It is the city that got the country’s first Metro rail, way back in 1984. By that reckoning, Kolkata should have been India’s first city to have a well developed Metro system. However, long political stasis ensured that the West Bengal capital’s Metro network stretches over a paltry 27.39 km today.
It was only in 2010 that things began moving on the other metro links envisaged under the master plan of 1971, with a push being made to turn Kolkata into one of India’s best connected cities by 2020.
Unfortunately, the implementation of these projects has been delayed, leading to cost overruns.
Necessity clearly was the mother of proactive action. According to West Bengal transport department statistics, there is one vehicle every 3.4 persons in Kolkata and road space in the core city has dropped to 4% as compared to the global average of 30%, with traffic increasing at a CAGR of 18%.
Seven Metro alignments were planned but the authorities finally settled for five links—East-West Corridor from Salt Lake to Howrah (14.67 km), Joka-BBD Bag (16.72 km), New Garia-Airport (32 km), Noapara-Airport (2.09 km), and Noapara-Dakshineswar (4.38 km).
“Kolkata will have the best railway connectivity in India after Delhi,” Debashis Sen, additional chief secretary, urban development department, West Bengal, says notwithstanding the execution delays.
The most important link, between Salt Lake’s sector-5 and Howrah Maidan, is running years behind schedule and the project cost has shot up from R4,875.85 crore to R8,996.96 crore. This is the first Metro project in India to have a part of its length under water and would connect two of the busiest railway stations, Sealdah and Howrah. The project has been facing hurdles over acquisition of land, relocation of slums, and the final route alignment. Satish Kumar, managing director of Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation (KMRC) which is implementing the project, says “of the 14.67 km-long route, around 5.77 km would be elevated and 8.9 km underground, of which a part would be built under the Hooghly.” The first phase of the project is expected to be complete by June 2018. KMRC is targetting completing the second phase by August 2019.
In case of the New Garia-Airport link via Rajarhat, the initial cost was pegged at R3,951.98 core and the deadline for completion was 30 months from start of construction or May-June 2014. While the Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd (RVNL) is building the elevated portion of this link at a fast pace along the EM Bypass and New Town Expressway, constructing the depot for maintenance at New Garia has become an issue since local fishermen have moved the National Green Tribunal.
As for work on the Joka-BBD Bag link, which has disturbed traffic to and from Behala, Thakurpur and Joka, there has been little progress. Crucial junctures along the Diamond Harbour Road stretch, including Behala Chowrasta and Tram Depot, have retained the impression of a junkyard since work began.
Although March 2016 was the deadline, the project is stuck over land issues.
The Airport-Dakshineshwar link was estimated to cost R227.53 crore. While the Airport to Noapara stretch has been operational since 2013, the 4.47-km stretch from Noapara to Dakshineshwar is expected to be complete only by June 2019, with a 100% jump in costs.
After being extended to Noapara in the north and Kavi Subash in the south, the Kolkata Metro stretches over 27.39 km at present, carrying an average 5 lakh passengers a day with 278 trains operating daily on week days.