The Eastern Metropolitan (EM) Bypass, one of the most important lifelines for commuters in Calcutta, has been a nightmare for several months. The slogan “today’s pain is tomorrow’s gain” — the ostensible reason for the crater-filled road is the construction of the Garia-airport Metro line — has been done to death. On Friday, The Telegraph was witness to events that unfolded in full public view and gave an insight into the real problem. Report by Tamaghna Banerjee and Bibhash Lodh
1. THE STRETCH
More than half the road near Fortis hospital had caved in on Tuesday. The road was reduced to a narrow lane on the right, forcing vehicles to crawl in a single file over (picture above) an unmetalled stretch. State urban minister Firhad Hakim had rushed to the spot and immediately blamed the problem on Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd (RVNL), which is implementing the Metro project. Hakim had said RVNL had barricaded the road through the middle for the Metro work but didn’t build any drains, following which the accumulated rainwater was seeping underground and damaging the road. RVNL denied the allegations.
Hakim later asked the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA), which is responsible for the upkeep of the Bypass, and RVNL to carry out a joint inspection to find out the real reason behind the subsidence. The following is an eyewitness account of how the joint inspection proceeded on Friday:
2. your pond
CMDA executive engineer Subhankar Bhattacharya reaches the stretch to the south of Ruby Hospital. He points to the “pond” in the middle of the road and says: “The road surface has got damaged only at places where the Metro construction is taking place. They have created huge ponds in the middle of the Bypass where water is accumulating.
That water is seeping into the soil and reaching the road surface, making the Bypass crumble from inside as well as outside.” It is time for the official in white cap, RVNL chief project manager Amit Kumar Roy, to step forward.
3. not my pond
RVNL’s Roy takes the team a few metres north near the passport office. Roy literally puts his foot (or toe) down and points to a “canal” on the side where there is no Metro construction.
Over to Roy: “The CMDA has dug up sections of the road for expansion (for the Bus Rapid Transit System) and has left them that way for several months. Water is accumulating there. This water is seeping from the side and is damaging the road surface.”
Roy adds: “The CMDA shouldn’t have excavated the road during the monsoon and left it just like that. Water from this area is seeping underground and is disintegrating the road surface.” Roy takes care to click pictures on his cellphone, too.
4. archimedes moment
CMDA’s Bhattacharya won’t take it lying down. He escorts the team to the middle of the road where lies another pond. Bhattacharya says the pond’s depth is four-and-a-half feet. RVNL officials say it is less deep.
Then they raise the bar in passing the buck. Not exactly leading from the front, RVNL officials ask another person to step into the pond. The water reaches the poor man’s knees.
EM Bypass’s Archimedes moment has arrived. A CMDA engineer points out: “If it is so deep, water is bound to seep.”
But Roy and others point out the pond is one-and-a-half feet deep, not as claimed by the CMDA. An exchange of words ensues. Eventually, Calcutta police intervene and persuade the two sides to stop entertaining passers-by who have started gathering.
At the end of the inspection, the CMDA authorities agree to carry out the repair but grudgingly. “If we continue to spend funds allocated for the Bus Rapid Transit System to repair roads damaged by Metro construction, we will never be able to finish the work on time,” says a senior CMDA official.
Pictures by Bibhash Lodh