KOCHI: The state government’s ambitious West Coast Canal (WCC) project, billed as the second-longest manmade inland waterway in Asia, is facing hurdles to acquire land along the banks of the canal on the first stretch from Kovalam to Varkala. Nearly 1,300 families are living on the banks of the 49km-long Kovalam-Varkala stretch.
The land they are living in is ‘puramboke’ (which is not assessed to revenue records). Though the government has promised Rs 10 lakh for their rehabilitation, they say it is not sufficient to find an alternate dwelling place within the corporation area, the officials said. Suresh Kumar, chief engineer of Kerala Water Infrastructure Ltd (KWIL), which is executing the WCC project, said the company has requested the administration to come out with a government order (GO) allowing them to speed up the eviction process.
“These families are staying without any proper land document or title deeds. The government has offered a good package of Rs 10 lakh and another Rs 50,000 to help them shift immediately. Once the GO comes out, we don’t see any problem in carrying out the eviction process,” he said.
The WCC project stretches from Kovalam to Bekal, and involves a total of 616km of coastline of inland waterways with the project cost estimated at Rs 6,500 crore. KIIFB has approved Rs 87.18 crore for acquiring land on the Kovalam-Varkala stretch.
The government has offered two schemes for acquiring land along the banks of the canal --- ‘Punargeham’ model and ‘Flat’ model rehabilitation. Under Punargeham, each family needs to identify at least two cents of land. For the purchase of land and for the construction of the house, Rs 10 lakh will be given to each displaced family. In the other model, ready-to-occupy flats of specified size will be allotted free of cost.
Officials said an initial survey done to identify the preferences of the families found that of the 1,275 involved, a huge majority have opted for Punargeham, and only less than 2% for the flats. It was also found that families were less inclined towards flats, saying such spaces were very small in size and not quite adequate for the number of members in most families.
“They just should not compare others living in bigger spaces. What the government is doing is a big favour. In other states, the government just evicts them as they are staying in this land illegally,” said Suresh.
He said work is progressing on several stretches, including Kazhakoottam-Varkala, Vadakara-Mahe and Kuttiyadi river, among others. As per the initial plan, the WCC project is expected to complete in 2025. However, it is likely that it would take more time, given the several troubles including land acquisition, eviction of people living on the banks, etc.