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Pending-project straw in rail budget

D.V. Sadananda Gowda never mentioned Calcutta in his budget speech but the city of stuck railway projects can take heart from the budget’s emphasis on pending schemes.

“There has been focus on sanctioning projects rather than completing them. In the last 30 years, as many as 676 projects were sanctioned worth Rs 1,57,883 crore. Of these, only 317 projects could be completed and 359 projects remain to be completed, which will now require as much as Rs 1,82,000 crore,” Gowda said while presenting the 2014-15 railway budget on Tuesday.

“The more projects we add, the thinner we spread our resources and longer it takes to complete them. I am sure if this trend is allowed to continue, many more thousands of crore will get spent yielding hardly any returns,” the railway minister added.

All five Metro projects in Calcutta are stuck on various stretches for reasons ranging from non-availability of land to shifting of utilities.

Four of these projects — Joka-BBD Bag, New Garia-Airport, Noapara-Baranagar-Barrackpore and Noapara-Barasat (via airport) — were conceived by Mamata Banerjee when she was railway minister.

The projects found mention in the budget document but not in the minister’s speech.

The budget document states that the railways had acquired majority shares of East-West Metro from the urban development ministry. As for the four other Metro projects, the document states that work is in progress.

“The minister’s statement on pending projects raises hopes but completing them is easier said than done,” said a railway official.

He said that it was encroachment — not money — that is threatening to trip the projects.

In the 2012-13 fiscal, the Metro projects were allocated around Rs 4,000 crore but the authorities could only spend around Rs 800 crore because of the state government’s reluctance to remove obstacles.

“Land hurdles have stalled the projects. Even if the new government allots more funds, there can’t be any progress unless the state government shows interest,” a railway ministry official said.

Several private contractors — including Larsen & Toubro, Afcons and Gammon — have either pulled out of projects or claimed compensation as land issues have prevented the handing over of the construction sites to them.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee stated in her Facebook page that Bengal had been deprived: “Aajker diner pariprekshite — eto banchana, eto lanchhana, kokhono ki dekhechhe keu? Kendrer natun sarkarer haatey banchita o lanchhita Bangla. (In today’s perspective has anyone seen such deprivation and humiliation? The new government at the Centre has deprived and humiliated Bengal).”

The BJP MP from Asansol, Babul Supriyo, claimed the railway minister had allocated Rs 1,496.92 crore for the ongoing projects in Bengal. “This is among the highest allocation for any state.”