Waterways plan will serve no purpose: Sreedharan

Former State Planning Board Member E. Sreedharan has called for a critical review of the development of the 633-km West Coast Canal (WCC).

The review should consider the usefulness of the project, its financial viability, feasibility and social cost involved. “With a fairly good road public transport system and high private vehicle ownership, the question is who will prefer water transport system where the average speed is 1/5th of the road speed,” says Dr. Sreedharan on the ₹2,300-crore ambitious project slated for completion by 2022.

The same applies to cargo movement as well. About 80% of the cargo movement is inter-State and every one wants cargo to move fast. “With water transport involving two transshipments and prevalence of Nokkukooli and head-load mafia, who will send their cargo along the coastal route?”

Under these circumstances, the DMRC Principal Adviser said no substantial cargo movement would take place apart from what was already happening. Therefore, the claims that the development of the WCC through the Kerala Waterways and Infrastructure Development Ltd (KWIL), the special purpose vehicle (SPV), would decongest roads and reduce road accidents could only be a myth. Deepening and widening the WCC stretches that are not navigable and creating new stretches for inland water transportation, with sufficient number of bridges and pedestrian crossings, would be a “colossal task that will involve uprooting thousands of settlers. Also, rehabilitating them will be an uphill task,” he said.

Dr. Sreedharan, who was in-charge of transport in the State Planning Board for five years, said the cost of the project and the implementation period was grossly underestimated.

Too costly

For widening, deepening and cutting new stretches, even with an SPV, it would take 10 to 15 years and the cost would not be less than ₹10,000 crore.

“With this obvious scenario, is it worth for the State, which is already in deep debt, to take up such projects, which will not generate any revenue at all?” he wondered. Also, the project would only see a repeat of high public resistance now being witnessed for NH development and laying of LNG pipeline, Dr. Sreedharan said.

Instead, the State should seriously consider the north-south double track high speed railway line for which a DPR was pending with the government since 2016, he said.

State’s share

Of the ₹91,000 crore estimated for Thiruvananthapuram-Kannur line, the State would have to pay ₹11,400 crore with no further liability towards operation and maintenance.

Dr. Sreedharan said 100 km would be on viaduct and 105 km in tunnels. Thus, land acquisition would be minimum and only 4,000 structures would be affected. Diverting traffic from NH to the high speed railway line could reduce accidents.

Regarding waterways

On the other hand, the yearly maintenance of the WCC would be a huge expenditure to the State exchequer, he said.

The high speed rail line was “profitable and eligible” to be included into the Centre’s proposed 10,000-km High Speed Railway line. The State should hence give the DPR the nod and forward it to the Centre.

“A long vision, statesmanship and political only could solve transport problems,” he added.

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 6:41:59 AM |

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