Kolkata Municipal Corporation and Kolkata Environment Improvement Investment Program consider the Churial Canal, which spans six neighborhoods of the city, “just a drain,” activists say, and have devised a project to transport sewage with pipelines along the canal.
Kolkata Municipal Corporation and Kolkata Environment Improvement Investment Program consider the Churial Canal, which spans six neighborhoods of the city, “just a drain,” activists say
Construction works underway on the banks of the Churial Canal extension in southern Kolkata | Photo credit: Debasish Bhaduri
A few meters away from Thakurpukur Cancer Hospital in the southern outskirts of Kolkata, a dozen earth-moving machines are working to build a pumping station that will move wastewater from one end of the Churial Canal to the other. In recent years, the construction of sewer pipes over a stretch of 2.7 km at the bottom of the canal and the construction of the pumping station have raised concerns among environmentalists and part of the local population.
Churiaal is a 16 km natural canal that originates at Behala in the south of the city and flows into the Hooghly River at Budge Budge in the South 24 Parganas district.
A few weeks ago, a group of experts and environmentalists released a research report titled “Killing of The Churial Canal: Social & Environmental Impacts of ADB Funded KEIIP Project.” The 50-page report published by advocacy groups Amra Ek Sachetan Prayas and Growthwatch raised questions about the construction of sewer lines through microtunnelling and the construction of the pumping station in a body of water that has naturally existed and is connected to a river. .
Activists pointed out that the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) and KEIIP (Kolkata Environment Improvement Investment Programme) view this living canal — which spans six neighborhoods of the city — “just like a sewerage channel” and have devised a project to pipe waste water. alongside the canal.
Jayanta Ghosh, who lives in an area next to the Churial Canal, says that because of the connection to the river, the water in the canal would increase and decrease daily during low and high tides. Mr Ghosh said a few decades ago that even small boats would sail in the canal. However, the current project could just turn it into a new drain, he said, adding that locals would be affected by the canal’s slow death.
Another problem noted by locals and activists is microtunnelling, where drainage pipes are laid under the canal bed. The greater immediate concern, however, is the shrinkage of the channel floor due to construction activity. With parts of the canal covered after the pipes were laid and building materials and debris scattered along the banks, attackers are taking over the canal, they complained. Land previously owned by the government is slowly changing hands and being transferred to private owners, Mr Ghosh said.
River activist Tapas Das said the Churial Canal was under the control of the Ministry of Irrigation until 2019. He asks how it got into the hands of KMC and KEIIP. “While there have been cases, in places such as Begar Khal in the western parts of Behala where the canal is being choked by locals and new housing is being built, it is heartbreaking in the case of Churial Canal that the government authorities themselves are investigating the nature of the water body. and robbing the natural ability to carry water,” said Mr. Das. He also expressed fears that the region could be flooded during monsoons.
Madhurima Bakshi of the Department of Environmental Science, University of Calcutta, described the process of microtunneling under the Churial Canal as “killing a living ecosystem”. Professor Bakshi emphasized the importance of a network of canal systems for maintaining ecological balance and said that after the project started, many areas will experience severe flooding. “When it rains, large parts of Thakurpukur-Behala-Parnasree are flooded. People in this vast area are vying for clean water and are threatened by poisonous insects as a result of the project,” the report said.
The activists said even small efforts to make people aware of the importance of the channel met with resistance. Mr Das said South 24 Parganas police have not authorized a September 2021 bike ride along the canal to raise awareness.
However, civil officials point out that the Churial Canal is heavily silted and needs to be dredged, which is not economically feasible. They say many areas lack good drainage and the microtunneling will prevent flooding in low-lying areas, especially Behala.
While the KEIIP authorities declined to comment on the viability and implementation of the project, they pointed out that the project is part of a mega-infrastructure plan funded through a $100 million loan to build sewage and drainage coverage. continue to expand and provide sewage treatment. in Calcutta”. The Asian Development Bank, the Government of India and KMC had signed a “tranche 3 loan for the KEIIP project in New Delhi” in October 2018, they said.
However, locals and activists are demanding “restoring the natural character of the Churial Canal through re-excavation and redesign of the project”, as well as the granting of adequate compensation to the affected communities. Vidya Dinker of Growthwatch, the Karnataka-based voluntary research and advocacy group, citing the recent flooding in Bengaluru, said attempts to convert a natural canal into a drainage pipeline are “ill-considered, ill-conceived and a recipe for disaster.”