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Bounty & new board for East-West Metro

A combination of factors has rekindled hope for the East-West Metro after a stop-start-stop year — from a steep jump in allocation of funds by the railway ministry to the state government’s renewed participation in the project.

The railway ministry has allocated Rs 900 crore for the current fiscal, of which Rs 400 crore is for the first quarter alone. The allocation is nine times the amount released in 2013-14, reflecting the revival of faith after the removal of some bottlenecks that had almost strangled the project.

The board of the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation (KMRC), which is the implementing agency for the project that will connect Sector V in Salt Lake to Howrah, has been reconstituted too. A railway ministry official has replaced the secretary of the urban development ministry as its chairman.

The state government has a representative in the board for the first time since 2012, a move that railway officials said indicated the Mamata Banerjee ministry’s renewed interest in a project it had given up on.

“The Rs 900 crore allocated for the East-West Metro project in Calcutta this financial year was through a vote-on-account and, technically speaking, can be altered by the next government when the full budget is tabled later this year,” a senior railway ministry official told Metro from Delhi.

But the KMRC’s demand for Rs 400 crore for the first quarter has been sanctioned. Japan International Cooperation Agency is providing Rs 2,253 crore out of the Rs 4,875-crore budget for the Metro route that includes an underwater stretch through the Hooghly.

Sources in the KMRC said several agencies involved in the project could not be paid in the last financial year because the railway ministry had released only Rs 100 crore.

Construction company ITD, which built the 5.4km tunnel between Phoolbagan and Sealdah, and Spanish firm Ansaldo, contracted to build the rakes for the East-West Metro, together have pending bills worth more than Rs 100 crore.

“The allocation for 2014-15 should cover the expenditure incurred on Phase I of the project this financial year,” a KMRC official said.

Officials of the Railway Board explained the steep hike in allocation as being indicative of things starting to move since the land tangle at Duttabad in Salt Lake was resolved with the state government’s help last year.

Work on a 365-metre stretch of the viaduct in Duttabad had been stalled for four years because 58 families residing at the site could not be relocated. Construction firm Gammon India pulled out of Duttabad in early 2013 and demanded Rs 19 crore in compensation for losses suffered because of the government’s failure to relocate settlers blocking the route.

The breakthrough came when the urban development department gave out a list of families to be shifted from the route. The KMRC has since invited bids to start work on the problem stretch.

“We will continue to extend co-operation to the KMRC as this is one of the most important infrastructure projects in the city,” said chief secretary Sanjay Mitra, who heads the troubleshooting committee formed by chief minister Mamata.

The state government had transferred its stake in the project to the railways in November 2012, signalling its lack of interest in the East-West Metro after Trinamul pulled out of the UPA government at the Centre. The railways currently holds 74 per cent in the KMRC and the urban development ministry the rest.

The chairman of the reconstituted KMRC board is Rajeev Bhargava, general manager of both the Railway Wheel Factory, Bangalore, and Metro Railway. The seven-member board has representatives of the Railway Board, the Union urban development ministry and the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation.

A request was sent to the state government recently to nominate Debashis Sen, principal secretary of the state urban development department, as a member of the reconstituted board. “We have yet to receive any letter from the railways. Once we receive it, we will take a decision,” a senior official said.

But the KMRC website already mentions Sen as a director.