Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVI No. 07, July 16-31, 2016
It would appear that our contribution towards the Buckingham Canal has largely been to let it go to seed. We have also done the utmost damage that we could – by building the MRTS on the bed of the waterway, thereby rendering ineffective all efforts to revive it as a navigable canal. Now it appears that Andhra, our newly formed neighbour, has some really constructive plans as far as the Canal is concerned. And has in the process ensured that the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), which had its office in Chennai till recently, moved to Vijayawada.
Early in April this year, the Andhra Government inked a Rs 3,000 crore agreement with the IWAI by which the entire canal ecosystem that falls within the State will be redeveloped as National Waterway No 4. With around 888 km of the 1,095 km of the canal being within Andhra, the State views it as a crucial component of its infrastructure. A study has shown that it has the potential to transport around 11 million tonnes of cargo each year. Five districts, East and West Godavari, Krishna, Nellore and Prakasam – are expected to benefit immensely. Moreover, Andhra has other plans – it aims to link the Godavari and Krishna rivers and the Eluru Canal with the Buckingham Canal, thereby making for a comprehensive waterway network within the State. This is not a new idea, for the Buckingham Canal was declared a national waterway in 2008 when a Rs 1,500 crore scheme for its revival was announced. Since then nothing much has happened and the cost has doubled but it is felt that the Andhra Government is in right earnest this time around. It also has plans to develop tourism alongside the canal.
It is in the light of the above developments, and also the heightened pace of activity connected with the new Andhra capital at Amaravati, that the IWAI has decided to shift its regional office from Chennai to Vijayawada. The office was set up in Chennai in 2014, principally to oversee the development of the stretch of Buckingham Canal between Sholinganallur and Marakkanam. However the experience thus far has not been a happy one, what with the State Government being fairly non-responsive to the requirements of the IWAI and the latter also receiving considerable flak from the National Green Tribunal for various aspects of its functioning. The IWAI has consistently been unsure of its mandate within Tamil Nadu. In the aftermath of the floods of November/December 2015, it was believed that there would be closer coordination between the State Government and the IWAI, especially as the Canal is considered to hold the key for any future deluges. But this has not happened and now the IWAI is itself moving.
While the shift will augur well for the Canal in Andhra, it can spell disaster for what is there of it in Tamil Nadu. Much of it within Chennai is already a lost cause. But the rest of it, which was clean and flowing till recently has become stagnant and polluted. This is chiefly because of the rapid developments along the Old Mahabalipuram Road. Many housing complexes and office blocks have been dumping garbage and debris indiscriminately into the Canal thereby ruining it. The administration has turned a blind eye during the construction stage of most of these projects and now, after their completion, there is scant attention being paid to the havoc they are causing. If at all there was any hope, it was with the IWAI. Now even that is fast receding. Even at this stage, if the State Government chooses to intervene, it can get the Centre to retain an IWAI office in Chennai even while opening one in Andhra. But will it do the needful?