Kolkata: The electric trams that have been plying the streets of Kolkata since 1903, are to be slowly phased out as the West Bengal government finds running this mode of transport a heavy financial burden on its debt-ridden exchequer.

Though the government is taking a cautious approach and is tight-lipped about the process, fearing a public outcry, sources indicate that several top bureaucrats have decided to slowly phase out this 143-year-old mode of transport.

“Trams are being slowly taken out of service as even the tram depots are being sold to private entrepreneurs for huge sums of money giving a clear signal in the intentions of the government in closing down the service,” a senior official of the West Bengal Transport Corporation (WBTC) said.

The depot at Tollygonj in south Kolkata comprising of 16,000 square metres has been sold for Rs1.81 billion (Dh98 million) for development of condominiums, the depot at Belgachia in north Kolkata will also go under the hammer soon.

“The trams are no longer a favourite mode of transport for the citizens as they take more time [to cover an equal distance. Also, they eat into the already cramped road space,” the official added.

Several routes of the service have been indefinitely suspended as all efforts to revive the sick organisation have failed in the last few years.

“Over the past few years, we tried everything, including heritage tours, converted tram cars into restaurants and other entertainment zones, but all efforts have failed as the Calcutta Tram Company, which was merged with WBTC continues to bleed,” officials inform.

Others say the state government is reeling under severe debt and running trams at colossal losses is near impossible as profitability is now key to survival.

“The state government cannot sustain this loss-making mode of transport anymore,” the official added.

Last year, there was an effort to secure the Unesco heritage tag for the trams, but the efforts to secure that have been shelved as many find the mode of transport unviable for the city.

Narayan Swarup Nigam managing director of WBTC though denied any such developments. “Nothing of this sort was discussed,” said Nigam unwilling to discuss the matter further.

Sources say the government fears a public outcry over the issue. Even opposition parties may make it a political one, to try and capture lost ground. Moreover discussions regarding the issue are yet to be held with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is sensitive towards public opinion.

“These days an unofficial plebiscite happens on any issue over social media which often affects government decisions. Hence, government will go slow on this and will eventually pull the plug. The trams services will not be stopped overnight,” the sources indicate.