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Grand Metro pipe dream
CMC raises a 12.5km hurdle

Land isn’t the only logjam for Metro Railway projects in Mamata Banerjee’s Bengal, water is too.

If the Noapara-Barasat arm of the Metro extension is stuck in a 5km landlock that Mamata won’t open, the Noapara-Baranagar-Barrackpore project has tripped on a redundant 12.5km water pipeline that the Trinamul-run Calcutta Municipal Corporation allegedly refuses to discard despite signing an agreement with the railways.

“Our officials have been writing letters and holding meetings with the CMC for more than a year but there has been no initiative by the state government to speed up the handover. Trinamul was keen on the project when it held the railway ministry, now it doesn’t want work to start,” junior railway minister Adhir Chowdhury said on Thursday.

The old pipeline is under BT Road, which doesn’t have an encroachment problem unlike the 5km stretch between Madhyamgram and Barasat on the northern suburbs that squatters have taken over.

The Telegraph had highlighted last Wednesday how the Mamata government’s hands-off policy on removing these squatters from railway land had forced infrastructure behemoth Larsen and Toubro to withdraw its “men and machinery” from the site.

According to an October 2011 memorandum of understanding between the CMC and the railways, the civic body was supposed to hand over the old pipeline along BT Road by August 2012.

The pipeline runs 12.5km from the Dunlop crossing till Barrackpore, which is more than 63 per cent of the 19.7km route.

Five months have passed since the Tallah-Palta pipeline that replaced the old one was inaugurated by chief minister Mamata but the Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd is still waiting for the handover. “We won’t be able to seek bids for the construction contract until we get a clear site. The private agencies hired to shift the old pipeline are sitting idle,” a senior railway official said.

The pipeline comprises two parallel installations 60 inches and 42 inches in diameter. Unless these are dismantled, even piling to raise pillars along the alignment can’t start, engineers said.

Mamata the railway minister had included the Rs 2,296-crore Noapara-Baranagar-Barrackpore project in the rail budget for 2010-11. After Dinesh Trivedi took over the rail reins and she became chief minister, Mamata formed a committee comprising the CMC, railways and various state government departments to fast-track the process of land acquisition for Metro projects.

So involved was the Trinamul government then that 37 months were all it took for the CMC to complete the Tallah-Palta pipeline, an exceptional feat in a city where infrastructure projects suffer endless delays.

The Noapara-Barrackpore line was to be completed by 2016. But engineers say just getting the project started is a challenge, let alone meeting the deadline.

Since Trivedi’s successor Mukul Roy resigned as rail minister in September 2012 following Trinamul’s pullout from the UPA government, there has been little progress in the project.

Sources said water supply commenced through the new pipeline within a week of Mamata inaugurating the project at the Tallah pumping station and the CMC could have handed over the old one to the railways anytime after that.

“It’s true that we have been unable to hand over the pipeline to the railways till date. But talks are on and I hope to complete the formality as soon as possible,” mayor Sovan Chatterjee said.

Metro officials said they had heard this promise before.

A senior official of the CMC’s water supply wing cited unexplained “bottlenecks” for the delay in giving up the old pipeline. “While the new pipeline has been commissioned, there are several issues,” said Bibhas Maity, director-general of water supply in the CMC.

The Noapara-Baranagar stretch faces another hurdle in the form of around 500 families who have encroached on railway-owned land near Dakshineswar.