“Please let me enter my home once. There are some important documents of my son who has a job interview today. This is my only request,” says an elderly man to a police official. However, the ardent request of 60-year-old Ananta Das falls on deaf ears as the policemen outside his home turn down his offer keeping in mind his safety.
Ananta Das is not alone. About a hundred residents of Durga Pituri Lane in the congested Bowbazar area in central Kolkata gathered around a police control room on Monday with similar pleas to be let inside their homes — a day after they were evacuated as nearly 18 buildings developed cracks due to the ongoing underground tunnel boring work for East-West metro railway project.
In an unprecedented situation, as many as 260 residents of Bowbazar area were shifted to different hotels on Sunday after portions of some buildings collapsed as the underground tunnel got waterlogged. “Proper food is not being served in the hotel. They are complaining about their business being hit. Somehow we have managed to spend these two days. We also don’t have cash to buy essentials as police are not letting us enter our home,” a teary-eyed Bidisha Devi said.
People of Bowbazar, a stone’s throw away from the Sealdah station, one of the major railway terminals of Kolkata, have not been able to sleep peacefully in the past two days. What has got the residents worried is the fact that Metro authorities might raze the houses that have developed cracks if repairs are not possible since some of the buildings are about 100-200 years old. The people who have been evacuated have neither clothes nor cash to survive beyond a couple of days. Even the numerous ornament shops dotting Bowbazar, known as the jewellery hub of Kolkata, remained closed on Monday.
The residents of Durga Pituri Lane have complained that the metro railway officials did not undertake a proper survey of the houses and the place as a whole, before carrying out the underground tunnel work. The cracks that started developing from Saturday evening turned worse on Monday, with plasters coming off and balconies of some houses collapsing.
The matter is not only limited to Durga Pituri Lane but has also hit residents of the adjoining Gour De Lane. Purnima De, who stays at house number 4, said a few days ago metro officials had come and served notice, stating that they have to vacate our homes for two days on August 21 and 22.
“They had asked us to hand over the keys of the house to them. They reasoned that the metro tunnel will be built underneath this area and we are being asked to vacate keeping in mind our safety. For two days, residents of Gour De lane were shifted to nearby hotels and lodges,” De said.
Purnima said that upon returning to her home on August 23, she saw the building being held up with thick steel reinforcing rods and cracks had developed in several areas inside the house, rendering it vulnerable. “Since then, no one has come to survey the house. After Saturday’s incident, plasters have started coming off even though the authorities have not asked us to vacate our homes. We are living in fear as we don’t know when the building will come crumbling down,” she said.
Portions of a building belonging to Subhol Saha collapsed on top of Badal Mondal’s house on Saturday evening. However, Metro authorities have not arranged a separate lodging facility for the family of Subhol Saha and they are spending their days on the streets.
The developments in the past two days have sent alarm bells ringing in neighbouring areas as well.
Saswati De, a resident of Babu Ram Seal Lane, about a km away from Durga Pituri Lane, lives with her family in a 120-year-old two-storey building. “Even though there have been no cracks at our home, we living in panic as we don’t know when the authorities may ask us to vacate our home. The whole area is in a state of shock as there are quite a few dilapidated building here. There is a risk to our lives as well,” the 52-year-old said.
The underground tunnel that caused problems in the Bowbazar area will connect Esplanade with Sealdah. The KMRCL is constructing the East-West metro corridor connecting IT hub Sector V in Salt Lake to Howrah Maidan. Tunnels have been bored under the River Hooghly to connect the twin cities of Kolkata and Howrah through the rapid transit system.
A Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation Limited (KMRCL) said work was being carried out carefully keeping in mind that there were several old buildings in the north Kolkata area.
“The problem started when tunnel boring work was being conducted in the underground stretch between Hind Cinema and Durga Pithuri Lane. Underground water suddenly gushed in the tunnel and the soil above became loose, leading to the collapse of three-four buildings. It is a very unfortunate incident. I do not remember if this kind of incident happened before,” he said.