Safety concerns and corruption dog Metro Rail on PM's home turf in Ahmedabad

While hectic attempts are being made to complete the Metro before the December 2022 assembly election, the project has been dogged by controversies, safety concerns and corruption

Safety concerns and corruption dog Metro Rail on PM's home turf in Ahmedabad

Nachiketa Desai

Barely a week before dates of the Lok Sabha polls in 2019 were announced, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March 2019 flagged off a three-coach metro rail on a 6.5 km stretch of East Ahmedabad. The fun-loving people of the city enjoyed joy rides for several weeks before the shuttle between Vastral and Apparel Park station was shut down. The metro rail coaches have been lying idle in the depot since then.

The construction work on the 40-km rail network had begun in 2015 and was expected to be completed by 2018 at a cost of Rs. 10,773 crore. Since then, the project cost has escalated to Rs.12,700 crore and it has been delayed by five years. Metro rail projects of cities like Lucknow and Kochi, sanctioned much after the Ahmedabad metro, were commissioned earlier.

Ahmedabad Metro authorities however claim that 65 per cent of the project has been completed. But, the four stations on the 6.5 km route on which PM Modi had flagged off the metro, are not yet fully operational as neither its platforms have been paved nor the escalators, lifts and the wicket gates have been installed.

Barring the two transit points at the start of the ride and the terminus, no one can board the metro from any of these stations.

In a tearing hurry to complete the metro before the Gujarat assembly elections in December 2022, over a dozen construction companies which have received the contract for the project seem to have given a go by to all safety rules.

A heavy-duty crane listing steel girders had collapsed earlier this year. This was the second such incident of a hydraulic crane collapsing while lifting a heavy slab. However, the most flagrant violation of the safety rule is allegedly stuffing of thermocol blocks inside the pillars to avoid detection of cracks by the Non Destructive Test (NDT).

“The thermocol blocks cannot last for more than six years. By using them indiscriminately, the contractors are playing with the lives of thousands of commuters who would be using the metro,” says Abhishek Singh, senior engineer with ProDesign, a construction company which has made cooling towers, roads and bridges.

One of the dozen contractors executing the project was the crisisridden IL&FS which had left the work half-way expressing inability to pay its vendors. However, IL&FS was again allowed to resume construction work after eight months.

The Ahmedabad metro rail project has been beset with corruption charges since the project was launched. The officer heading the project, Sanjay Gupta, was also arrested on charge of embezzling over Rs. 130 crore. He later died of cardiac arrest.

Then the committee of the Gujarat assembly for monitoring public sector enterprises too found irregularities worth Rs. 1,168 crore in the execution of Ahmedabad metro rail project.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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