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Land, politics take toll on rail project


KOLKATA: Engineers had termed it a ‘challenge’, but it was designed to be a pretty cable-stay structure on the lines of the Vidyasagar Setu. More importantly, it was to reduce the woes of residents of Burdwan town and neighbouring places who have to make do with a dilapidated structure that serves makes do as the Road Overbridge (ROB) across Barddhaman Junction station. Today, nearly six months after its construction commenced, engineers feel that the unfinished structure, for which nearly Rs 110 crore had been allotted by the Ministry of Railways, will stand a memorial to how politics influence development projects in the state.

“The ROB was first sanctioned in 2007-08. However, due to some differences of opinion with the then state government, the project couldn’t start. It was revived in 2009-10 after Mamata Banerjee took over as the railway minister. In 2012, construction commenced formally when Mukul Roy was the railway minister and it was planned to complete the structure in 2014.

Initially, the state agreed to take necessary measures to acquire land for construction of the approaches of the ROB. After the Trinamool Congress quit the UPA, there was no longer any initiative on the part of the state government. We can only complete the portion that passes over the railway tracks. It is for the state government to do the needful for the approaches on either end,” said an official of the Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd (RVNL), the agency entrusted with construction of the bridge.

While former railway minister Mukul Roy could not be contacted for his comments, sources in the state government said no effort would be made to acquire land ‘forcibly’ for any project. This has already been made clear by Mamata. According to one of them, Mamata may have hoped to acquire the required land for the approaches by offering railway jobs to the land losers. Ever since the Trinamool broke away from the Centre, this policy of offering railway jobs for land has also come to an end. As a result, the fate of several railway projects in the state, announced by Mamata, hangs in balance today.

The existing ROB is a two-lane structure dating back to the days of the British Raj. Not only is it a trauma for people to cross over during peak hours, it is not known how longer the structure will remain safe for the movement of vehicular traffic. The new structure is a four-lane cable-stay bridge spanning nearly 182 metres across all 10 platforms. It was a challenge for engineers to design the structure, one end of which would connect to the busy G T Road.

“It is unfortunate that the government doesn’t understand that Rs 110 crore is not a paltry sum and the bridge would have led to development of the area. We have approached the state but nobody seems to be interested. The RVNL executes projects in the country but nowhere else have we witnessed such attitude. The state governments make all efforts to complete railway projects as these result in development. In many states, the governments are even funding parts of projects for speedier implementation,” another RVNL official indicated.

A few weeks ago, minister of state for railways Adhir Chowdhury had alleged that leave alone providing support to railway projects, the Mamata government in the state is actually throwing spanners in the works of ongoing ones. Mamata probably believes that if any railway project were to be completed after she quit the UPA, the credit would go to the Congress.