Lining of LBP main canal dropped, only distributary canal to be concrete-lined

Updated - May 15, 2024 06:30 pm IST

Published - May 15, 2024 06:29 pm IST - ERODE

Work is in progress at the distributary canal of the Lower Bhavani Project canal in Erode district in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday.

Work is in progress at the distributary canal of the Lower Bhavani Project canal in Erode district in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

With a section of farmers continuing to oppose the concrete lining of the Lower Bhavani Project (LBP) main canal, the State government has brought modifications to the project. Under the revised plan, the main canal lining works will be removed and the focus will instead be on lining the distributary canal.

The 201-km long canal, fed by water from the Bhavanisagar dam, helps irrigate 2.07 lakh acres in Erode, Tiruppur, and Karur districts. The Public Works Department had issued an order on November 9, 2020, to extend, renovate, and modernise the main canal at a cost of ₹709.60 crore, dividing the works into four packages. The project was scheduled for completion in two years, and work began on February 1, 2021.

While a section of farmers opposed the project on the grounds that concrete lining would prevent recharge of groundwater, another group sought its implementation as per the government order. As the stalemate continued, only 10% works were completed in all the four packages in 2021, and no work was carried out in 2022. Farmers supporting the project petitioned the Madras High Court seeking resumption of work from May 1, 2023. However, the project made little headway due to the ongoing opposition.

Several rounds of discussions held by Ministers, the District Collector, and Water Resources Department officials with both groups of farmers failed to resolve the impasse. In May last year, the Chief Engineer, WRD, Coimbatore Region, instructed field engineers to commence renovation of the damaged cross-masonry works and the construction of retaining walls in vulnerable areas. Both groups of farmers accepted this, and works resumed.

The government decided to modify the project to improve canal safety and address leakages in all the masonry structures through rehabilitation and reconstruction. Consequently, WRD issued a Government Order on May 13, 2024, modifying the project to a zero-lining project for the main canal. The main components in the modified proposal for the main canal include the reconstruction of head and direct sluices, bridges, drainage culverts, under tunnels, aqueducts, canal siphons, regulators, and protection walls.

The components for the distributary canal include canal lining with concrete, reconstruction of head and direct sluices, regulators, road culverts, and protection walls. The order stated that the modified project was technically sound, economically viable, and socially acceptable, as it aimed to improve the overall health status of the LBP canal system.

A senior WRD engineer told The Hindu that additional works were included in the modified project, while the project cost was reduced to ₹706.15 crore. Around 40% of the works had been completed so far, and the contractors had consented to execute the remaining works as per the existing agreement cost, the engineer said.

Welcoming the modified project, M. Ravi, convenor of the Keel Bhavani Pasana Pathukappu Iyakkam, who opposed the concrete lining, said seepage from the canal would help recharge the groundwater, benefitting farmers and the local population.

However, members of the Keel Bhavani Ayacut Nila Urimaiyalargal Sangam, who had been advocating for the project’s original implementation, criticised the government for the modified project, terming it a failure to protect the 68-year-old structure. An office bearer, under condition of anonymity, said the Madras High Court had ordered the government to implement the court’s directive. “Instead of executing the project, the government held meetings with farmers and politicised the issue,” he said. The farmer claimed that the government’s order was modified without the court’s permission and that they would challenge the issue legally.

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