The delay in clearing bottlenecks in the 365-km Kollam-Kozhikode National Waterway-III (NW-III) and in the 610-km Kovalam-Bekal West Coast Canal (WCC), which will link the southern and northern districts, has led to the delay in commencement of boat services in the Kovalam-Mahe corridor.
The services were set to be launched in May 2020, including through NW III that was commissioned about 15 ago. The development of the WCC, which passes through 11 districts and includes NW-III which is being developed by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), holds the key to decongesting the narrow and accident-prone roads and highways in Kerala by lessening the number of goods carriers.
Informed sources said adequate number of jetties and allied facilities were crucial for transporting cargo such as furnace oil in bulk in barges from Kochi to locations such as Chavara. Lobbies having stake in transporting such cargo through the road are reportedly slowing down dredging and widening work of the waterway corridors that are yet to be fully developed. The IWAI is duty-bound to do maintenance dredging of up to two metres in shallow sections between Alappuzha and Chavara.
The agency must, in addition, specify a deadline to complete a new navigational lock at Thrikkunnapuzha for safe transit of barges, since the project to make the entire NW-III navigable would otherwise remain on paper. It is noteworthy that barges were carrying raw materials from Kochi port to Ambalamugal and Eloor for Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore Limited (FACT), even before the NW was announced in 1993. The situation remained much the same at present, barring introduction of a roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) ferry service between Bolghatty Island and Willingdon Island, even after around ₹500 crore was invested for dredging, widening, bank protection, navigational aids and construction of terminals on the waterway, said the sources.
This has partly been attributed to a bulk of funds being allotted to inland waterways in northern States, at the cost of ones like NW-III.
Once completed, the WCC will include the 365-km Kollam-Kozhikode NW III (Kollam-Kottapuram 168 km, Udyogamandal Canal 23 km, Champakara Canal 14 km, Kottapuram-Kozhikode 160 km) flanked on its north and south by a total of 237 km of State Waterways consisting of Bekal-Kozhikode and Kollam-Kovalam waterways. The WCC would run almost parallel to the coastline and the highway that links Thiruvananthapuram with Kasaragod.
Official sources said efforts were on to complete the WCC by 2025 to provide seamless inland waterway connectivity between Kovalam and Bekal.