Kolkata Metro: A case of systematic delays

  • Srinand Jha, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
  • Updated: Feb 25, 2015 23:52 IST

For management students wanting a lesson in how not to execute a project, the case study of Kolkata’s East-West Metro Corridor Project should be made mandatory!

The drive into the city from the Dum Dum airport tells the story in explicit details. The half-built pillars of the metro system are lying unattended for years. The grounds dug up for constructing sections of the proposed underground corridor are used by residents of nearby colonies to dump garbage. Dozens of settlements have sprung up on the land, which was earmarked for the project.

Kolkata should have had everything going for building what is called the East-West Metro Corridor Project. It has an ideal ridership profile being the world’s 13th most populous urban city with just 6.2% area covered by roads. It could have had the advantage of taking a technological leap by building on the success of the Delhi Metro with no shortage of funds to execute the project — the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had given it a go by sanctioning it a soft loan of Rs 2,253 crore.

The delay dynamics

The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation took less than seven years to commission its first line. It runs a 150 kilometre network already. But, the Kolkata Metro System, which has the status of being an independent railway zone, took 12 years to run its first metro train on a 3.4 kilometre stretch from Esplanade to Bhowanipur.

The Delhi Metro is scheduled to expand its network to 300 kilometres by 2018, but there are no clear time frames for the completion of the Kolkata Metro expansion.

Of the five extension lines worth Rs 12,236 crore that were announced by Mamata Banerjee during her tenure as the railways minister, only Rs 1,606 crore was utilised till 2014. The annual outlays for these projects have gradually decreased.

“Project implementation is being somewhat delayed because of a shortage of funds. There are land encroachment issues as well,” said Radhey Shyam, general manager of the Kolkata-based South Eastern Railways.

More intriguing is the story of the East-West Corridor – which proposes to link the 14.58 kilometre route from Howrah Maidan to Salt Lake Sector-V at an estimated cost of Rs 4,874.58 crore.

GC Mitra, who had an aborted stint as a project chief engineer, recalls, “Expensive machines were imported and civil work was begun, when it was noticed that the alignments suggested in the detailed project report (DPR) were faulty. A station at Mahakaran, if built, would have damaged vintage residential buildings in Kolkata’s central business district adjacent to Brabourne Road. People also woke up to the need to relocate 10 big transformers of the Kolkata Electric Supply Corporation located in the vicinity.”

“We have proposed a change in alignments, which the Railway Board is considering. Nothing has happened in the last two years”, said AK Jha, managing director of the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation (KMRC).

The East-West Metro Project has remained stalled because neither of the stake-holders is willing to bear the additional cost of Rs 340 crore that the alignment change entails.

The more structural problem is that none of the stakeholders is willing to own up the KMRC today.

The tug of war

The big ticket infrastructure project has remained caught in a slugfest between the Centre and the Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government.

Earlier, the urban development ministry and the West Bengal government had a 50-50 share in the project.

In 2012, under pressure from West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, 74% stake was transferred to the Railways ministry, while the urban development ministry retained 26%.

“The project has come to be surrounded by procedural, institutional, administrative and political complications,” admitted an official.

Meantime, the JICA is understood to have threatened to pull out of the project, citing inordinate delays on the part of the implementing agencies to claim funds sanctioned by it.

(Inputs Moushumi Das Gupta)

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