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Brakes slammed on big four

- Mamata non-cooperation costs Metro dear as meagre outlay seals fate of projects

The railway budget has proposed to allot a paltry Rs 475 crore for four Metro projects, 15 per cent of last year’s allocation, confirming fears that the Bengal government’s attitude has derailed the schemes.

The allocation for the projects in the 2012-13 fiscal was around Rs 4,000 crore, but the Metro authorities could only spend around Rs 800 crore because of the government’s reluctance to remove obstacles in the path of route extension.

The only Calcutta Metro projects that found mention in railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal’s budget speech were the East West Metro from Salt Lake to Howrah and the Dum Dum-Noapara link, spanning 2.5km.

“Construction of Metro system in Calcutta from Dum Dum to Noapara is scheduled to be completed by March 2013…. The construction of East West corridor in Calcutta, which is underway, will be taken forward,” Bansal said.

The projects that failed to find a mention were Noapara-Baranagar-Barrackpore, Noapara-Airport-Barasat, Joka-BBD Bag and New Garia-Airport.

Noapara, near Dum Dum, is to become a Metro hub once all the projects materialise — a pipe dream, Metro officials feel, unless the government changes track.

All the projects were conceived by Mamata Banerjee when she was railway minister but her government in the state seems to have lost interest in them after Trinamul’s exit from the UPA government at the Centre.

“Land hurdles have stalled the ventures and they are no longer on the priority list of the ministry,” a railway ministry official said. “If funds are unavailable, the projects will come to a standstill. Contractors can’t be paid and new contracts can’t be awarded.”

Budgetary allocations come under review twice a year, in August and November. “However, for projects that have lost priority, mid-term reviews hardly result in any substantial addition to the allocation,” the official said.

The current stalemate, he pointed out, would inevitably lead to cost overruns and missed deadlines.

Metro had on Tuesday reported that the Metro Railway and the Rail Vikas Nigam authorities had sought Rs 1,500 crore as budgetary allocation for the four projects.

“The state government is to be blamed for this. Our officials have asked for the state’s cooperation a number of times in removing encroachments but nothing has been done,” said the minister of state for railways, Adhir Chowdhury.

Trinamul, however, criticised the railway minister for slashing funds. “This budget has undermined the efforts of Mamata Banerjee,” Trinamul MP Saugata Roy said. “Banglar proti banchana manush khama korben na (People won’t forgive the attempt to deny Bengal its due). This budget is an attempt to insult the people of Bengal.”

There was no response from the government or the party on the allegation of non-cooperation with Metro.

The Noapara-Baranagar-Barrackpore project hardly covered any ground in the current fiscal because of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s failure to dismantle an old water pipe under BT Road despite the laying of a new pipe to replace it.

The budget has proposed Rs 10 crore for the project, against last year’s allocation of Rs 602 crore.

The Joka-BBD Bag project has been hamstrung by encroachments near Behala Bazar and the state government’s failure to acquire a 62-acre plot for setting up a depot. The Nigam, the implementing agency for the project, was forced to scrap a tender for the depot last week because of unavailability of land.

Bansal has proposed Rs 45 crore for the link, against last year’s allotment of Rs 750 crore.

The Noapara-Airport-Barasat project, too, is tied up in encroachment knots. The Telegraph had on February 20 reported how infrastructure major L&T had to withdraw “men and machinery” from the project as a clear site for construction was unavailable.

The budget has proposed Rs 170 crore for the link, against the current fiscal’s allocation of Rs 1,500 crore.

The proposed allocation for the New Garia-Airport project is the highest of the four projects — Rs 250 crore — but way short of last year’s allocation of Rs 1,050 crore.