By Annesha Ghosh:
In any modern society, expansion of infrastructure is regarded as the most indisputable sign of progress. To a greater number of the populace of Kolkata, however, this widely-accepted notion may come across as a downright fallacy. For they know (or have been compelled to know!) that any such ‘progress’ comes at a price they may well have to endure year after year, with practically no end in sight.
Two of the much-touted under construction Metro expansion projects, that were undertaken to boost the existing Metro network in Kolkata, have now been reduced to the indignity of the proverbial white elephant–one that has become the bane of the city’s existence, particularly for residents living in East and West Kolkata.
The East-West Metro Corridor (also known as ‘Line2’), covering a total distance of 14.67 km, purports to connect the IT township of Saltlake to Kolkata’s twin city Howrah, located across the River Hooghly. Although the physical construction had begun way back in 2009, the project –currently handled by Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation Limited (KMRC) – got stalled for years owing to land tangles, pushing up its cost to nearly Rs 6,500 crore from Rs 4,874 crore.
At the time of its inception, the deadline set for commissioning the project was the close of 2014. Claiming to have finally made headway in issues pertaining to land encroachments, Union Minister of State for Urban Development, Babul Supriyo recently stated that the first phase of the East West Metro route would finally be operational latest by June 2018 and if talks bear fruition, it could be launched even in December 2017.
Likewise, the 16.72 km ‘Line 3’ or Joka-BBD Bag Metro project has shown little progress over the past 12 months. Crucial junctures along the Diamond Harbour Road stretch, including Behala Chowrasta, Tram Depot and Ajanta Cinema have retained the impression of a miry junkyard, ever since work began on these points in 2011. Although March 2016 was set as the original deadline, during an interactive session of MCC Chamber of Commerce and Industry last month, Metro Railway Chairman Shri Radhe Shyam conceded that it will take three years to complete the project once land is acquired. “We don’t know how long it will take to solve these land issues,” he added.
With the onset of monsoons, the ongoing construction of the proposed Line 2 and Line 3 of the Kolkata Metro has only compounded the woes of the commuters. Accumulation of construction material lining wide cross-section of the main roads, in different pockets of the city are a common sight now. Stretches earmarked exclusively for pedestrians have been sizably reduced.
In some cases, footpaths have disappeared into complete oblivion owing to the docking of heavy-duty construction vehicles. Moreover, forced to trek over piles of stone-chips and sand-mounds, with speeding buses racing past pedestrians, reaching from one point to another on foot has not only become more time-consuming, but also potentially fatal.
Remarking on the sorry state of Diamond Harbour Road, which is now dotted with countless lunar crater-sized potholes, a PWD official pinned the blame on the Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL)—the implementing agency of the Joka- BBD Bagh Metro project. He said the 6.9 km stretch between Joka and Behala had to bear the brunt of the Metro construction work.
What remains unanimously most taxing to those affected by the ongoing work, is the numerous route diversions that have made daily commuting no less than a nightmare. The laying of both the East-West and the Joka-B.B.D Bag Metro corridors has effected more than a dozen private and public bus routes across the metropolis, including 235,21/1,12C,SD4 and SD28 among others. One prominent connector that has suffered most number of route adjustments is the Phoolbagan intersection, a significant crossing in North East Kolkata.
In Behala, a neighbourhood in South West Kolkata, the alternate arterial route through James Long Sarani too becomes paralyzed everyday due to heavy traffic, multiplied by incoming diversions from Diamond Harbour Road. According to the State Transport department officials, around 3,000 vehicles ply over James Long Sarani every hour during peak time on a normal day. The road, however, cannot accommodate more than 2,000 vehicles an hour. Consequently, the overload triggers massive traffic congestion.
For Urvashi Basak, a first year postgraduate student of Jadavpur University, travelling to her institution has become more arduous than ever before. “Earlier, it would take me forty-five minutes to reach my University from home. Now, with the change in bus routes, the duration of the journey has doubled,” said the resident of Behala. This has, in turn, made daily commuters more vulnerable to the unruly behaviour of most of the cavalier auto drivers in the city, who refuse to ply over specific routes, leaving the commuter in the lurch.
Although Bangalore and Chennai too had encountered similar problems regarding land encroachments and rehabilitation in the way of installing the Metro, both these cities managed to swiftly resolve their respective issues in less than a year. In Bangalore, for instance, 128 families encroaching on 1.5 acres of land at Malleswaram were rehabilitated within 10 months to make way for the Metro.
What was thus conceived to decongest numerous crammed transit pockets of Kolkata and ease the commuting hassles of lakhs of citizens has, in turn, further heightened their despair. The current logjam underlines not only the myopia of the preceding Left Front regime during which the projects were originally conceived, but also the failure of the incumbent Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in putting an end to the impasse in order to ensure a speeding up of the construction work.
The success stories of Chennai and Bangalore further highlight the flawed approach and ineffectual execution of the two ambitious Kolkata Metro projects currently underway, thereby underscoring the city’s recurring tendency of finding itself stuck in a time warp over and over again.