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Sewer block woes return to Gariahat

A block at the Gariahat crossing that disrupted traffic for 40 months in phases till last August has reappeared following the civic body’s move to restart a seven-year-old project to desilt an underground sewer.

The block — spanning almost half the width of the southern flank of Rashbehari Avenue, a few feet to the west of the crossing — will stay for at least another 15 months, by when Calcutta Municipal Corporation officials promise to complete the work.

Civic sources said the desilting would have been completed last year had the Austrian company executing the project — Angerlehner — had not become insolvent and left in August 2013.

The latest in the series of delays, which had turned the stretch into a commuter’s nightmare for months on end in phases, was triggered by the search for Angerlehner’s successor.

The tender was floated last August and it took six months to award the contract to Gypsum Structural India Private Limited. “The proposal to award the contract to a firm had to be passed by the mayoral council and the civic house. That took a lot of time,” said a source.

Even after the contract was awarded in February, work could not take off in full speed in the absence of an agreement with the company. Sources said civic bosses refrained from signing the contract fearing violation of the model code of conduct.

“The officials could have written to the Election Commission and sought permission to sign the contract but did not care to do so. Had the contract been signed by now, the commuters’ suffering could have been shortened,” the source said. “Alternatively, the civic authorities could have fast-tracked the process and signed the contract before the model code of conduct came into force with the announcement of the Lok Sabha poll dates on March 5.”

Several civic officials said Gypsum is yet to start manufacturing the GRP pipes, which will be placed within the sewers. “We cannot blame them. Till the agreement is signed, why will they start work in full speed?” asked an official.

The desilting of the 4.87km-long brick sewer between Chetla and Ballygunge drainage pumping station in Tiljala, mostly running under Rashbehari Avenue, started in 2007, along with the sewers under eight other city roads.

The company that had first bagged the project failed to satisfy the civic body with its work, prompting the authorities to cancel the contract.

Angerlehner came on board in 2010 after submitting the second lowest bid. After Trinamul wrested the civic board from the Left Front in June 2010, the Austrian firm’s contract was cancelled and fresh bids were invited.

Angerlehner again won the contract, this time as the lowest bidder. Work finally resumed in November 2011, only to get stalled again in May 2013 after the firm became insolvent.

“Apart from desilting, the project includes installing jackets (white glass-reinforced plastic or GRP pipes) inside the brick sewers.... Work under all other roads have been completed,” said a civic official.

As for the Rashbehari project, the official said the entire length of the sewer will have to be cleaned and jackets placed between Deshapriya Park and Gariahat, and between the railway tracks near Ballygunge railway station and Tiljala.

The desilting of sewers had been done by Angerlehner before it became insolvent but the civic authorities plan to undertake a fresh round of clean-up to remove whatever silt has deposited over the past year.

“We have resumed work and it will be over by August 2015 as scheduled,” said Nilangshu Bhusan Basu, the chief engineer in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s planning and development department.

The original desilting project that started in 2007 covered around 26.5km of brick sewers, part of the 88km built by the British. The drainage channels are called “man entry” sewers because each is big enough to accommodate a man. Several smaller — or “non-man entry” — sewers were also built during the Raj.

Before the project was undertaken almost the entire network was clogged with silt, which reduced the diameter of some of the channels to a third of the original length.

“The 26.5km of sewers has been desilted. No project has been undertaken for the rest,” said a civic official.

Waterlogging was a natural consequence during the monsoon before the de-silting, as the water from the road could not flow through the sewers. “The de-silting will help reduce waterlogging on and around the stretches where the desilting work has been done. But the entire city can be spared the woes only if the remaining brick sewers are desilted,” said an official.