|If they cannot finish...they will have to return the money. The government will not bear the cost
Urban development minister Firhad Hakim on Tuesday told civic officials to buck up as the state stares at losing central funds over tardy progress in cleaning up the city’s British-era sewer lines and construction of a water supply network.
He warned officials of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) that the civic body might have to return JNNURM funds for desilting the sewer lines if it fails to complete the work, which began seven years ago, by March 2014.
The desilting project cost was Rs 97 crore, 35 per cent of which came from the Union government. JNNURM rules state that the implementing agency must return the Centre’s share along with 9 per cent interest if a project is done in parts.
If the Union government sticks to the rules, the CMC has to return around Rs 37 crore.
Though half-finished, the project kept some of Calcutta’s notorious waterlogging-prone areas dry this monsoon. “Some areas will never be able to get rid of the perennial waterlogging problem because of the non-completion of the project,” an engineer said.
The areas include those along Amherst Street, Raja Dinendra Street, Baker Road and Sarat Bose Road.
Hakim was particularly unhappy with the slow progress of the CMC-executed water supply project, a point the Union government has repeatedly reminded his department through several letters.
Started in 2009, the project to supply water to areas along the EM Bypass has a 2014 deadline. “They have completed only 32 per cent of the work. They must finish it before March next year,” Hakim said.
Sources suggest that Hakim’s twin warnings were significant, especially in the wake of the state government’s effort to speed up long-pending projects by removing bristly hurdles such as squatters in Duttabad holding up construction of the East-West Metro.
In fact, Hakim didn’t get a good appraisal from chief minister Mamata Banerjee when she reviewed her government’s performance at Town Hall last month.
The minister can’t afford to let his ratings drop in the post-panchayat poll scenario as the government is trying to woo industry and investment. The infrastructure projects can’t lie unfinished for long,” one of the sources said.
Hakim sounded tough at the monthly review meeting of JNNURM projects in the state on Tuesday and sent the message across. An official said: “He warned the CMC officials to put their act together because civic body may have to return the central share of the project cost if they fail to desilt the sewers.”
The minister told Metro that the officials have been warned the state govt would not cover the additional expenses if the central funds have to be returned. “If they cannot finish the project they will have to return the money. This is the rule of JNNURM projects. The state government will not bear the cost,” Hakim said.
Work in the big sewers — called man-entry sewers as a man can enter it — have been completed in the seven years since the CMC began the clean-up project in 2006. But in the smaller ones, only 54 per cent of the work have been done so far.
The project plan states that the smaller sewers beneath 49 roads are to be desilted. The CMC had managed only 29.
When the current board of the CMC found that work in the rest of the sewers would exceed the original project cost by Rs 35 crore, it decided to shelve it. JNNURM rules state that the implementing agency will have to bear the additional expenditure.