The Japanese lending authority must be aghast. The inherent danger posed by the city’s OBCs (Old Buildings of Calcutta) was exposed with devastating effect on a wet Sunday afternoon when two buildings in Bowbazar collapsed during work on the East-West Metro project, specifically the tunnel boring operations. Mercifully, there were no casualties or injuries, and one must give it to the Metro authorities for their promise to rehabilitate the many who have been dispossesed as also the candid admission that the boring led to the collapse of buildings. For once there was no hedging or even a strained defence of the indefensible.
Instead of a bout of shadow-boxing between the Metro and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, rehabilitation of those who have lost their hearth and home ought now to be accorded uppermost priority. The 24- hour accommodation arranged in hotels can scarcely assuage the suffering during the extended Metro’s birth pangs. Arranging alternate accommodation is a different proposition altogether. The cracks on the walls of the buildings and the seepage of water were visible long ago just as the boring was not an unannounced operation. Latest reports suggest that seepage from the tunnel was responsible for the disaster.
At least 52 buildings have been damaged and five have tilted; these will now have to be demolished. For the Mayor of Kolkata and the urban development minister, Firhad Hakim, to open control rooms along the affected stretches of Bowbazar is only to be wise after the event. Indeed, residential buildings, that date back to centuries, form the striking feature of the area’s landscape in the heart of the city. Integral to the topography ~ from the days of Old Calcutta to the present ~ is the thriving Bowbazar market. It is cause for alarm that as many as 18 buildings have developed cracks and it would be dangerous to continue with the boring before the extensive damage is fixed.
An anxiety to stick to the deadline to facilitate inauguration of the East-West Metro ahead of the Pujas is of lesser moment in the overall construct. It bears recall that a not dissimilar anxiety to complete the Posta flyover before the 2016 Assembly election had led to its collapse. Fast-forward visits to the pandals cannot be accorded precedence over the lives of the residents who have been staying in these buildings for generations, and are now floundering in search of a roof over their heads.
The loss has been shattering and the responsibility for repair and reconstruction is three-fold; it rests on the KMC, the occupants and also, of course, the Metro authorities. The area is still relatively unaffected by the real estate boom. From the horse-drawn carriage and double-decker bus to the Underground is a no less gigantic project than the transition from Sutanuti to shopping malls via the North-South Metro, during whose construction in the 1980s certain buildings were jolted to their foundations. The tremblor has been more damaging 30 years after.