A Delhi diktat to spend Rs 1,737 crore on Calcutta's development in the next 24 months or be short-changed has sent tremors through the two most prominent red addresses in town.
Writers' Buildings pressed the panic button ' and pointed fingers at the civic headquarters ' on Wednesday when a missive reached it from the Centre, demanding that the Rs 1,800-crore project aimed at improving the infrastructure and environment of a vast part of Calcutta be cut short.
'It (the project) has already been under implementation for the past five years' Action may be taken to ensure that the scope of the work is curtailed, if necessary, and all activities completed by the already extended date of completion,' wrote Sharmila Chavaly, a director in the department of economic affairs of the Union finance ministry.
The letter also stated that the Bhattacharjee government must pay a 'commitment charge' ' a fine, in less polite terms ' of nearly Rs 200 crore for the delay in executing the project. The amount would be automatically deducted from the funds sanctioned by Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Central to the current tussle between Delhi and Calcutta is the Calcutta Environment Improvement Project (CEIP), on which the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has managed to spend Rs 63 crore out of the allotted Rs 1,800 crore in the past five years.
The Union finance ministry has made it clear that the government must either wrap up the project as planned by 2007 ' which means spending about Rs 1,737 crore in the next 24 months ' or cut it down to manageable levels.
'It is impossible to spend the entire remaining amount by 2007,' said officials at Writers' Buildings.
Giving voice to the government's predicament was urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya. 'I have heard about the letter from Delhi. It's extremely unfortunate for Calcutta' It is going to pay a price for a very shameful deed of the CMC. Such a delay is unimaginable,' Bhattacharya said.
The minister promised to take up the matter with the Centre once the civic elections were over. 'If necessary, I will request chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to write to the Centre seeking an extension,' Bhattacharya added.
Mayor Mukherjee, too, protested Delhi's move. 'I don't know how the Centre has said the deadline won't be extended. Every step in the project has to be cleared at various levels. It takes a lot of time,' he grumbled, but also expressed hope that an extension would be granted 'till 2010'.
The CEIP project, being funded with assistance from the ADB, aims at improving drainage, sewerage, slums and solid waste management in some congested areas of south and south-west Calcutta.
In immediate terms, the uncertainty regarding the Rs 1,800-crore project will hit Behala, Jadavpur and Garden Reach. 'Our city is actually expanding in these areas, where the cry for infrastructure development in tune with population growth cannot be ignored,' urban development officials said, blaming the CMC for the tardy progress on the ADB-funded project.
At today's prices, the ADB's share in the project is a loan of Rs 1,012 crore, with the state government's share pegged at Rs 251 crore, the CMC's at Rs 254 crore and the contribution of the Department for International Development, UK, adding up to Rs 200 crore.