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Gutka menace goes underground

Metro deploys personnel to clean walls and floors of stations before start of passenger service

Sanjay Mandal | Published 13.03.24, 06:18 AM
Workers clean gutka and betel leaf juice stainsoff walls at the Howrah station on Tuesday

Workers clean gutka and betel leaf juice stainsoff walls at the Howrah station on Tuesday

The city’s familiar problem of gutka spitting has now crept underground.

Even before East-West Metro starts passenger services across the Hooghly, three stations on the new route — Howrah Maidan, Howrah and Mahakaran — have been stained by gutka and betel leaf juices.


The authorities are working overtime to clean the walls and floors of the stations ahead of the March 15 start of commercial services, but that is proving a hard job.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on March 6 formally inaugurated the Esplanade-Howrah Maidan stretch of East-West Metro. The trains on the east-west corridor now run between Sector V and Sealdah.

Fresh coats of paint are being given to the stained walls of Howrah Maidan, Howrah and Mahakaran stations and the granites on the floors are being scrubbed.

“The construction of the stations was completed much before the other work in the tunnel. So, they have been exposed to such nuisance,” said an official of Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation (KMRC), the implementing agency of East-West Metro.

Once fully functional, the 16.6km corridor will connect Howrah Maidan and Sector V.

The Howrah Maidan station was completed in June 2021 and the Howrah and Mahakaran stations around April 2023.

The KMRC official said workers hired by several agencies involved in the construction of the stations and the installation of electronic, electrical and other equipment are responsible for the stains.

“People who visit the stations for official purposes are also to blame. We removed several people who were found spitting gutka or betel juice. But it is not possible to monitor so many people,” the official said.

Metro Railway, which will be in charge of daily operations, is planning to set up signage to raise awareness.

“We will put up several signboards with words such as ‘Aamar Metro, Aamar Garbo (My Metro, My Pride)’ and ‘Kindly help us maintain it’ written on them,” said P. Uday Kumar Reddy, general manager of Metro Railway.

The Metro authorities can impose a fine of Rs 500 on a person found spitting at stations.

“I want to tell passengers that the Metro stations are used by them and so it is their responsibility to keep the premises clean. Imposing a fine does not help beyond a point. Awareness is the most important factor,” said Reddy.

Spitting in public places has long been a problem in Kolkata. The Telegraph reported in 2010 how the iconic Howrah bridge was being corroded by gutka spat out by pedestrians.

The base of all 78 hangers of the bridge had suffered extensive corrosion with pedestrians treating the bridge as a giant spittoon.

In 2007, Kolkata Port Trust, the custodian of the bridge, had to replace all the hanger-base covers after those were found to have been damaged by gutka.

Port trust officials said on Tuesday that they had put protective fibreglass covers on the base of the hangers. “These are easy to wash. Pedestrians continue to spit gutka. So we have to clean them on a regular basis,” said a CPT official.

Underground, too, the authorities are busy cleaning.

KMRC officials said they had to put several coats of paint even after all the painting work was officially over. “At the Howrah Maidan station, we had to put fresh coats of paint six times to remove the stains. It was done twice each at the Howrah and Mahakaran stations,” said the official.

According to one official, the biggest problem is removing the stains from the floors.

“The granites on the floors are porous. The gutka and betel leaf juices enter the pores. Despite washing and cleaning, the stains refuse to go,” he said.

Another problem is the huge area covered by these stations.

The Howrah station is the biggest and the deepest. It is spread across 50,000sqm and is 30m underground. The Mahakaran station covers 26,000sqm and the Howrah Maidan station 18,000sqm.

Around 100 men were deployed by the KMRC and other agencies six months ago to clean up the stations. Some of them are still on the job, officials said.

Last updated on 13.03.24, 06:18 AM

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