Adhir's East-West prod

Junior railway minister Adhir Chowdhury on Monday sought the state government's help to resolve land hurdles facing East-West Metro but did not miss the opportunity to criticise Mamata Banerjee's "populist politics".

"The state government has to play a proactive role on the issue of land. This (East-West Metro) project is a technological marvel, which would be a feather in the cap of Bengal. Let there be no ego tussle over this project," Chowdhury said while inaugurating the "crossover" between two lines of the project at Sealdah.

The mention of "ego tussle" is significant as Chowdhury and Mamata have been at loggerheads for years. Many believe that the Manmohan Singh government appointed Chowdhury the junior rail minister to send a message to Mamata after she walked out of the government. Political observers feel that Mamata hit back at the Congress by ensuring defection from the party in Murshidabad, Chowdhury's fief, and offering a ministry to Humayun Kabir, who led the defection.

The junior railway minister tried to steer clear of politics on Monday and promised support for the Rs 4,676-crore project connecting Howrah and Salt Lake through river Hooghly.

Work on East-West Metro has suffered over the past two years because of land problems. At Duttabad in Salt Lake, 150 families have refused to shift, making it difficult to construct 13 pillars needed for the elevated portion. Land is also required for the construction of Phoolbagan Metro station and temporarily at Howrah and Sealdah stations.

Central station at Bowbazar is the other stumbling block. The high court had declared the acquisition of land for the project by the state transport department illegal, prompting a change in alignment at an additional expenditure of Rs 400 crore.

Chowdhury on Monday assured that shortage of funds would not derail the project. "Given the technology being used here, I think East-West project should not end at Salt Lake but be extended to the airport," the minister added.

At a programme in Kanchrapara earlier in the day, Chowdhury said Mamata's populist politics had cost the railways and come in the way of new projects.

"Jobs had been offered in lieu of land required for expansion of railways.… These job offers announced by my predecessors are ridiculous. If this policy is pursued, implementing expansion projects of Eastern Railway will mean offering job to nearly 2 lakh people," said Chowdhury at the programme to celebrate 150 years of Kanchrapara railway workshop. He said he would speak to the Prime Minister and the finance commission about the issue.

Chowdhury also said the ministry would consider only those projects in the state that the financial condition of railways permitted.