Given up practically as a lost cause with talks of revival being merely ministerial pronouncements, the Buckingham Canal may see better days with the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh into Telangana and Andhra. Among the first announcements of the new Andhra Government is that it would be interested in making the Buckingham Canal a tourist destination and a navigable waterway once again. Much will depend on how this idea pans into reality, but if it did, it would be wonderful and perhaps something that the Tamil Nadu Government could then extend to what is there of the canal within its jurisdiction.
It may be the longest canal in the country starting off in Orissa and ending somewhere after Cuddalore, but it cannot be denied that we have done precious little to protect this valuable waterway. In our city, it is nothing more than a foul gutter, its condition being just about marginally better in areas outside city limits. In certain stretches it still is a navigable waterway. Indeed, it was navigable till the 1960s, with boats plying down the canal carrying produce of various kinds being a normal sight. Consistent neglect and a cyclone that destroyed its banks in the late 1960s sealed its fate.
Within the city, the canal has had other problems. The first of these has been the historic practice of letting in untreated sewage. The second, and perhaps the more serious issue, has been the construction of the MRTS all along much of its bed in the city. Pillars for the transport system are actually in the waterway and have effectively ensured that navigation is next to an impossibility even if water were to flow once again.
Rather interestingly, even as the Andhra Government has made this announcement, there is talk of the Tamil Nadu Government looking at how it can revive the canal in the stretch that runs south after Chennai city limits. It is reliably learnt that the State Government is examining Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) stipulations to see how this can be done. It will be recalled that the farmers of Southern Tamil Nadu have been in favour of such a development for quite some time now. As recently as January 2014, we had the ryots of Cuddalore petitioning the Pondicherry Government to revive the waterway. They had highlighted its potential to contribute to trade and, more importantly, recalled the role it played in absorbing the waters of the tsunami of 2004, thereby minimising its impact on the areas that it flowed through. They had also pointed out that, once the canal is in good working order, the necessity of constructing barrages across the rivers that flow through Cuddalore can be minimised, with surplus waters being drained through the canal. This has major potential for reducing civil constructions on rivers and thereby minimising costs. The Inland Waterway Authority of the Government of India has proposed a sanction of Rs. 1000 crore for cleaning up the entire canal.
There are, thus, plans for reviving the canal almost everywhere except within the city. Here too, however, it would appear that all is not lost. Barring the stretches up to Mylapore and Adyar till where the MRTS runs parallel to it, there are plenty of stretches of the canal that can be renovated and restored. Can the Government not look at this and see what can be done?
With so much going for it and the swing of public opinion being all for restoration of the canal, it is perhaps likely that its condition will soon improve. If that were to be so, it deserves all encouragement and, more importantly, prayers that all this talk will soon result in concrete action.