Kochi city and its suburbs, which houses most of the industrial and commercial centres in the state has been developing in an unplanned manner over decades. This has put tremendous pressures on public and utility services and rendered life very difficult for all. Meticulous planning considering the present and future requirements duly supported by a strong political will is necessary to reverse the current trend of development taking place and reorient it on a progressive outlook.
If we decide now, in my opinion, it may take around 5-8 years to correct past mistakes and develop the city and suburbs into a clean and sustainably developing urban location.
Let us discuss some of the very critical issues.
Making available potable water to people is a major problem. Current supplies from the Periyar river schemes may not yield more quantities. We may have to consider drawing water from Periyar Valley Irrigation Project to the 200 acre Ambalamedu Lake through the existing canal put up treatment plant and supply to the neighboring Thrikakkara through the Brahmapuram-Kakkanad route and to Tripunithura via Chithrapuzha or Irumpanam. Augmentation of water supply to the lake from Muvattupuzha river is also possible. The massive water pumping and treatment plant at FACT Cochin Division lies idle at Ambalamedu due to closure of the fertiliser plant. Making use of this facility will help FACT to earn some revenue too.
The western part of the city is water logged. Natural drainages and canals leading to the backwater are clogged. They have to be cleared to facilitate tidal sweep. The hilly terrain and the natural drainage provisions on the eastern parts may be fully taken advantage of while planning such a system. Sewerage from apartments, offices and other sources may be collected and piped to a treatment facility in the eastern side of the city. Industrial units located in the Ambalamughal area may be encouraged to use the water from the treatment plant.
Today it is virtually impossible to buy a piece of land in Kakkanad area due to real estate boom. GCDA may have to look at utilising the NGO quarters lying vacant and also construct new houses to provide low cost rented facilities. Similar facilities can be built using surplus land available with PWD, KSHB etc.
Urban transport system in Kochi is inadequate to meet the demand. At present, the means of transport here are limited. Vytila mobility hub has been devised to ease traffic congestion. Apart from the initial phase no further development of the hub has taken place. The whole project can be implemented and managed as a self contained facility as intended. As an immediate step a connecting road from the hub to the Sea port-Airport road and Infopark highway may be built to relieve the congestion of the Palarivattom -Kakkanad road.
An overhead rail link connecting Tripunithura and Kalamassery via Kakkanad alongside the Seaport Airport road is a very viable option to ease the growing road traffic. Besides outer zone road network, canal development and water transport may also be strengthened. Flyovers will have to be built at major cross overs in both the national highways.
Power System Development
Ensuring supply of reliable and quality power is indeed a major concern in the context of the ever increasing demand from the trade,
commerce and household sector. Several power utilities like the Reliance, Brahmapuram Diesel Power Plant, FACT’s captive power plant (26 MW) remain idle due to loss of viability. If natural gas is used these units will be able to deliver low cost power to the grid. Construction of the proposed port based 1200 MW power project would be an economic option.
Solid Waste Disposal
Waste disposal is another major issue. As we all know, despite spending huge resources, none of these local self government institutions in Kerala have a fool-proof system to effectively collect and safely dispose solid waste. The solid waste problem still remains. A typical plant such as the one built by the Corporation of Cochin at Brahmapuram ails from the very day of its inception. The Brahmapuram plant poses a serious threat to the local people and neighbouring educational institutions, factories and developing IT industry.
Hazardous Material Transport
Large quantities of hazardous cargo are transported through the area to industrial units round the clock. In the likelihood of emergencies the city can be rendered safe through multiple strategies. For this purpose we may consider building a pipeline corridor between these locations through the outskirts of the city. A local level emergency plan also needs to be formulated and kept ready.
Urban developments heavily thrust on retaining existing terrain and designing projects accordingly. The historic caves near the Civil Station in Kakkanad were closed to make way for a building! Water and energy use are going to be the two critical issues impeding development activities. Both these resources have to be used most optimally. An intensive campaign is must to prompt use of state-of-the-art energy saving and pollution reduction devices.
Kochi and its neighbourhoods shall have a master plan for environment management for future. This may involve development of a land use plan, water resources conservation and utilisation, utilities and infrastructure plan, ecosystem maintenance plan, heritage zone preservation plan, social and cultural emancipation plan.
Effective implementation of development projects holds the key to faster and sustained economic growth. It is sad that most of our public utility projects are delayed over years and hence incurextensive cost overrun. We may have to overcome this problem through a concerted effort involving re-skilling of manpower, resorting to modern management approaches, using state of art technologies and also learning from the experience of those who have already crossed these hurdles.
-M P Sukumaran Nair, formerly Special Secretary to Chief Minister, Govt of Kerala and Managing Director, TCC Ltd, Cochin.