Rehab is priority, says Mamata Banerjee after house collapse on Kolkata metro route
Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has promised to cooperate with the railway authorities in rehabilitating hundreds of people who were shifted to hotels after more houses in the city’s Bowbazar area developed cracks on Monday, barely 24 hours after two old buildings collapsed and around 20 houses were damaged.
Two buildings collapsed Sunday and others developed cracks in tremor shockwaves in the aftermath a tunnel boring machine hitting an underground water pocket during work for the East-West Metro project on Saturday. Railway authorities stopped work and moved 254 residents to hotels on Saturday evening. Till Monday, 375 people were shifted from their homes.
The East West Metro will connect Howrah to Salt Lake. A part of the tunnel runs under the Hooghly river, a first of its kind in the country.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee visited the affected area on Monday evening to meet the displaced residents and talk to railway engineers.
“The evacuation was done on time and no life was lost. Humanity comes first. There is no place for politics here. We will offer full cooperation to the metro authorities in rehabilitating these people. I have convened a meeting on Tuesday,” Banerjee said.
During the day, Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation Ltd (KMRCL) engineers sealed the tunnel and started pumping out water and sludge.
“I am living in fear. The future looks uncertain,” said Pratyush Lahiri whose house development fresh cracks on Monday. Most of the houses in Bowbazar, the oldest part of Kolkata, are at least a century old and the structures stand very close to each other. As a result, damage in one building usually affects the adjacent one as well.
On Sunday, a number of old buildings were evacuated. Local residents said they felt the tremors around 6 pm on Saturday and were asked to evacuate. Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim met senior officials of KMRCL, including its managing director Manas Sarkar, at Bowbazar on Sunday afternoon.
After the meeting, Hakim and Sarkar told the media that immediate as well as long-term plans have been made for the affected residents.
“Municipal engineers have examined the damages and 18 buildings have been identified as dangerous. The police will not allow anyone to enter these buildings. Since its residents moved out, leaving everything behind, police are being deployed to secure the premises,” Hakim said.
It was decided at the meeting that residents of the 18 buildings will be put up at hotels for four-five days and the expenses will be borne by KMRCL. During this period, KMRCL will arrange for apartments on rent. “The rental accommodation will be provided by KMRCL till the houses are repaired or rebuild. This could take seven to eight months,” Hakim said.
A control room has been set up in area where engineers, police officers and disaster management personnel will be present to assist the affected residents.
“The entire responsibility is ours and we will bear all the expenses incurred towards alternative accommodation as well as repair and reconstruction of the damaged buildings,” KMRCL’s Sarkar said at the spot.
Sarkar ruled out the possibility of any flaw in the East-West Metro plan. “The boring progressed smoothly for a kilometer and a half. It had no impact on five storied buildings, including some heritage structures, during the previous leg of the work,” Sarkar said. He said that the houses in Bowbazar got damaged after water started gushing into the tunnel and soil caved in. “The water pressure was extremely high and led to the mishap,” he added.
“Keeping this incident in mind, technical parameters for tunnel boring will be set afresh,” said Biswanath Dewanjee, chief engineer, KMRCL.
But residents are furious at the metro authorities.
“We have been provided with hotel accommodation but the metro authorities have not instructed the hotel owners to provide food. We do not have enough cash in hand to pay the food bills,” said Dilip Sen, a resident of Durga Pithuri Lane.
“The Metro authorities repeatedly assured us that our houses were safe. It is evident that they were careless. We were given no indication that trouble could be coming,” said Biswanath Dutta, another affected resident.