Bag, Bowbazar, Sealdah and Gariahat.”
Councillors blame red-tapism in the civic body for the covers not being replaced quickly. Chairman of borough X Aroop Biswas stated that despite requests, the authorities are reluctant to replace stolen manhole covers.
In 1998, the CMC, with the help of the police, had conducted raids in godowns of scrap-dealers in Maniktala, Ultadanga, Beleghata, Tangra, Kidderpore and other areas to trace stolen manhole covers. There was a drop in the manhole cover theft following the drive.