While the Cooum river is now coming in for focused attention thanks to it being next to the new Assembly complex and the Adyar may see better days thanks to the Creek Park and the fact that it flows through South Chennai which any way is always being looked at for development, the Buckingham Canal is nobody’s baby. It continues to remain a neglected waterway with several parts of it blocked off due to the MRTS. The authorities have made noises about making it a navigable waterway in the recent times, but the latest moves by the Government indicate that there may be other and not very positive developments afoot as far as the canal is concerned.

The Buckingham Canal falls under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) as per which any development along canals, creeks and backwaters subject to tidal effects has to be regulated up to a distance which is to be determined based on the salinity of the water. The State Government’s Coastal Zone Management Authority argued that the salinity of the water in the canal between Sholinganallur and Tiruvanmiyur is well within the salinity limit and so the land along the canal in this stretch could be de-notified. This recommendation was based on the findings of the Insitute for Remote Sensing, Anna University. It needs hardly be pointed out that the stretch for which de-notification was recommended is a real estate hotspot with several IT companies coming up in the surrounding area.

The National Coastal Zone Management Authority (NCZMA) has rejected this recommendation. It’s reason for doing so is worth noting and commendable too. It has argued that the salinity in the waterway is low because the flow of sea water into the canal has been obstructed and hence any argument regarding salinity cannot be taken as permanent. As and when the obstructions are cleared and sea water flows in, the canal will see an increase in salinity. The NCZMA has also taken the opportunity to remind the State that a proposal to make the Buckingham Canal navigable once more is pending with the Ministry for Surface Transport. The latter scheme incidentally was announced with much fanfare a few months ago by a Central Minister who comes from Tamil Nadu.

Time has obviously not taught us any lessons. The MRTS was first thoughtlessly built on the dry bed of the Buckingham Canal and that began impeding the free flow of water. This ensured that parts of Mylapore got regularly flooded during the rainy season. During the Tsunami, the canal played an important role as a buffer and it was only then that its importance was recognized once more and talks began about restoring as a navigable waterway which it was till the 1960s. But now with this latest attempt at getting the land along the canal’s banks de-notified it is evident that all talk about reviving the river is only lip-service.

It is also worth pointing out here that the State Government also tried the same tactic as regards the Cooum. This was in connection with the elevated corridor from Maduravoyal to the Port. The original plan was to build part of the road along the Cooum. In that instance too, the NCZMA rejected the idea outright and this made the Government realign the proposed road.
Last heard, the State’s CZMA capitulated and admitted that its monitoring mechanism was weak as the entire work is being done by one individual (and this for a canal that runs along the entire stretch of the city!). It has requested the Central Government for more funds to strengthen the monitoring mechanism. Can we at least then hope for more environmental concern?