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Magic 35 mins for Metro

The high-powered committee formed by Mamata Banerjee to remove obstacles in the way of infrastructure projects in town struck a blow for the stalled second phase of the East-West Metro within minutes of meeting for the first time on Monday.

The feasibility of the proposed alignment of the route from Central to Howrah Maidan, which the government had previously rejected by citing difficulties in evicting people, will be reviewed on the basis of a fresh survey, officials said.

The committee had taken four months to fix a date for its first meeting but needed barely 35 minutes to decide that the original route deserved a second look along with provisions for an alternative.

“The private firm contracted to build this part of the project has informally proposed a change in technology for the proposed Central station so that fewer families would need to be relocated from a one-acre area in Bowbazar. The railways has been asked to do a detailed project report with the company’s help,” said a senior government official who was at the meeting.

He termed the decision to commission a survey “a breakthrough” brought about by chief minister Mamata’s eagerness to remove the hurdles.

Railway sources said Afcons, the infrastructure arm of Shapoorji Pallonji, had been asked to submit its report within seven days.

East-West Metro broke its Salt Lake jinx a week ago, the first stretch of rail tracks coinciding with the government submitting the final list of 58 families who would vacate the project site in Duttabad where encroachment had prevented work for four years.

“Monday’s meeting was a big step towards ending a dispute that could have derailed the project had it dragged on,” the official said.

The committee, headed by chief secretary Sanjay Mitra and including Hemant Kumar Sharma, managing director of the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation, was to meet for the first time on November 15. The meeting was cancelled after the babus who had fixed the date belatedly realised that another meeting was scheduled on the same day.

The principal secretaries of transport, urban development and irrigation, the commissioner of city police and senior officials of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation are also in the committee.

Bowbazar, BBD Bag and Duttabad have been the problem areas of the East-West Metro route, covering 14.67km from Salt Lake’s Sector V till Howrah Maidan. While encroachment is the hurdle in Duttabad and Bowbazar, work in BBD Bag has been on hold because Calcutta police apprehends traffic mayhem once men and machinery descend on the business district.

Afcons demanded Rs 256 crore in compensation for money and mandays lost after pulling out of Duttabad earlier this year.

For the route from Central till Howrah Maidan, the KMRC hasn’t got possession of land at Bowbazar despite the high court’s recent order to the state government to ensure that the earmarked area is returned to it.

The government had acquired land and buildings from 90 families in that area against compensation of Rs 1,90,000 each, announced on November 15, 2011. The families went to the court against the decision.

The state government wanted the proposed Mahakaran station to be relocated to the Esplanade bus terminus instead of building it on Brabourne Road following objections by Calcutta police.

In September 2012, the government commissioned a survey by RITES for a new route along Laldighi, Esplanade and Nirmal Chunder Street in an attempt to bypass the land hassle in Bowbazar.

But Japan International Cooperation Agency, the principal lender, objected to any change in the route.

“The RITES study on the new alignment was a preliminary one. It will be asked to draw up a detailed project report,” a source said.

Both reports — the one by the contractor and the other by RITES — will be discussed and the more feasible one implemented.

“We are open to the idea of realignment, provided the state government bears part of the additional expenditure,” a railway official said.

The government on Monday promised to relocate offices and warehouses from Salt Lake’s Central Park soon so that the proposed maintenance depot could be built there.

“The secretary of the urban development department assured us that the place would be vacated as soon as possible,” the official said.

The government has also agreed to look into the KMRC’s demand for reimbursement of around Rs 300 crore in value added tax. “The government was earlier unwilling to even consider reimbursing the amount. Today, it asked the railways to submit a proposal,” a source said.

Work along the East-West Metro route started in April 2009. The original deadline was 2013-14, which has been revised to August 2015 for the Sector V-Sealdah stretch and September 2016 for the rest.

mamata panel’s FIRST-DAY-FIRST-SHOW

Concerted effort to remove hurdles in route alignment between Central and Howrah Maidan

KMRC and RITES asked to submit detailed project reports for old and new routes

Government to shift materials, warehouses and offices from Salt Lake’s Central Park soon

Construction of viaduct at Duttabad to resume after relocation of settlers to temporary shelters built by KMRC

Request for reimbursement of around Rs 300cr in VAT back in consideration