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Saturday, 4 February 2012

THE GREAT FLYOVER FARCE


THE GREAT FLYOVER FARCE

Six months to go, only one-third done
KINSUK BASU
Only a third of the work has been done in one of the city’s biggest infrastructure projects, the Park Circus-Parama flyover, though the completion deadline is barely six months away and no one seems to have a clue when — or maybe if — things will get a move on.
Since November 2009, when the erstwhile Left Front government had awarded the contract to Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), many pillars have come up along the EM Bypass and the Park Circus connector but that is the only work done.
“Thirty-four per cent to be precise,” said a senior official associated with the project.
The flyover rising near Silver Spring and merging with the AJC Bose Road flyover 4.24km away was billed as the cure-all for traffic woes along the burgeoning Bypass and its most popular arterial link, the Park Circus connector.
The “work order” was issued on February 2010 and, according to the contract with HCC — which had built the celebrated Bandra-Worli Sea Link — the completion date is August 2012.
In November 2009, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee regime had promised the Rs 318-crore project would be completed in two years. After coming to power last May, the Trinamul Congress’s urban development minister, Firhad Hakim, had iterated that the project would be completed “by 2011”.
When Metro started probing the delay, the problems plaguing the project started crawling out of the pipelines. They are so many and so varied that they involve various agencies of the state as well as the railways, and sources in the know said it could take “several years” for the tangle to be sorted out.
Here are some of the primary problems:
• Getting the service road ready on the Silver Spring side of Bypass, re-acquiring from farmers in Dhapa what is actually government land and removing encroachments from the Park Circus connector near the approach to the overbridge spanning the railway tracks, popularly known as Bridge No. 4.
• Removing the underground utilities.
• Aligning the flyover with Bridge No. 4 especially because, according to the contract, another agency should be tasked with this job and not the one building the flyover.
• Building a road around the old railway overbridge to facilitate vehicular movement when construction of the flyover begins on this stretch.
• The presence of residential buildings near the Park Circus seven-point crossing, where an arm of the flyover has to be built to allow vehicles heading to Science City to take the flyover directly.
• Battling traffic regulations because of the many fairs that run through the year at Milan Mela, the rush at Science City and the social functions at ITC Sonar Calcutta.
“Unless things are made to move, it would be really difficult to complete the project (at all),” an exasperated HCC official told Metro.
Flyovers, huh?
According to the plan, two flyovers have to be built on either side of the main flyover near the Dhapa crossing on the Bypass to facilitate movement of vehicles that are not taking the Parama flyover.
Till date, only piling for pillars on the ITC Sonar side has been done. The pier and the pier caps on each of these piles can’t be constructed because the CMDA has yet to complete the work on the service road that would allow diversion of traffic. The land on the other side (Dhapa) has not yet been acquired.
“Unless these two flyovers are built, traffic can’t move beneath the main flyover,” said an urban development department official overseeing work on the Parama flyover.
The CMDA, the authority which gave the contract to HCC and under which come both the Bypass and the connector, has done precious little on this front in two years and two months.
So far, the CMDA has handed over only 47 per cent of the land required for the project. About the rest, no one knows how and when.
“It’s true that land is required on the Dhapa side. The land belongs to the CMDA but it has been taken over by a clutch of farmers. We are trying to negotiate with them with the help of the local councillor and others to get the land back,” said Vivek Bharadwaj, CEO, CMDA. “Hopefully, things should be sorted out soon.”
Bridge too near
The CMDA officials were not as forthcoming on the encroachments near Bridge No. 4. “It needs political initiative to tackle the problem of encroachments,” said an official.
Bridge No. 4 is a major hurdle. The two ends of the old bridge have to be aligned with the flyover. A second agency is supposed to do the job. But no agency has been assigned yet.
“We floated a tender earlier in October 2010 but only one agency had responded. Since no company can be awarded the contract on the basis of a single bid, no one was offered the task,” Bharadwaj explained. “We have floated the tenders again and they would be opened soon.” Whoever gets the job will have to work out the design from scratch and then execute the job.
When HCC got the contract, it was decided this stretch would be left for the railways because they own the land below. It was also decided that HCC would co-ordinate with the railways to build a road around the old bridge to facilitate traffic movement while the flyover was being built.
The railways, a CMDA official claimed, later said it would be best if the work was left to an independent agency.
Blunder down under
There are huge sewer lines on the road leading to Bridge No. 4 from the Park Circus crossing. The Calcutta Municipal Corporation was meant to find a way out so that the sewer lines could be shifted and space culled for the pillars. It hasn’t done a thing.
The CMC had, in fact, said this was an impossible task and the HCC should suggest an alternative. The HCC did suggest an alternative: H-shaped pillars instead of a single pillar in the middle. Since then there have been countless meetings.
The CMDA has now decided that instead of asking the CMC to do the work of removing underground utilities, the agency itself would do the job so that construction work for rest of the pillars could begin soon. “We have the expertise (to do the job) but we still require the detailed ground map from the civic body,” an official said.
Out of loop
The plan was to build a loop road around the seven-point crossing to facilitate traffic movement from the AJC Bose flyover to the new flyover. The CMC authorities said this problem “can be resolved easily”.
But when? Why hasn’t it been done in over two years? “Let the pillars first reach the seven-point crossing,” said a CMC official, betraying the attitude of the stakeholders.
When work on the loop begins, pillars would have to be built very close to some of the buildings and concerns are bound to be raised about their safety. At least five residential blocks are likely to be affected.
“There should be complete support from the civic body, who should assure the people that there is no threat to the houses from the flyover. The area needs to be covered adequately for the work and there should be no disruption,” said an HCC official.
Crowded corridor
Some eight to 12 fairs are held through the year at Milan Mela and Science City. Ahead of all the major events, traffic police ensure that some of the areas covered for the construction work is thrown open to traffic.
Removal of the covers means moving all the men and machinery from that part of the site. “We have to do this or else it becomes impossible to manage the traffic during mega events like the Book Fair,” said a police officer.
Cost bomb ticks
The estimated cost of the project at the start was Rs 318 crore. The figure has shot up to around Rs 425 crore already. “The escalation is 34 per cent so far, but the cost will go up manifold by the time we complete the project,” said an engineer working on the project.
Top HCC officials said the Parama-Park Circus project was a rare case where they had struggled to meet deadlines, though not for any fault of theirs.
Sources said the company had finished work either on time or before the deadline on most other projects, including the “complex” 4.4km Badarpur Flyover on the Delhi-Mathura Road. “But we have tripped in Calcutta because of several factors, especially the lack of co-ordination between the various agencies,” said the senior engineer.
Who do you blame for the delay? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com