In spite of a head-start of more than three decades, the Kolkata Metro has lagged behind its younger sibling, the Delhi Metro. It was set up as early as in 1969, the master plan was ready by 1971, the project sanctioned a year later, and the first 3.4-km section commissioned 12 years later in 1984.
The famous TBM (tunnel boring machine)—which enabled the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) to maintain a brisk boring pace of over 15 meters per day—had then made a début in Europe and elsewhere, but given the soft alluvial soil of Kolkata and to keep the construction cost low, it was decided to execute most of the work by the cut-and-cover method, which, given the chaotic traffic of Kolkata, was a Herculean task.
Currently, the 27-km-long section from Noapara to Kavi Subhash has 24 stations. Around 300 trains consisting of broad gauge coaches manufactured by the Integral Coach Factory at Perambur, Chennai, and run on 750-volt DC third rail system, carry over 6.5 lakh commuters daily.
Although planned more than a decade ago, the construction of the 14.5-km line from Howrah Maidan to Sector V, Salt Lake City, dubbed as East-West corridor, has been delayed, as a separate corporation set up on the lines of the DMRC ran into problems. Consequently, the work was transferred to the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation for speedy execution.
The 9.4-km-long section from Sector V, Salt Lake City, to Sealdah is likely to be completed by the Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd (RVNL) by June 2018, and the Sealdah to Howrah Maidan by December 2019. A 17-km-long line from BBD Bagh to Joka, under execution by the RVNL, also had innumerable problems on account of land acquisition and vacating railway land under unauthorised occupation. However, recent initiatives by the West Bengal government have yielded results and a part section from Joka to Majerhat is expected to be completed by 2019.
Joka, as the maintenance depot for coaches running on this standalone line, is a project that, thankfully, has seen almost 70% of the over 25 hectares being acquired in the last six months and work has begun in right earnest. In fact, 12 unauthorised factory sheds doing brisk business on railway land falling in the depot area were also dismantled and the area fenced to prevent further encroachment. This, in itself, is a milestone.
The RVNL has had to lock horns with not only the West Bengal government, but also the Kolkata Port Trust and other utility owning agencies (for instance, relocation of a post office at the Mint). Some of the work included an entire three-storey building (Rehabilitation India) being demolished and rebuilt elsewhere at a cost of `5 crore, a task which had been hanging fire for the last five years.
Even the defence ministry was involved, as some portion of the Joka to BBD Bagh line had to be tunnelled under their land, since the earlier proposal of an elevated corridor had been red flagged by them. Apart from the delay, this material modification meant an increase in costs by a whopping `2,266 crore.
Unfortunately, one of the most critical projects—a short stretch of 10.5-km from Baranagar to Barrackpore—is unlikely to see the light of day any time soon, as it involves relocating the main water supply line belonging to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, a hot potato which no one wants to touch.
As usual, illegal encroachments continue to pose a serious problem, with 202 of them still remaining to be removed in the Kamarhati Municipality. A new approach, whereby these are rehabilitated in the land provided by the state government, has enabled 180 of the total 382 such encroachments near Noapara being taken care of.
A short stretch of 4-km between Noapara and Dakshineswar is expected to be completed by the end of 2019, for which shifting a premier fish market located in VIP Bazar for construction of a new metro station was a major achievement by the RVNL. Another 14-km section from New Garia to Science City should also see the light of day by July 2019, while the second leg from Science City to Titumir may take a year more.
Giving a major push, Suresh Prabhu had announced last year commencement of work on the underground section from Airport to Jessore Road Station. Given its excellent track record, the RVNL should be able to increase the Kolkata Metro network to 122-km by 2020 if—and it is a big if—all impediments get removed on time.