The Rameswaram canal in Fort Kochi was once a lifeline for local businesses. Boats laden with sand, bricks, metal and other goods travelled along the canal, stopping to unload them along its banks. The products were all sold right there along the canal’s sides.
Today, the 6-km-long canal is not much more than a drain. Houses and shops along the canal dump waste into the water body. It is no longer navigable in most parts.
“When I was younger, all kinds of goods were transported along the canal in boats. We could tie up the boats right in front of our house,” says K.J. Paul, president of the Kadal Matsyathozhilali Union, a union of seagoing fishermen. “The canal used to be 7 m deep back then. Now it’s just about a metre deep. You can’t tie a boat here any more,” says Mr. Paul, who lives along the canal at Karuvelipady.
The loss in depth of the canal has made it impossible for boats to use the channel. As the boats stopped coming, encroachments along its banks also grew. The reduced volume of the canal also increased the risk of flooding at low-lying areas along the canal, which stretches from Thoppumpady to Kalvathy. A local resident said he had to raise the height of his compound after heavy floods became a regular feature a few years ago.
In 2010, the Kochi Corporation proposed a canal cleaning programme that they said would put an end to floods in the region. The Irrigation Department took up the task of ridding the water body of accumulated waste and dirt. With problems of funding and other delays, the cleaning was completed after about two years. “About Rs.1.85 crore was spent on the cleaning. The contract stipulated that bunds would have to be constructed at every 150 m of the canal and cleaning should be carried out between these methodically. Instead, they used a JCB mounted on two boats to scoop dirt out of the canal,” says V.J. Hycinth, former Corporation councillor. The Irrigation Department broke the sidewalls of the canal at various points to lower the JCB into the water. The sidewalls were not repaired after the work was completed.
Almost a year after the cleaning was completed the Public Works Department is now repairing the broken sidewalls of the canal.
Mr. Hycinth feels that the cleaning was ineffective as it did not address the main cause of stagnation of the canal.
The canal opens to the sea near the Cochin Port Trust’s property at Thoppumpady. A diesel pump for seagoing fishing boats is placed right at the mouth of the Rameswaram canal. “Boats that come here for fuelling churn up the dirt in the canal and close its mouth. Over time, the dirt has become thick like clay. You can see a mud barrier of sorts at the canal mouth during low tide,” says Mr. Paul.
This barrier blocks the free flow of water in the canal and leads to its stagnation. Mr. Paul says that just cleaning the mouth of the canal regularly would be sufficient to rejuvenate the water body.