Houses develop crack in Kolkata’s Bowbazar amid metro construction, residents evacuated

Several houses have developed cracks again in north Kolkata’s congested Bowbazar area on Wednesday, amid the ongoing underground construction work by the  Kolkata Metro Railway Corporation Ltd (KMRCL), forcing several anxious families to lock up their homes and shift to nearby hotels, police said.

Police said 82 people from 21 families were shifted from their damaged houses and sheltered at nearby hotels. The second such incident in nearly two years came to light around 9:30 pm on Wednesday when many came out of their houses fearing cave-ins after their houses developed cracks. The KMRCL, which is working on the Bowbazar leg of the 16.6-km East-West corridor connecting Kolkata to Howrah, said its priority is to ensure no further cracks in buildings.

Senior leaders of the  ruling Trinamool Congress, along with police and disaster management personnel, visited the spot at Durga Pithuri Lane of Bowbazar on Thursday.

“These are mostly old structures. We are examining whether it is safe to let these buildings stand. Our DG, Buildings, is here and a meeting will soon be held on the issue. An expert committee is working on the options available,” state Transport Minister and Kolkata Mayor Firhad Hakim, who was among the TMC leaders visiting the spot, said.

“This is the second time that buildings here have developed cracks. They (KMRCL) had said they would take the engineering responsibility (for the underground construction work) but didn’t. Hence, the blame lies with them,” Hakim added.

Local Trinamool MLA Nayna Bandopadhyay was seen speaking to locals. She got all the affected women shifted to a nearby hotel. “People have been safely evacuated and taken to safer places. The situation is being assessed,” Vineet Goyal, Kolkata police commissioner, said after examining the spot on Thursday.

AK Nandi, General Manager (administration), KMRCL said its engineers are working overnight to repair the cracks and ensure that no such incidents are reported in future.

“Our first responsibility is to repair the cracks and see to it that no such fissures develop in future. The construction work also has to go on simultaneously,” Nandi said.

“We left our home fearing for our lives. We were finally shifted to a hotel at 2.30am. In 2019, too, we were put up at a hotel for three months. I shudder to think what will happen when the Metro starts plying on this corridor,” Sashi Bhusan Jaiswal, a Bowbazar resident for more than 60 years, said.

The earlier incident took place on August 31, 2019 when more than 500 people had to be evacuated when cracks opened up in several buildings due to tunnel boring work for the East-West Metro corridor. The affected residents were moved to hotels at the expense of the KMRCL. According to reports at the time, the machine boring the tunnel through which trains bound for Howrah Maidan would run, apparently hit a sand aquifer, an underground layer of water-bearing sand, resulting in a massive settlement and causing damage to residential buildings nearby.

Another resident, who asked not to be named, said, “Everytime cracks develop in our houses, they shift us to hotels, as if our lives are worthless and we don’t have a routine. Can’t there be a permanent solution to this?”

At a press conference on Thursday, the KMRCL described the location as ‘vulnerable’. NC Karmali, director (project), KMRCL, blamed the continuous rainfall over the last few days for the incident. “The location is vulnerable. Despite taking all precautions, nearby buildings developed cracks when we were excavating an area below the TBM tunnel. The rainfall over the last few days might have resulted in excess water content in the soil,” he said.

According to officials, the incident occurred during the joining of a tunnel from the Sealdah side in the under-construction East-West corridor with one from the Esplanade side in the existing North-South corridor. The tunneling work has already been completed, officials said.

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