The Telegraph
Thursday , January 16 , 2014
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Project fate hinges on meeting

The state government will hold a meeting on Thursday with the railway authorities in an attempt to clear land and other blocks threatening to derail two key infrastructure projects in Calcutta — the Joka-BBD Bag and New Garia-Airport Metro.

The meeting, sources said, has been called following instructions from chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

“The earlier meeting in August had failed to resolve several issues. So, the chief minister wanted another meeting with the railways,” a state government official told Metro on Wednesday.

The meeting, called by chief secretary Sanjay Mitra, will be attended by senior officials from Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd (RVNL), the implementing agency of the two projects, and representatives of state government departments and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation. RVNL director Satish Agnihotri will come from Delhi to attend the meeting, sources said.

According to state government sources, such high-level meetings had helped resolve issues plaguing urban infrastructure projects in the past.

Last December, a meeting of a high-powered committee on East-West Metro had resolved two key issues that were slowing down the project.

Soon after the meeting, the state government started clearing a 40-acre site in Salt Lake, which had been handed over to East-West Metro three years ago, to facilitate the construction of a maintenance hub. The meeting also resulted in the state helping the railways complete a survey to shift encroachers from a 365-metre stretch in Salt Lake’s Duttabad where work on laying tracks had stalled.

The process of acquiring land in Joka for constructing a maintenance depot for the Rs 2,619-crore Joka-BBD Bag project got over in 2012. The RVNL, however, is yet to take possession because of resistance from land losers.

In 2012, railways officials had discussed the issue with the mayor. The tender process for construction of the depot had to be scrapped in February 2013 because of non-availability of land.

“There were altogether 169 plots but cheques for only two could be handed over to the owners,” said an RVNL official. “The state government has to help the railways get possession of the land and start construction work. Delay in starting work on the depot will push back the completion date.”

A meeting last August called by the chief secretary had decided that the civic body would remove underground utilities at Taratala, Sakher Bazar and Majerhat before Puja 2013 to facilitate the construction of seven stations on the Joka-BBD Bag route. But there has hardly been any progress.

“Between January and September 2012, we have paid Rs 34.88 crore to the civic authorities for shifting the utilities,” said another senior official. “With work getting delayed, contractors may ask for dues for being forced to keep machines idle.”

Senior officials from the irrigation, transport and urban development departments claimed that some of the issues raised at the meeting were subsequently looked into.

“The state government, for instance, has written to the Union finance ministry for making land available on the campus of the Taratala mint for the project,” said a senior official at Nabanna.

RVNL officials overseeing the Rs 3,951-crore New Garia-Airport project said the biggest blocks were related to land for setting up the Science City station on the EM Bypass and putting up a viaduct between Parama Island and Chingrihata on civic land.

“The civic authorities have demanded Rs 251 crore for the land. But we think it’s too high, considering that this is a social welfare project,” said a railway official.

The meeting, insiders said, may also discuss the Baranagar-Barrackpore Metro, which is progressing slowly as an abandoned pipeline under BT Road is yet to be removed.