Kerala: Rejuvenation of Mullassery canal may be delayed by another year

Lack of coordination and ensuing tussle between various arms of govt primary reason for delay; advent of monsoon poses another challenge
The ongoing rejuvenation work of Mullassery canal.
The ongoing rejuvenation work of Mullassery canal.| T P Sooraj

KOCHI : The rejuvenation of the nearly a kilometre-long Mullassery canal in Kochi, which was envisioned back in 2022 as a ‘three-month project’, has dragged on for almost four years. Amid the long delay and the breach of several major contract deadlines, only around 50% of the work has been completed so far.

Now, with just two months remaining before the advent of monsoon, the project, which comes under ‘Operation Breakthrough’, is likely to get stalled by another year.

“We can only work when the canal is dry. The ideal period for this is between November and May. Though we had requested the Kerala Water Authority (KWA) to get their side of the work done before October last year, it was only in March that it was completed,” said an official with the minor irrigation department.

Though the corporation authorities had entrusted the canal rejuvenation project to the minor irrigation department in 2020, it was two years later that a private contractor was awarded the work.

“The plan then was to complete the work in three months. However, KWA’s sewerage lines and KSEB’s cables, which passed under the canal’s concrete surface, posed a challenge. We couldn’t progress without diverting them,” the official explained.

The work stretched on further. “Even then, whatever the KWA has done is not thorough. They looked for shortcuts, and that has additionally complicated the task ahead,” says K S Bijli, the project contractor, who has been successful in carrying out similar projects in North Paravur.

“Just a few days into work at a new location, we find a KWA drinking water pipe running diagonally across the canal, which evidently means the work ends there and we have to start at another location. These disruptions are accompanied by delays and financial losses. So far, we had to stall the work and continue elsewhere on the stretch at least six times,” says Bijli.

The few times the work resumed despite the risk resulted in damage to the pipes adding to more delays. “Both the sewage and the water pipes take this very stretch. So any damage to them also incurs the risk of contamination, which we cannot allow,” says a minor irrigation department official, adding that the work on the stretch where the pipes were rightly laid has been wrapped up.

In response, a KWA officer explained, “The road is not wide enough and its sides are thickly populated. There are limitations to how these pipes can be manoeuvred. We have offered our assistance to fix pipe bursts.”

However, the workers claim that even this promise is forsworn at times. The lack of coordination and the ensuing tussle between various arms of the government is the primary reason for the project delay.

“Adding to this you get a vortex of issues including protests by people who run shops on this stretch, the paucity of funds, environmental and weather-related challenges, and the backtracking of labourers and many more. It is the residents who are ultimately suffering,” says Manoj K K, a resident.

It was in the early 2000s that the last rejuvenation of the canal was carried out. It was also then that concrete slabs were placed on top of the canal and made into a road.

“Ideally, this place should remain as it once was — a canal and not a road. All the issues would end that way. Though we had moved a proposal for the same, it was rejected,” the irrigation official added.

The current canal rejuvenation work is moving at a snail’s pace with 2 metres of work being done per day. There are nearly 500 metres of the stretch awaiting completion. Despite the assurance of officials, it is likely that the project will not be ready on time to ably route the city’s stormwater during the year’s monsoon.

‘Three-month project’

  • Nearly 1-km-long Mullassery canal was envisioned back in 2022 as a ‘three-month project’

  • Amid the long delay and the breach of several major contract deadlines, only around 50% of the work has been completed so far

  • Work moving at snail’s pace with 2 metres of work being done per day

  • About 500 metres of the stretch awaiting completion

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