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With Cracks Creating Panic Among Residents, Kolkata Metro Crisis Looms Large, Project’s Future Uncertain

By: Sougata Mukhopadhyay

Edited By: Sohini Goswami

CNN-News18

Last Updated: September 02, 2019, 23:00 IST

With Cracks Creating Panic Among Residents, Kolkata Metro Crisis Looms Large, Project’s Future Uncertain

More than 350 residents from the affected area have now been evacuated and shifted to nearby hotels. But restrictions to revisit their homes and retrieve essentials and valuables have led to disappointment and frustration.

Kolkata: The initial fear and panic among residents of Bowbazar in central Kolkata that gripped them after portions of several houses collapsed and cracks appeared in several others on Sunday in the wake of the underground East-West Metro Railway corridor construction have currently given way to confusion, disappointment and anger.

More than 350 residents from the affected area have now been evacuated and shifted to nearby hotels. But restrictions on them to revisit their homes and retrieve essentials and valuables have led to large-scale disappointment and frustration.

Meanwhile, tunnel construction at the Metro project has been brought to a complete halt, while engineers grappled with the job of ensuring that no further damage is caused to the upper layer of soil whose movement has shaken the foundation of at least 18 buildings and already partially affected many other establishments in the locality.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee visited Bowbazar on Monday afternoon and spoke with Metro officials and Kolkata’s civic body officers, besides the affected residents. She has convened a meeting on Tuesday afternoon with Metro officials, Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) authorities and senior state government officers to take stock of the situation and try and find a solution to the crisis that is threatening to get out of hand. That includes devising long-term rehabilitation plans for the affected residents.

“The silver lining is that the residents could be evacuated on time. Else, a lot worse could have happened,” Banerjee said during her visit to the affected area on Monday.

Residents, however, alleged that the uncertainty over their possibility of returning home any time soon is causing them great distress, especially, in the wake of the fact that most of them have had to leave home in hurry and the authorities have yet not allowed them to retrieve their belongings and valuables.

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The fact that some houses have even tilted is proof that land subsidence is still continuing despite tunnel boring having stopped entirely.

“I spent a lot of money and recently renovated my home. It’s all gone now. My two sons have to sit for their exams and we can’t even collect their books as police are not allowing entry anywhere close to my house,” said Bijoy Bhushan Jaiswal, a resident of Durga Pithuri Lane, an alley that bore the maximum brunt. Jaiswal, who has now been rehabilitated to a hotel along with his family, was spotted standing outside the cordoned-off area and pleading with police to allow him entry.

Bowbazar is known as Kolkata’s jewellery hub and several shops in the affected zone have had to down shutters for the past few days. Ahead of the festive season, the loss in business seemed to be the last thing in the shop owners’ mind.

“My shop is full of valuable materials and ornaments. I must get them out before anyone breaks in. There is also a chance of the entire house collapsing. I had to leave in a hurry and now the authorities are not allowing me to retrieve them before more disaster strikes. I am very worried,” said Chandrakant Bhakre, a jewellery shop employee from the same area.

But that’s not the only concern that state and metro authorities are having to deal with. The very fact that more and more houses are developing cracks and some have even tilted precariously in the adjacent Shyakrapara Lane and Hidaram Banerjee Lane is proof that land subsidence is still continuing despite tunnel boring having stopped entirely.

Sources said the tunnel boring machine hit a water pocket which lay some 5-22m beneath the surface and water gushed into the metro tunnel causing the soil around it to subside and shake the foundations of the houses that were built on it.

Metro engineers are currently trying to seal off the leak by constructing a boundary wall at the extreme end of the tunnel with reinforced concrete and by a process called “grouting” where chemicals are injected into the soil to solidify and seal its permeability.

According to reports last received, water leakage into the tunnel has not entirely stopped although it has reduced substantially.

The uncertainty that now looms over the flagship East-West Metro project, a part of which runs underneath the Hooghly river where tunnel construction is already complete and some of the most critical zones of Kolkata, is certainly going to delay its completion at the very least. But that’s not something the Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation authorities have in the top of their mind, given the mammoth crisis management situation they now have at hand.