Bengal government plans to turn part of Ganga in Kolkata into drain in name of rejuvenation

Activists cry contradiction as hundreds of crores recently approved to clean river  

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Tuesday 19 April 2022
Bengal government plans to turn part of Ganga into drain in the name of rejuvenation Photo: Jayanta Basu

Adi Ganga, the original channel of Ganga river flowing through Kolkata, has long been converted into a drain by default. Now, an agency of the West Bengal government is planning to turn part of the tidal river into a ‘drain’ by design. 

West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (HIDCO) has planned to turn a 1 kilometre stretch of Adi Ganga into a drain, from Kalighat bridge to Alipore bridge, with concrete pathways above it. The corporation floated a tender March 9, 2022 seeking a consultant to facilitate the process.

Experts claimed that such a step would be ‘suicidal’. A major chunk of funds to revive the river has been released under the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), they said. “Should we consider turning the national river into a drain as rejuvenation?” said environmental activist Subhas Datta, who has long been fighting for the protection of the river.   

Adi Ganga, which is around 75 km long from the point it breaks from the main channel of Ganga at the tip of Kolkata to the point it meets another river on way to Bay of Bengal, had earlier been encroached upon at several places. Out of the entire stretch, about 13 km is in the city.

Three centuries ago, this was the main outflow of the Ganga to the Bay of Bengal; but it has turned into a sewer, buried under garbage. The river course has been systematically degraded, with encroachments at several points. The construction of the metro rail in the city has been a major contributor to this.

View to a kill

The corporation plans to direct the course of dry weather flow (flow of sewage beyond monsoon months) by constructing concrete channels, as part of the Alipore Area Development Project. The entire Adi Ganga stretch has turned into dry weather flow over the years, with sewage deposited through the year, according to experts. 

“The main emphasis will be to guide dry weather flow (Adi Ganga) through a rectangular reinforced cement concrete (RCC) u-trough (channel). There will be an immediate RCC floor at the top of the U-Trough,” the tender document read. 

Both ends of the stretch will be controlled through sluice gates, it added. This indicates the stretch will be cut off from the main channel of Adi Ganga. It also means that the entire river, already choked due to encroachments at multiple points, will be cut into three parts within the city itself. 

Such a step will effectively kill the river beyond Kalighat, where the drain will end, river experts pointed out. This is because tidal water will most likely be unable to reach the 9 km-long lower part of the river.

“Effectively, the step means guiding the river into a box drain for the stretch with an upper cover,” said a drainage expert.

The river stretch is not supposed to be a dry weather flow channel in the first place and should have been revived, they complained. “Huge funds are being pumped under the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) to stop sewage flow into the river.” 

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has also passed several orders on this matter, expert noted, expressing surprise as to how a tender can be floated on an illegitimate activity.

“Nothing has been finalised. We are now in the process of selecting the consultant," Debasish Sen, chairman of HIDCO, told this reporter recently. 

The proposal is unlikely to find favour with the central body, an expert linked to NMCG said. Senior officials of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation shared they were not aware about the proposed project.   

Motive: Real estate projects 

The state government plans to construct several high-end residential buildings over an area of 100 acres under Alipore Area Development Project, according to government sources. The step is meant to stop the stench arising from the channel from spreading into the surrounding areas and hide drainage outlets from residents of these housing projects, they added.

The consultant for the proposed project, apart from covering the polluted stretch of the river, has also been asked to carry out beautification of the banks. They’ve also been told to design the hydraulic sluice gates and pumps at the ends of the channels. 

The instruction to the consultant is a clear giveaway: Planning for plantations, including creepers, as view cutters, use of boulders / pebbles to hide drainage outlets.

“What cannot be cured, needs to be hidden,” an expert commented.

The housing project is already under the scanner for the several possible environmental impacts and stresses, environmentalists added. 

Experts cry contradiction 

“The proposed drain is absurd and a blatant effort to hijack the river officially, said Datta, who had earlier moved NGT with the issue of Adi Ganga’s degradation.

It’s strange when KMC is being given hundreds of crores to clean up Adi Ganga, another wing of the state government is planning to shackle it within a drain, he added. 

Other environmentalists claimed that once the river is turned into a drain, the lack of sunlight will kill the little biodiversity that exists despite extremely high pollution levels.  

The World Bank, which earlier cleared Rs 307 crores for Adi Ganga rejuvenation, is set to expand the allocation to Rs 650 crores soon, according to KMC sources. “We have already submitted the revised detailed project report and expect to get it cleared soon,” said a senior KMC official.

The Adi Ganga has been destroyed most rapidly in the last three decades — the period when about Rs 200 crore were pumped in for its ‘restoration’ .

"Concealing the Adi Ganga and converting it into an underground drain, building a promenade and walkways over it, observed Nilina Deb Lal, a conservation architect from Calcutta.

This scheme seems to be nothing short of a land grab, and at enormous environmental and ecological cost, she added. 

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