Three years after work began on the East West Metro, the skyline of Salt Lake has got transformed. An overhead railway track has replaced the trees in the dividers from the Wipro crossing to Duttabad and commuters and residents on its path are doing their best to make peace with the changes. The Telegraph Salt Lake speaks to those affected by the construction to find out how their life was in the past, how things have changed today and what they hope for tomorrow when the trains start running.
Wipro to Karunamoyee
One flank of the road to New Town, in front of Wipro crossing, is blocked at present. There are construction materials dumped and the flank is closed to both vehicles and pedestrians. “Cars find it difficult to ply both ways on the open flank,” says Mainak Das, a Sector V employee waiting for a bus at the junction. But commuters are ready to grin and bear the trouble in the hope that the Metro will some day cut short their travel time.
As one drives towards Karunamoyee the road clears up. Neat pillars lead the way and commuters are seen waiting for buses under the shade of the Metro tracks. Some are seen sitting on the base of the pillars.
Says Sukumar Pal, waiting for an auto to Karunamoyee: “The Islands on the Metro route have given way to pillars. This has reduced congestion, although I miss the greenery on the dividers.”
Some of the construction material still lies on the EE Block footpath and motorists speculate that the remaining potholes will only be repaired once the Metro work is over.
|The elevated stretch under construction in front of Wipro crossing. Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta
Long-suffering residents feel the worst is over. “When Metro work had started the piling made deafening noise. I’m glad that’s a thing of the past,” says Kajal Kumar Ghosh, a resident of Karunamoyee, F Block. “My only complain now is that the labourers disrupt our telephone lines every time they meddle with their underground cables. As a result our phone lines are dead or disrupted most of the time.”
Vegetable vendors sitting near Anandalok Hospital say it would be difficult keeping the food away from the dust while construction was on here. At Natyo Sodh Sansthan in EE Block, director Pratibha Agrawal says cracks have appeared on the walls and marble floors. “We have not made a hue and cry about it as we understand that some sacrifice has to be made for a greater good. It would be gracious if the Metro authorities gave us some compensation for the damages but we have not placed any official complaints.”
Karunamoyee to City Centre
The area around Karunamoyee Island has been cleared of clutter but chaos continues. “One flank is often blocked and we have to change our routes to reach passengers to their destinations,” says Pintu Bar, an autorickshaw driver on the Karunamoyee-Ultadanga route.
At present both the flanks from the Dr. BC Roy statue to Indira Bhavan are shut and autos are forced to take a long detour. “The kilometres increase but the fare doesn’t,” complains Bar. Auto drivers are unsure if the Metro will eventually compete with them for passengers or if new auto routes will be commissioned starting from Metro stations.
While construction was on at Karunamoyee, the auto stands would be shifted around the Island and passengers have had to put up with the inconvenience. “There have been times when I’ve reached Karunamoyee amidst heavy rains and not been able to find the auto stand,” recalls Shraddha Walia, a college student of CJ Block.
Office-goers are better off now than when the work had begun. “The buses had got diverted in the beginning and I would have to get off near Bikash Bhavan and walk to my office in Unnayan Bhavan. It would be difficult in the monsoon and peak summer,” says Sudhir Das.
Rickshaw pullers have made hay while the sun shone. “Since the rickshaw is a compact vehicle we managed to steer into narrow bylanes to transport passengers despite all the ‘No entry’ boards put up by Metro workers,” says rickshaw driver Dipak Kumar Singh. “I am waiting for Metro to start. It takes so long to reach Howrah station by the 215A bus from Karunamoyee now that I have often missed my train.”
Likewise for Biswanath Das, who has been selling tea at Karunamoyee for 42 years. “Back in the 70s, sales were abysmal as the place was deserted. Then it picked up as the areas developed. At my peak I did business of Rs 1,000 a day,” says Das, adding that sales slumped to Rs 300 a day when construction started.
Around Indira Bhavan a few tea and snack shops have come up under the shade of the Metro tracks to cater to labourers. And much of the space under the tracks has been turned into parking spots, convenient for people headed to the office buildings or the Central Park fairground.
With the Metro preparing to race past Banabitan, there are also concerns about wildlife in the park. “The noise of the trains could frighten birds away,” says Arjan Basu Roy of Nature Mates-Nature Club, which runs a butterfly park in Banabitan. “We are most worried about small birds like migratory warblers and red-throated flycatchers which come here.”
He says that had the Metro been cutting across fields its vibration would not have been so perceivable, “but since there are buildings by the tracks, reverberations will be felt. “It has not had any effect on our butterflies so far but who can predict what could happen once the trains start running?”
City Centre to Duttabad
Shoppers have found good use for the shaded areas under the tracks and the station that is coming up outside City Centre. “I’ve been parking my car here ever since they cleared this space up. It’s shady and it’s free,” says Sonia Mehta, a visitor to City Centre. “It’s impossible to get parking inside the mall in the evenings otherwise. But yes, one has to be careful jumping over the steel rods dumped at the corners of the road.”
Labourers say work on this station should continue for another month and a half. “We work in two 12-hour shifts a day and Sunday is a half-day. We want this work to complete as much as the commuters who are getting hassled,” says Pintu Ghosh, a labourer. “Our biggest problem now is mosquitoes that are breeding wherever there is stagnant water on top of the tracks.”
The shops in the neighbourhood are counting the days too. “Our sales have dipped as the approach to our shop now seems like an obstacle course,” says Pratap Naskar, vendor of the Fresco juice parlour opposite the mall. Naskar remembers the time before construction started when the divider would be full of trees and people sitting there would drop in for juice. “We are optimistic that once work is complete there will be many more commuters arriving via Metro.” At present the customers coming into the shop are bringing in muck and cement and Naskar is having to mop up the floor several times a day.
|Rain water accumulated in a ditch that has formed under the Metro tracks in front of Nazrul Park. (Bishwarup Dutta)
But there are some who are worried about the additional people the Metro will bring in. “It could be a security concern,” says Srabanti Ray, who lives next to the track in DD Block. Her husband Jayanta wonders if their houses would vibrate when the train crosses. “I remember the sleepless nights the piling gave us. I hope the trains don’t give us more grief,” he says.
The base of the tracks in DD Block have been beautified by residents but the stretch inside Duttabad remains an eyesore. Work has not begun here yet but residents are upbeat. “I’m sure the government will improve conditions in Duttabad if the Metro is meant to cross it,” says resident Sonali Majhi.
But work there will begin only once the houses on its track have been demolished and its residents rehabilitated. Residents are split on this issue too. Sukesh Hajra is overjoyed at being offered accommodation elsewhere. “I have always wanted to leave this unhygienic neighbourhood but could not afford to buy a flat elsewhere. I’m waiting to move out,” he says.
There are some losers. Gitarani Basak, the matriarch of a joint family, is not happy with news of the rehabilitation. “Here I live with my three sons and their families in a spread-out home. I doubt the government flat will be this big.”
Many are skeptical about the rehabilitation, saying they have been hearing of such talk since the Left front government was in power. “I will not believe the government till I have moved into the flats,” says Bapi Ghosh.
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