The water in it may be fairly stagnant at least as far as the city is concerned but, when it comes to news about it, the Buckingham Canal is full for highs and lows. Within the last fortnight we have had heartening and disappointing news – there are plans for its revitalisation and, at the same time, an insensitive public is doing its best to pollute the few surviving pristine portions of the water body.

Late last December the Central Government announced that it was keen to revamp the Canal, in particular the portion that runs between Chennai and Yanam. This declaration was made on the occasion of the opening of the new regional office of the Department of Inland Waterways, located in Vijayawada. It is learnt that a comprehensive survey of the Canal will be taken up at the earliest. It is also understood that the Centre is aware that considerable amount of modernisation of the Canal will have to be undertaken if it is to be made navigable for ferrying passenger and industrial and agricultural produce. At a time when the road network in the country is coming under great strain, the canal can be a viable alternative especially for goods that do not have to be transported very quickly. It is to be noted that the Canal can serve to transport nearly 15 million tonnes of goods along its route. The Centre’s survey will cover the three States of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry.

Preliminary studies have revealed that encroachments and silting have narrowed the canal considerably along most of its route. Originally planned to be 32 metres wide, it is at many places less than 6 metres. The depth which was to be maintained at 2.5 metres, is less than a metre now. The locks, which at one time maintained water levels in the canal even during low tides, have mostly disintegrated. In any case these need to be replaced for they were designed for much smaller vessels. But with the Centre pledging Rs. 2000 crore for the revival of inland waterways, all this should not be an issue. What is needed is speedy execution of the whole project. Much will depend on whether the Detailed Project Report is completed as planned by June this year.

And now for the bad news. As is well known, our city has been one of the major contributors to the destruction of this canal. Used as a sewage channel for long, the last nail on its coffin was the construction of the Mass Rapid Transport System on the canal bed. That blocked the waterway for good and destroyed all hopes of its revival. But with the MRTS running only within the old city limits and the canal extending far beyond that, it was always felt that the rest of it stood a fair chance for rejuvenation. But with the city now growing rapidly, it is seen that the same malpractices are in full swing in the new parts also.

Large apartment complexes and commercial establishments have begun doing what they were always good at – discharging untreated effluent and sewage into the canal. The waterway is shrinking rapidly and is quite likely to end up the way it has in the rest of the city. From there to building on it is but the next step. This is also being aided by the dumping of garbage along its banks. Rather ironically, this narrowing of the canal has come about after the State Government has spent a considerable amount of money in widening it to 100 metres along a distance of almost 13 km.

To what purpose will the Central Government efforts to give the canal a new life be if the local populace works consistently against it? Is it not in our nature to be socially conscious? It is high time residents of Chennai woke up to their responsibilities.

You may want to read the following earlier articles on the canal:

There’s hope for Buckingham Canal

No consistent policy on Buckingham Canal

Buckingham Canal, from Ruin to Restoration?