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Japan’s E-W nod hinges on Delhi

A Japanese agency funding East-West Metro has withheld approval for the state government’s proposal to change the alignment of the first phase of the key infrastructure project, sources said.

The realignment has been proposed to give a push to the project, which aims to link Salt Lake with Howrah and has run into a roadblock over displacement of families in central Calcutta.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency, which is providing Rs 2,253 crore of the project’s Rs 4,875-crore budget, asked the government on Tuesday to first seek the consent of the railway and urban development ministries, who are providing the rest of the funds.

“Only after the two ministries agree will the Japanese agency consider the proposal (for realignment),” a state official said on Tuesday, after a meeting between agency representatives and the government. The state team at the meeting included chief secretary Sanjay Mitra.

Earlier in the day, the Japanese met officials of the Kolkata Metro Railway Corporation (KMRC), the implementing agency of the project.

A KMRC official said the proposal for realignment would soon be sent to the railway ministry.

A high-powered committee, led by chief secretary Mitra and including railway and state officials, met on Monday to discuss the project’s progress.

At the meeting, the state officials reiterated that realignment was the only way to take forward the phase I of the project — Howrah to Sealdah — that has been stalled for two years.

The original deadline for the 14.67km East-West Metro was 2013-14. The revised target for the Sector V-Central stretch is August 2015, and for the rest, September 2016.

KMRC officials, however, fear that the stand-off over land acquisition would delay the completion of the first phase till 2018. “Even 2018 would be an unrealistic target if the issue of realignment is not resolved soon,” said an official.

The state government had first suggested a realignment of the route two years ago but the railway ministry shot it down.

Land owners at Bowbazar have refused to vacate plots earmarked for the project, while a proposed technology tweak that promises minimal displacement has been deemed too risky in a city sitting on soft soil.

The state government has proposed that the tracks, instead of heading west from Sealdah as agreed earlier, turn north and run below Nirmal Chunder Street towards Raja Subodh Mullick Square, where a station will be built.

From there, it suggests, the tracks head towards Esplanade, where a station near the tram depot would act as an interface between the North-South and East-West Metro routes.

From Esplanade, the proposed route would turn towards Laldighi to reach Mahakaran station and then along with the original route on the way to Howrah through the Hooghly.

But railway officials had raised objections to the proposal. There is a stretch of army land at Esplanade that needs to be bored for tracks to be laid. The ministry of defence has yet to clear the proposal.

At Subodh Mullick Square, underground utilities, including cables and water pipelines, have yet to be shifted.

Senior officials of the state government said they would soon conduct a survey for the new route.

“We are finalising the process to prepare a detailed project report,” said an official at Nabanna.