Of the 72 central government’s infrastructure projects of ₹150 crore and above, that are currently being implemented in West Bengal, 30 have been hit by time overruns, leading to overall cost escalations of ₹18,202 crore, according to state government sources.
Project delays remain a major area of concern for the Centre as it tries to boost the economy amidst the pandemic by spending more on infrastructure creation.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her last year’s budget increased the capital expenditure to ₹5.54 lakh crore, a hike of 34.5 per cent than the previous year’s allocation. The proposed expenditure will be around ₹7 lakh crore this time if it is increased by at least 25 per cent.
Unless the actual spending is increased by properly implementing the projects, a boost to capital expenditure in the budget will not yield a desired result, officials at the state finance department cautioned.
They pointed out that Bengal is not the only state where the projects are getting delayed, resulting in cost overruns.
The ministry of statistics and programme implementation in its December 2021 report released recently pointed out that of the 1,673 central projects of ₹150 crore and above, being implemented across the country, 557 projects were delayed.
The actual expenditure incurred on these projects till December 2021, according to the report, is only 49.12 per cent of the anticipated cost of the projects. The anticipated completion cost of the projects is now expected to go up by 19.82 per cent provided they are not delayed further.
The range of delay in Bengal varies from less than six months to 12 years. There are 11 projects, which are delayed by five years and above.
The major central projects in the state delayed by several years are construction of a new ATC tower and technical block at Kolkata airport, Raniganj master plan, Durgapur-Haldia gas pipeline project, Tarakeswar-Bishnupur new broad-gauge railway line, construction of metro railway links from Baranagar to Barrackpore to Dakshineswar, from Garia to Airport and Joka to BBD Bagh to name a few.
Delay in land acquisition, lack of infrastructure support and linkages, delay in project financing, and Centre-state tug war are some of the factors attributed to the delay.
The ministry’s report also cited state-wide lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for the delay in implementation of the projects.
The Centre has reassessed many of these bogged projects, the officials said. Based on the reassessment the budgetary allocation will be either increased or slashed.
As the revised project cost has gone up by over 28 per cent, the state government is now worried about the fund flow for these projects.
“Considering the poor Centre-state relation, the Union finance minister is unlikely to be generous with the fund for the projects being implemented in the state,” said Subrata Roy, a retired bureaucrat.
The district magistrates of West Bengal were conspicuous by their absence at the virtual meeting convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week to review the implementation of the major government schemes with district officials of different states.
Even last year the district officials of West Bengal skipped the PM’s review meeting as the state’s TMC government is of the view that such direct interactions by the PM with district officials bypassing the chief minister and chief secretary will weaken the federal structure of the country.