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A project of the State Irrigation Department to link the canals of Alappuzha to the sea and thereby clean them

has received environmental clearance from the Centre for Earth and Science Studies (CESS), which was entrusted with the environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project. With the environmental clearance, the project, the initial cost estimates of which are pegged at Rs.4 crore, will shortly be given administrative sanction by the government, Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac told The Hindu. The project envisages allowing inflow of sea water through two one-metre diameter pipes during summer, which would help eco-restoration of the canals that are currently polluted heavily with aquatic weeds and garbage. The two main canals here, the Commercial Canal and the Vada Canal and three cross canals connecting these two, form the network to carry salt water once the project gets operational. The Uppootti canal will be connected to the sea to let the seawater into the Commercial Canal, which is the longest at 3,500 metres while the combined length of all the canals is 8,820 metres. The canals, which have been identified to have 17 types of aquatic weeds, are also connected to sixpadasekharams (farm collectives) at the east end, covering an area of 961 acres. The EIA, which points out that paddy cultivation in these padasekharams might be affected by saline water, recommends synchronisation of the opening and closure of the sea water inflow regulation valve with the crop calendar so as to avoid such damage. A model study to ascertain the distance up to which the sea water will have influence in thepadasekharams is already on, according to the EIA. Though there might be a marginal impact on the ground water, ground water here is not used for domestic purposes, thus doing away with that negative aspect as well, the EIA notes. At the same time, CESS also calls for involvement of neighbourhood groups to remove the withered or semiwithered vegetative matter and weeds from the canal once the project is on. Unless the water is clean, the canal beautification projects that spruce up the canal banks will serve no purpose. The stench will drive the people away, is how Mr. Isaac explains the idea behind the project. A meeting of public representatives, political parties and officials convened here on Thursday by Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac has proposed a package to clean and beautify the historic canals of Alappuzha. Addressing a press conference after the meeting, held at the Collectorate in the presence of Collector P. Venugopal, and K.C. Venugopal, MP, Dr. Isaac said the package, which would comprise multipronged steps to regain the past glory of the canals, would be implemented even as feasibility studies on the development of the port and the linking of the canals to the port and the sea were being done. Preliminary studies on the canal-sea linkage had thrown up the proposal to have two pipes leading from the canals to the sea, with the canals to extend at least 150 feet into the sea so as to prevent

their clogging with sand. The preliminary studies had pegged the cost at Rs.4 crore and further studies would be carried out by experts to vet this proposal while an environmental impact appraisal would also be done. Once this was over, administrative sanction would be given to the project, probably by July with work to begin by september and the project would be completed this year itself, the Minister said. Meanwhile, the Irrigation Department has been asked to prepare an estimate and plan for dredging of the canals to be taken up, so as to clean the canals of the garbage and silt that has settled into its bed over the last several decades. Once dredging was done, stringent steps would be taken to prevent further dumping of garbage into the canals. Police cases would be booked against those depositing waste in the canal. Home guards from the police and patrol teams from the District Tourism Promotion Council would guard the canals, imposing hefty fines as well on miscreants, Dr. Isaac said. An awareness campaign on keeping the canals clean and special meetings with ward sabhas and traders would be initiated while the Municipality would see to it that hoardings and advertising boards were removed from the sides of the canals. Necessary help would also be extended to the Perfect Agri-Management Corporation, a Kochi-based private firm that had been contracted to manage the canals, the Minister added. A.A. Shukoor, Thomas Chandy, MLAs, R. Nazar, District Panchayat president and P.P. Chitharanjan, Municipal Chairman, also spoke.

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