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Hakim holds out mega hope for Howrah

Howrah could shed years of hurt as Calcutta’s neglected sister to become a mega city if urban development minister Firhad Hakim’s promise on Wednesday comes true.

“From now on, Howrah’s growth will be in a planned manner and the city will have urban facilities like Calcutta,” Hakim said in the Assembly while replying to a discussion prior to the passing of the Howrah Municipal Corporation (Amendment) Bill.

“We’ll convert Howrah into a mega city,” he promised.

Howrah received a major boost, morally rather than infrastructure-wise, when chief minister Mamata Banerjee shifted the state secretariat to the 15-storey Nabanna overlooking the Hooghly.

“For the past 30 years, Howrah has grown in an unplanned manner, resulting in water supply, road and conservation problems. Waterlogging is another huge problem because of a faulty drainage system. But this will change as we are preparing a blueprint for the city’s development,” he said.

“The development programmes are being elaborately planned. Initially, problems of different areas of the city will be addressed. Water supply, drainage and sanitation, roads, street lights and other facilities will be brought on a par with Calcutta,” Hakim said.

Calcutta’s sister city across the Hooghly would need more than a threefold jump in population to technically earn the status of a mega city.

According to Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) officials Howrah’s population was about 3.2 million after the 2011 census and a city must have over 10 million residents, among other things, to become a mega city.

Such technicalities can wait because as a first step towards earning that status, the Bally municipality area will be merged with the Howrah Municipal Corporation to attract more funds.

New buildings and civil construction work would be sanctioned keeping in mind environmental parameters, the minister said. “Slum and traffic management will be prime concerns,” he added.

Sources in the Howrah civic body were, however, sceptical about Hakim’s plan. “The drainage system has to be completely overhauled. There are 30km of open drains in the city, mostly clogged because of lack of maintenance,” said an official.

Scarcity of potable water is another huge headache that the planners will have to deal with.

The city’s two water treatment plants at Puddapukur were built to generate 70 million gallon a day.

“But the plants produce around 50 million gallon these days because the machines are past their prime. The demand for water is around 70 million gallon and rising,” a civic official said.

Earlier in the day, the Assembly passed a resolution to include some parts of Maheshtala municipality, South 24-Parganas, in the CMC area. “Several geographical and logistical problems that stood in the way of the amalgamation. But these have been taken care of,” Hakim said.

Bypass damage

Urban development minister Hakim said the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) has written to the Metro Railway to pay compensation for allegedly damaging the Bypass where its New Garia-Airport line is being built.

“The damage has been caused by heavy cranes, payloaders and dumpers used in the Metro construction,” he said.

“We have written to the Metro authorities about the delay in completion of the project. People are suffering because of the prolonged delay,” Hakim said.

Metro rail sources said delays were caused because of the unavailability of land at several stretches. “The government has yet to hand over land. There are litigation delaying the project,” said an official.