Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani on Monday inaugurated the underground Sealdah Metro Railway station of East West Metro corridor in the city through virtual mode from Howrah Maidan station. The first Metro train from Sealdah, which is among the busiest railway stations in the country, rolled towards Sector V in Salt Lake, the IT hub of the city, after she pressed the button to unveil the plaque. The programme was held amidst controversy over invitation to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and was not attended by the local Trinamool Congress MP Sudip Bandopadhyay or local MLA Paresh Pal.
Irani visited Sealdah metro station earlier in the day. She inaugurated it through the virtual mode from Howrah Maidan station, the terminal station of East West Metro corridor on the other side of Hooghly river. ”The full length of the East West Metro corridor will be completed by 2023,” she said at the function.
The extended service of the East West Metro up to Sealdah on its 9 km truncated route will start commercially from Thursday, an official said. The service is now available between Sector V and Phoolbagan in the city and will be extended by 2.33 km.
Irani said that the extension to Sealdah, a terminal rrailway station in the city, will help around 35,000 passengers in their daily commute from adjoining districts. Banerjee, who was conspicuous by her absence, embarked on a three-day tour to north Bengal during the day.
The Metro authorities said that Banerjee was invited, while the TMC leadership claimed it was not done in a befitting manner and only a card was delivered to her residence a day before the inauguration. TMC Rajya Sabha MP Santanu Sen even claimed that the inauguration of Sealdah Metro station was decided to be held on this day since Banerjee was scheduled to be in north Bengal, while senior BJP leader Rahul Sinha alleged that her visit was fixed to avoid the programme.
TMC spokesman Kunal Ghosh claimed that the East West Metro corridor project was Banerjee’s contribution and questioned the absence of her name in the invitation card for the inauguration. The TMC supremo had been the Railway minister in the Atal Bihari Vajppayee and Manmohan Singh governments. Apart from Irani, the names of local MP and MLA were there in the invitation card of the Metro authority. ”It is extremely discourteous (of Metro railway) to not consult the chief minister for a date for the inauguration beforehand and not even have her name in the invitation card,” Kolkata mayor and state Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim told reporters.
”TMC is trying to politicise a programme aimed at public good,” Sinha said. A minute’s silence was observed in memory of former Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the beginning of the programme, which was attended by that country’s consul general in Kolkata, Nakagawa Koichi.
Congratulating all those who played a role in constructing the 2.33 km Metro railway stretch between Phoolbagan and Sealdah at a cost of Rs 1,250 crore, Irani said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making all endeavours for the all round development of infrastructure in West Bengal, including railways and the Metro system. ”Government of India has done everything to provide impetus to infrastructure building of the Railways and the Metro services in view of increasing population,” Irani said in her address before the inauguration.
Speaking in Bengali, she described how a woman along with a child stopped her car and asked her to convey her ”pranam” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. ”A woman standing with her child under the scorching sun for a minister only to convey her greetings to Modiji for her child’s future and education is to me the biggest gift to him from a citizen in his eight-year journey as prime minister,” she said. Irani said that over Rs 8,000 crore have been given to West Bengal by the Union government in eight years for the welfare of women and children.
The union minister said that she spent the first of her two-day visit to rural areas in Howrah on Sunday and found that people were thankful for being provided free ration by the Centre for the last 25 months under the Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Yojana. ”I thank 72 lakh people in West Bengal for having received free ration for 25 months under Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana,” she said.
Irani said that 4.5 crore people in West Bengal have been connected to the Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan Yojana, a financial inclusion programme, while more than 2,140 startups in the state have been strengthened. Reaching out to the people, Irani said that her maternal grandfather’s house is in Salt Lake and that it is her fortune to be able to inaugurate the Metro run from Sealdah to Salt Lake.
Out of the 16.6 km long of East West Metro route, the underground corridor constitutes 10.8 km between Howrah and Phoolbagan with the tunnel passing below the Hooghly river, while the rest is elevated corridor, according to Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation, the executing agency of the project. The Sealdah-Esplanade link faced bottleneck as several houses developed cracks during underground work at Bowbazar area in central Kolkata in May, nearly three years after a similar incident there. This has delayed the completion of the project from its slated date of December, 2021.
The Metro authorities are now pinning hopes on the extension of services up to Sealdah to increase the number of passengers in the partially operational East West Metro corridor as it is suffering from low patronage. A Metro official said that it will take only 21 minutes to cover the distance, which is generally a one hour travel time by road.
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