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Funds block in sewer clean-up

- Civic move to result in waterlogging rerun, fear experts

The civic body has scrapped a project to desilt sewers under 20 roads because of its failure to raise Rs 43 crore, derailing attempts to free Calcutta of monsoon waterlogging as promised by the mayor.

The clean-up was to start after Puja, part of the Rs 599-crore project under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission to unclog sewers stretching 60km under 57 roads in areas prone to waterlogging.

A large chunk of the work is over and the rest — covering 15-odd kilometres of sewers under 20 roads — will not be taken up because of paucity of funds, mayor Sovan Chatterjee has told Metro. “We have decided to scrap the project. Cost escalation has made it difficult for us to arrange funds,” the mayor said.

Municipal commissioner Khalil Ahmed conveyed the decision to the principal secretary in the state municipal affairs department, Alapan Bandyopadhyay, on Thursday.

Among the 20 roads are Rabindra Sarani, Puddapukur Road, Lansdowne Road, Ballygunge Station Road, Amherst Street, Raja Dinendra Street, Alipore Road, Chetla Road, Royd Street, Lindsay Street and Jhowtala Road.

Civic engineers and other officials said the cleaning up of the entire 60km of the sewerage network was a must to fulfil the mayor’s promise of ending the perennial monsoon woe of waterlogging. Years of silt deposition have almost blocked the 130-year-old brick sewers, resulting in prolonged periods of flooding after every spell of downpour.

The project to desilt the sewers was taken up during the tenure of the last Left Front board. “Of the project cost of Rs 599 crore, around Rs 502 crore was set aside for dredging 24km of ‘man entry’ sewers under nine roads. The remaining Rs 97 crore was for the ‘non-man entry sewers’ under 48 roads,” said a civic official.

“The state and central governments had disbursed most of their shares in the Rs 97 crore JNNURM project, but since the civic body cannot shell out its share, the project has been shelved for the time being,” said a civic officer.

Desilting the sewer lines under 57 major roads – 60 kilometer of length -- of the city was planned during the tenure of the Left Front board. The sewer lines under nine of these roads covering 24 km are called man entry sewers, since they are big enough for men to enter.

The sewers under remaining 48 roads are called non-man entry sewers, out of which work in 28 roads are underway.

“The plan was to start the work under the remaining roads later. All these roads are in proper Calcutta and so there is a chance of waterlogging unless the mayor decides to revoke the decision,” said an official.

“The total project cost is Rs 599 crore. The first phase itself is a Rs 502 crore project,” he added.

Out of the Rs 97 crore for the 20 roads, the state and central governments are supposed to pay Rs 67.90 crore. They have already disbursed Rs 50.9 crores.

The Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s share for the project was Rs 29.1 crore, but because of several delays in the project, the project cost escalated and the CMC has to pay Rs 43 crore now.

“According to the terms of JNNURM projects, either the state government or the executing agency has to bear the escalated cost, but usually the agency bears it,” said a senior official of the state government.

As CMC is the implementing agency for the desilting project, it had to cough up the extra amount.

Opposition leaders in the civic body slammed the mayor’s decision. “It shows the mayor’s step-motherly attitude towards the core city area. I do not think availability of fund is at all a problem. If there is really any fund crunch, how did he allot Rs 15 crore outside the budget for infrastructure development of Joka- I and Joka- II panchayats?”, asked Mala Roy, leader of the Congress.

Refuting the mayor’s plea of fund crunch, CPM leader Rupa Bagchi, who is also the leader of the opposition in the CMC, said in the 2012-13 budget, the target for property tax collection was set at Rs 630 crore. “But the CMC has already earned Rs 640 crore,” she said.