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Japan agency ‘aligned’ on EW Metro

The Japanese funding agency that had objected to realigning the East-West Metro route to bypass a land logjam in central Calcutta has eased its stand to keep the project on course.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is providing Rs 2,253 crore out of the budgeted Rs 4,875 crore for the project, has asked the state government to draw up a detailed project report latest by November, based on which it would take a decision.

“Only after all the stakeholders agree to the realignment proposal will JICA take an appropriate stand,” the funding agency said in a letter to the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation recently.

The second phase of the East-West Metro — between Sealdah and Howrah Maidan — has been mired in land disputes for two years. The jinxed sites are Bowbazar, where many families have refused to vacate land, and BBD Bag, where the Mahakaran station will be located.

When the state government had first proposed a route realignment, the railways rejected it on the ground that the agency bankrolling the project was against any change to the blueprint. The Japanese even threatened to pull out of the East-West Metro if the route was altered.

“The second phase of the project that had looked uncertain until a few months ago is coming back on track because of the change in the funding agency’s stand,” a senior railway official said.

The state government has appointed RITES as its consulting agency to prepare a detailed project report. “It will take five to six months to prepare the report, including details about cost escalation,” a government official said.

In the original blueprint, the route runs through Salt Lake, Phoolbagan, Sealdah, Bowbazar, Brabourne Road and Howrah.

The state government has proposed that the tracks, instead of heading west from Sealdah as agreed earlier, should turn north and run below Nirmal Chunder Street towards Raja Subodh Mullick Square, where a station will be built. From there, the tracks could head towards Esplanade, with a station near the tram depot as the interface between the North-South and East-West routes.

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

Sources in RITES, which is under the railway ministry, said the main hurdle was the proposed Mahakaran station on Brabourne Road.

“To build that station, Brabourne Road has to be closed to traffic, which is not viable. Also, several CESC transmitters need to be shifted,” an official said.

The alternative is to have a station within the tram depot near Curzon Park in Esplanade and build the Mahakaran station at the mini bus terminus adjacent to Laldighi. “The land belongs to the army and we expect to get permission from it because a tram depot already exists there,” the official said.

Experts say traffic disruption will be minimal if the underground stations are built at Curzon Park and near Laldighi. “We will look into the detailed project report once it is submitted to us. If any clarification or assistance is required for the DPR, we will cooperate since JICA has shown interest in this,” a KMRC official said.

Work on the 14.67km Metro link started in April 2009 with 2013-14 as the deadline. The revised deadline for the Sector V-Central stretch is August 2015 and September 2016 for the rest, but KMRC officials said neither was possible because of the time already lost in tackling land disputes. “We are working out new deadlines for the project,” an official said.