Railway Board asked E-W Metro to make clear stance on Laldighi

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Kolkata: A role reversal is the latest twist in the saga of the stalled East-West Metro. The railway ministry, which had so far been at the receiving end of the Mamata Banerjee government’s stonewalling tactics, has apparently started dragging its feet on the state’s offer of land in Laldighi to build a “retrieval shaft” for the equipment that will be used to bore a tunnel under the Hooghly.

The change comes days after the railways had informally agreed to a change in the route alignment, as insisted on by the state government to avoid evicting people and establishments.

The railway board  was directed by Mr Justice Soumitra Pal of Calcutta High Court today to state its position by next Friday on the spot near Laldighi where the retrieval shaft for the construction of East-West Metro will come up. The direction came  after the state additional advocate general, Lakshmi Kumar Gupta, submitted that the representative of the railway board were not present at the meeting held to discuss the matter on Tuesday. The meeting held on Tuesday was attended  by representatives of the West Bengal government, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), CESC, the traffic department and  other stakeholders. The representatives of these agencies have agreed that the spot where the retrieval shaft would rise over ground shall be located near Laldighi, it was submitted. Transtonnilstray  Afcon JV, the contractor’s firm, had  suggested three sites for bringing the retrieval  shaft above the ground, Ranjan Bachawat, appearing for the firm, submitted. These are a site beside the river Hooghly, near Lal dighi and on Brabourne Road.  But Afcon has not been  specified any exact location for the retrieval shaft  by the railway, it was submitted. Moreover, the contractor’s firm is clueless as to how the escalated cost will be met.

The court’s order for an affidavit containing the railways’ stand is significant because all of a sudden its role has become a little ambiguous.

On Wednesday, its representative had skipped a meeting attended by officials of the KMRC and various state agencies to take a decision on starting work along the stretch between Howrah Maidan and Sealdah.

On Thursday, railway officials said they needed “further discussions” to decide whether a retrieval shaft or station could be built there.

“We need further discussions on the issue before starting work. We want to go about it carefully to ensure that work doesn’t stop after resuming due to some problem,” A.K. Jha, managing director of the KMRC, told. “Besides, the Centre has to take the final decision (on changing the alignment) after considering a lot of issues,” he said.

Railway ministry officials said they were waiting for the detailed project report on the new alignment being prepared by consultant Rites. The report is likely to be submitted in February.

Until last week, it had appeared that the railways was more keen on the project and the state government was the one putting up all the hurdles. At Wednesday’s meeting, the state government said it was ready to shift the tram depot and underground utilities from Laldighi within six months of the railways agreeing to change the route alignment.

Since the railways is the majority stakeholder in the project and would need to arrange for additional funds to change the alignment, no decision can be taken without its nod. The railways holds a 74 per cent stake in the East-West Metro and the Union urban development ministry has 26 per cent.

An additional Rs 44 crore would be required to build the retrieval shaft at Laldighi to bring out the tunnel boring machine, sources said. The overall project cost would go up by a few hundred crores of rupees if the alignment is changed.

The high court had formed a committee and asked it to discuss and inform it on January 30 how the railways, the urban development ministry and the state government planned to start building a tunnel under the Hooghly.

On Friday, the KMRC and representatives of the state government told the court that the railway ministry’s opinion was yet to be known since the official designated by the Railway Board didn’t attend the last meeting.

Jha, who is the railways’ representative in the committee set up by the high court, had skipped Wednesday’s meeting. Sources said Jha had told other members of the committee that he had an important meeting to attend in Delhi on the same day.

State government officials said that if the railways was keen on starting work, it should have agreed to build the retrieval shaft in Laldighi by now.

“If that decision was taken at the last meeting, work would have started immediately. It was informally decided that by the time the tunnel under the Hooghly is created in about six months, the decision on what alignment to follow would have been taken. But the railway official skipped the meeting and the ministry now wants another one,” a state government official said.

The government had assured KMRC officials that it would shift the tram depot and various underground utilities from Laldighi within six months if the Centre agreed to realign the route.

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