The Japanese lenders ought to be happy after the considerable feet-dragging over Kolkata’s EastWest Metro, including the location of stations. Though the budget has slashed the funding for other sections of underground transportation, the EastWest Metro has been given a boost with the additional allocation of Rs 200 crore. And yet with the overall Metro funding down by Rs 118 crore, the routes that are likely to suffer are Joka-Esplanade, Garia-Airport, and Noapara-Barasat (via the airport). These sectors are no less crucial than the Howrah-Salt Lake EastWest sector that will cut through the arterial stretch of the city, notably Chittaranjan Avenue.
The East-West project has been allotted Rs 1,100 crore, against last year’s Rs 900 crore. The project is currently operational over seven kilometres, specifically from Sector V to Phoolbagan. When the Howrah Maidan end is completed, the trains will trundle beneath the river, and for the first time in India. Perhaps the Railway Board has earmarked a portion of the Rs 1100 crore for further extension of the East-West Metro.
Crucially linked to the project is the airport connection, which appears to be an afterthought. Kolkata is among the few major cities in the world without a Metro connection to the airport; it ought to have been incorporated when the North-South link was envisaged in the early 1980s. Even now, the essay towards making amends appears to be a half-hearted endeavour to streamline urban transportation.
The Noapara-Barasat via airport link has received Rs 506 crore, which is less than last year’s Rs 520 crore. The New Garia-Airport and the JokaEsplanade connections have been allotted Rs 350 crore each. This is substantially lesser than last year when the allocation for the New Garia-Airport route was increased to Rs 430 crore from Rs 350 crore. For the Joka-Esplanade track, the allotment had been revised from Rs 350 crore to Rs 425 crore.
Misgivings that both projects from the city to the peripheral areas, via the airport, might be truncated are not wholly unfounded. The Baranagar-Barrackpore-Dakshineswar project has been allotted Rs 10 crore. Though the Baranagar-Dakshineswar stretch is now operational, there has been no progress on the Barrackpore stretch as yet. Overall, the budget mentions no new rail projects for West Bengal this fiscal; emphasis has been given to ongoing projects such as the Nimtita-Farakka double line, Bandel-Baichi, Baichi-Saktigarh, Katwa-Bazarsau and Dankuni-Chandanpur.
There is little or nothing on enhancing railway safety ~ not to mention the death of elephants on the track, most particularly in North Bengal. For the Eastern and South Eastern Railway, the allocation has increased substantially ~ by Rs 806 crore and Rs 906 crore respectively. While Eastern Railway has been given Rs 6,266 crore, South Eastern (SER) has received Rs 5,681 crore. The singular beneficiary in Kolkata is the East-West Metro.