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East-West Metro gets back on track

East-West Metro has broken its Salt Lake jinx, the first stretch of rail tracks coinciding with the government’s final list of 58 families who would vacate the project site in Duttabad where encroachment has prevented work for four years.

The urban development department forwarded the list to the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation last week, saying it could relocate the families and start work on the 365-metre stretch immediately.

The 58 families will be staying in temporary shelters built by the KMRC for some time before being permanently rehabilitated elsewhere.

The survey to identify the families who would need to shift from Duttabad was completed in August, but the urban development department took more than three months to draw up the list.

“We intend to start building shelters next week and hopefully the families will be able to shift there within three months. We can then start work on the 365-metre stretch that has been out of bounds for so long,” H.K. Sharma, managing director of the KMRC, told Metro.

Monday saw workers laying the first tracks on the completed section of the viaduct in Duttabad.

Phase I of the project — from Salt Lake’s Sector V to Central — would be completed in around three years’ time, railway officials said.

Work on the 14.67km rapid transit link had started in April 2009 and the original deadline was 2013-14. The revised deadline for the Sector V-Central stretch is August 2015 and September 2016 for the rest of the project.

“After getting possession of land, it will take us at least two-and-a-half years to complete construction. It looks like the first phase won’t be completed before end-2016,” an official said.

Construction company Gammon India had pulled out of Duttabad early this year and demanded Rs 19 crore in compensation for losses suffered because of the government’s failure to relocate settlers blocking the route.

The KMRC was forced to twice extend its deadline to find a new contractor because nobody other than the first bidder had then seemed interested in staking money, machines and manpower on Duttabad.

“The problem has been resolved. We expect work to resume soon,” said urban development minister Firhad Hakim, appointed the go-to man by Mamata Banerjee for any problem on the Duttabad stretch.

Sources in the urban development department said the delay in finalising the list of encroachers had been caused by differences between local Trinamul leaders.

Hakim’s intervention at Mamata’s behest led to the breakthrough, they said.

Laying of tracks for East-West Metro starts on the viaduct at Salt Lake’s Duttabad, about a km west of City Centre, overlooking an under construction highrise of a private group off EM Bypass. The viaduct ends here as construction of a 365m stretch couldn’t be done because of encroachers. Picture by Amit Datta

The original East-West Metro blueprint had 13 piers along that 365-metre stretch, but the design has since been modified so that the elevated corridor rests on seven piers, affecting fewer settlers. The distance between a pair of piers has been increased from 25 to 90 metres.

According to KMRC officials, workers were deployed to lay rail tracks only after a confirmation from the government that the Duttabad dispute had ended.

Kalindee-Rahee, a joint-venture company, is contracted to lay tracks along the 14.6km stretch from Sector V to Howrah Maidan.

Officials said around 40km of tracks will be laid in both directions, including a link till the maintenance depot at Salt Lake’s Central Park. The contract is worth Rs 166 crore.
A committee with chief secretary Sanjay Mitra as chairman and the KMRC managing director as convener was constituted last August to remove hindrances to the project, but hasn’t met once.

“The first meeting was scheduled for December 11, but has been postponed to December 15,” a government official said.

While Duttabad has vaulted the land hurdle, Bowbazar and BBD Bag remain embroiled in litigation and red tape. The alignment of the route between Central and Howrah Maidan has not been finalised yet because the state government hasn’t handed over land at Bowbazar to the KMRC.