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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XXI No. 6, July 1-15, 2011
What will be the fate of the Cooum?
(By A Special Correspondent)

The recent elections have seen a new dispensation taking charge of the State and, consequently, as is common in Tamil Nadu, several decisions of the previous government are being reversed. One among these is the plan to cleanse the Cooum. It is said that the much publicised tie-up with the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise has been called off on the grounds that not much progress had been made anyway beyond the usual signing of a formal memorandum of understanding. While this may be true, what cannot be lost sight of is that the river is desperately in need of a clean-up. It is to be hoped that the new Government will soon come up with a viable alternative plan.

The river Cooum which awaits cleansing.

It cannot be denied that the earlier plan was sound in its fundamentals. It had envisaged a Chennai River Authority with the then Deputy Chief Minister as its Chairman and the heads of the 18 and more agencies and departments of the Government which have stakes in the river as its other members. This, it was felt, would ensure that conflicts between various agencies, which have been the usual stumbling blocks during earlier attempts at cleaning up the river, would soon be overcome. With the whole plan now in cold storage, yet another chapter in the history of the river would appear to be over.

The Union Government had in 2009 sanctioned Rs. 360 crore for the cleaning up of Chennai’s waterways. This was based on an estimation submitted by the city’s Corporation for which funds have been allotted out of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). The estimate was based on a study by consultants who recommended desilting of North Chennai’s waterways in particular, constructing micro- and macro-drains, and building concrete walls. The sanction was hailed as a major victory for the State by the powers that be. What of that scheme now and what is its fate?

The first time an attempt to clean up the waterways was in the 1970s, when boating was planned on the Cooum. Some of the piers and jetties built for this can still be seen along the river. This was abandoned when there was a change of government. Since then there have been several programmes and schemes, all of which have come to nought despite crores of rupees having been spent on so-called improvements which somehow never appeared to have had the desired result. In addition to these schemes, there have been several smaller grants for periodic desilting of the waterways. These have been for shorter stretches and their effect, on completion, has been negligible. Almost Rs. 2 crore is spent each year in these exercises. The Buckingham Canal, which was more or less forgotten thanks to the MRTS going right over it, received attention in 2002 and once again in 2008 when its nationalisation was announced with plans to spend Rs.500 crore in making it navigable once more.

What is more worrying is that work on the elevated corridor is progressing unabated all along the river. This will finally result in a roadway on pillars from Maduravoyal to the Port. The pillars are expected to be on the river bank, but a closer inspection shows that, at least in the Egmore stretch, they are being constructed right on the river bed. This will ultimately choke the river as has happened with the Buckingham Canal. Perhaps that is an alternative solution – no river means no further cleaning up! But what of the environment and the much touted plan of making a navigable waterway?

In this issue

Education standards fall in levelling
What will be the fate of the Cooum?
Getting ready for ­Madras (Day) Week ...
Quest for that precious Blue
The artist who designed the State emblem
Early modern Tamil novels
Other stories

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Short 'N' Snappy
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Quizzin' with Ram'nan
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