Rail gone, govt out of steam

The state government is in no mood to remove encroacher hurdles on the path of two Metro Railway projects Mamata Banerjee had announced during her tenure as railway minister.

Following Trinamul's exit from the railway ministry, the Noapara-airport-Barasat and Noapara-Baranagar-Barrackpore projects ' together worth Rs 4,693 crore ' are stalled with nearly 2,500 families having settled on railway land on three stretches, adding up to 2.5km, along the proposed routes.

According to the plan, the encroachers were to be relocated to a site provided by the railway only to come back once the construction is over.

"Initially, the state government had showed a lot of interest in getting the encroachers shifted. Local MPs and MLAs (all from Trinamul) held talks with the encroachers and even notices for relocation were issued. But the effort suddenly ran out of steam," said a senior Metro Rail official.

Another official pointed out that the change in the Trinamul government's attitude coincided with Mamata withdrawing support to the UPA government at the Centre and the party losing the railway ministry, passed on from Mamata to Dinesh Trivedi to Mukul Roy, in September.

"Unless the blockades are removed at once, the twin projects will miss the 2015-16 deadline," the official said.

"Railway officials tell me construction (on the extension projects) is stalled because of encroachments. The state government should play a constructive role in getting the issue resolved as common people will benefit from the projects," junior railway minister Adhir Chowdhury, a bitter critic of Mamata, told Metro.

The Noapara-airport-Barasat and Noapara-Baranagar-Barrackpore projects both were sanctioned by Mamata in her railway budget for 2010-11. They are being implemented by Railway Vikas Nigam Ltd, which functions under the railway ministry.

The cost for the 18.3km Noapara-Barasat project has been estimated at Rs 2,397 crore, and for the 19.7km Noapara-Barrackpore route, Rs 2,296 crore.

Saugata Roy, the Trinamul MP from Dum Dum, blamed the railways for the delay in relocating the encroachers. "The railways have taken an inflexible stand and are unwilling to pay any compensation to the encroachers for the relocation. There can be progress only if they change their attitude."

Roy claimed the hurdles would have been removed long ago had Mukul Roy still been the railway minister. "It was Mukul who had come up with the scheme to provide alternative land for these families."

A senior official of the Trinamul-run Dum Dum Municipality said the relocation impasse hinged on who would bear the cost. "The railways will provide land but it'll cost at least Rs 75,000-Rs 80,000 to shift each family. Who'll bear that cost?" asked Harinder Singh, the vice-chairman of the municipality.

Eviction may be a bad word to use in Trinamul circles but in this case resistance from the settlers seems unlikely.

Metro spoke to several settlers, all of whom said they were willing to shift to facilitate construction. "A few months back we were told about the relocation and then we heard nothing," said Suresh Baspo, a labourer.

Railway ministry veterans see in the Trinamul government's attitude a reflection of the stance of the erstwhile Left Front dispensation, which had refused to temporarily dismantle tram tracks coming in the way of the Joka-BBD Bag Metro project.

The change of track of the Mamata Banerjee government following her parting of ways with the Congress has also cast a shadow on another key infrastructure project ' East-West Metro.

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