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Questions over change of E-W Metro routes

“The issue of possible change of alignment was brought before the board of KMRC. This meeting was attended by B P Gopalika, state transport secretary, and Rajiv Chaudhury, executive director (works), Railway Board, as special invitees. The Board was of the opinion that the present alignment should continue, and urged the state government to provide support for completion of land acquisition,” the note said.

Subhendu Maiti | Kolkata |

With the collapse of buildings at Bowbazar due to the Metro work, questions are being raised about the wisdom of changing the realignment of the routes of the East West Metro Corridor between Howrah Maidan and Salt Lake Sector V in 2012, when the Trinamul Congress was holding the railway ministry, from the one approved by the Centre in 2011. According to some senior officials of the Kolkata Metro Railway Corporation (KMRC), the railways and urban development ministries, the realignment had been changed on the recommendations of the Mamata Banerjee-government in 2012.

Demanding an inquiry into the matter, Congress Leader in the parliament, Adhir Chowdhury said, “Who changed the route of the project with a detour through the crowded areas of Bowbazar and how? I will talk take up the issue with the railway minister Piyush Goyal.” The original alignment of the project was between Howrah Maidan and Salt Lake Sector V through stations including Howrah – Mahakaran – Central – Sealdah – Phoolbagan – Salt Lake – Bengal Chemical – City Centre – Central Park and Karunamoyee. The changed realigned route is Sealdah Station – B B Ganguly Street – Subodh Mullick Square – S N Banerjee Road Esplanade – Dalhousie – Brabourne Road – Howrah Staion and Howrah Maidan.

In a letter to the state government on 18 July, 2012, Mr Sudhir Krishna, the then secretary of the urban development ministry, had also raised objections saying, “I had mentioned that the issue of change of alignment needs to be very carefully considered by Govt of West Bengal based on adequate analysis covering the factors of time and cost overrun. Further, all the contracts of this section having already been issued, change in alignment could raise similar demands for other sections of East West Metro Corridor as well. So far this has not been done in any of the metro projects anywhere else in the country, and this could become precedence for other metro projects, too.”

Documents in possession of The Statesman reveal how B P Gopalika, former state transport secretary, and Jayanta Kumar Saha, former railway advisor and special secretary to the transport department, had strongly recommended for realignment of the project dropping Central and Mahakaran stations, opposing the views of the KMRC, the implementing agency of metro corridor. In confidential note sheets written by Gopalika to the then chief secretary, Samar Ghosh on 24 April in 2012 stated, “I along with J K Saha, special secretary and railway adviser, made a spot visit of the proposed stretch. The proposed new alignments seem to be much more useful and beneficial than the existing alignments. The present alignments do not touch upon the most important common point of Central Business district of Kolkata i.e Esplanade.”

“The new alignments will pass through Esplanade. This is expected to increase ridership to a large extent as compared to the existing alignments,” he recommended adding, “It will be useful for the people going to the High Court, Netaji Indoor Stadium, Eden Gardens, West Bengal Legislative Assembly and nearby areas.” “I am of the strong view that the new proposed alignment should be considered and pursued in overall interest of the state, public and project,” Saha, supporting Gopalika’s recommendations, said in his note sheet to Ghosh. The KMRC authorities, however, sent a note to Ghosh on 25 April, 2012, stating, “The logic behind the proposed change of alignment is not very clear. It has been hinted in reports that the proposed alignment may be more financially viable. It is not known if indeed studies have been carried out which provide such conclusions, and whether estimates have taken into considerations the impact of additional cost and time run over.”

“The issue of possible change of alignment was brought before the board of KMRC. This meeting was attended by B P Gopalika, state transport secretary, and Rajiv Chaudhury, executive director (works), Railway Board, as special invitees. The Board was of the opinion that the present alignment should continue, and urged the state government to provide support for completion of land acquisition,” the note said.