| Mexico City thinks bigger than Calcutta’s mayor. Mexican President Vicente Fox on Thursday opened a skyscraper, called Torre Mayor and costing $250 million (Rs 1,165 crore), near the Diana Cazadora Monument. At 225 metres, the tower is the tallest in Latin America. (Reuters picture)
Calcutta, June 26: Central Avenue will pay the price for the mayor’s monument.
Mayor Subrata Mukherjee is diverting funds from a project meant for laying concrete on the city-centre stretch to bankroll the gateway to Calcutta.
Contesting Mukherjee’s claim that he had “stumbled upon” an unused amount of Rs 41 crore to fund the proposed gateway, civic officials said today the “bonanza” Mukherjee was referring to was the money given to the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) by Metro Railway for refurbishing the nearly 6-km Central Avenue.
The thoroughfare had been paved with concrete before Metro excavated it from the mid-seventies through the eighties to build the country’s first underground railway.
The civic officials said the previous CPM-led civic board under Mayor Prashanta Chatterjee did not start work on re-laying Central Avenue with concrete, resulting in the money lying unspent in the CMC’s coffers.
“Let me say the mayor’s Houdini act in producing the money out of thin air is all bogus,” said Sudhangshu Sil, a CPM legislator who oversaw the city roads between 1995 and 2000 as a member of the previous mayor’s council.
“The Rs 41 crore Mukherjee is talking about was given to us by Metro authorities for making Central Avenue into a concrete road for which I had led the negotiations on behalf of the CMC. We could not do it for a host of reasons,” Sil said.
Cobbling together the story of the failed Central Avenue makeover from officials associated with the project, The Telegraph learnt that the Rs 41 crore Mukherjee claims to have “stumbled upon” represents a part payment made six years ago of a total of Rs 62 crore. This is the amount that would be required to re-lay the road with concrete.
Initially, the CMC had pegged the cost of re-laying at Rs 12 crore, but later revised it. Civic officials said one of the reasons was the discovery that parts of the road were “subsiding”. The subsidence occurred because Metro workers had filled up the top and the sides of the tunnel with garbage and poor quality earth.
“This did not show up immediately,” an official said. “It took a few years before the poor quality of the filling began to show up and the road started subsiding. This automatically pushed up the cost of re-laying the road.”
Mukherjee claimed that the sum of Rs 41 crore was “highly disposable” since it did not reflect in the CMC’s budget proposals for development of the city.
However, Mukherjee glossed over the fact that project-specific funds are never reflected in budget proposals. This is why the allocation for the project to re-lay Central Avenue with concrete did not find a place in the budget proposals. “This is no reason to believe that the money is highly disposable,” a civic official said.
Opposition Left Front councillors today agitated outside the chamber of CMC chairman Anil Mukherjee demanding government intervention in stopping what they described as “unauthorised and patently illegal diversion of Central Avenue makeover funds” by the mayor.