USSR-backed Developmental Projects in India and the Environment: A Case Study of the Calcutta Metro Railway

A continuous reminder of the special relationship between India and the Soviet Union lies beneath the polluted, crowded roads of Calcutta (Kolkata), underneath which runs the Soviet- built Metro line. Calcutta was the first Indian city to build an underground railway line, with the help of Soviet specialists, and engineers from East Germany, who prepared a master-plan in 1971. There had been a growing interest among policy makers about the relevance of rail- based systems, to address the mobility needs of the ever-expanding population in Calcutta. An underground railway system was first considered in 1949, when French experts conducted a survey regarding which method of construction was to be followed here. The example that was eventually used in the 1971 master-plan was based on Leningrad (now St Petersburg), which has a similar soil profile to Calcutta. At the centre of Leningrad, the thickness of weak soils is more than 30 meters, so the St. Petersburg Metro is one of the deepest in the world. Our paper traces the technological and environmental issues connected with the Calcutta metro railway system, including its construction and ground water implications.