The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dream sail out of depth
- Launches run aground in trial cruise of Buddha’s showpiece Venice project

It’s not every day that slum-dwellers get to see VIPs pouring out of a grounded launch, climbing on to a narrow wooden plank and scrambling to reach terra firma.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s “Venice dream”, the arterial waterway that was to connect Chitpur Lock Gate with Kestopur, and eventually Kulti Gang, with a commercial ferry service, is, clearly, out of its depth.

At the trial run of the showpiece project on Tuesday, two launches started from Chitpur Lock Gate for Ultadanga, the point till which the canal was said to have been de-silted. Both got grounded.

MV Durga carried all the bouquets, mishtis and the heavyweights involved in the Rs 20-crore project, including housing minister and Hidco chairman Goutam Deb, irrigation minister Subhash Naskar, chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb, transport secretary Sumantra Chowdhury, managing director of Hidco R.K. Tripathi and MLA Rabin Mondol. The smaller MV Niharika carried reporters.

The VIPs got stuck first. Trying to turn back from Ultadanga, their launch got caught in the mud. After waiting for 40 minutes — it had taken 27 minutes to reach Ultadanga — the VIPs made quite a picture, clutching on to their dhotis and hopping on to the ground from the wooden plank with great relief. Hundreds of spectators from the shanties, including many children, cheered and clapped.

The other launch turned back from Ultadanga, but couldn’t return to Chitpur Lock Gate as the water level receded and it got stuck in the silt.

With mud on their feet and egg on their faces, the ministers and officials did not hold the scheduled press conference and retreated for a huddle at Jalasampad Bhavan, in Salt Lake.

The officials turned their gun on the irrigation department. “The launches got stuck due to low depth. The excavation work was not carried out properly. The irrigation department was responsible for de-silting the canal and repairing the lock gates,’’ said a Hidco official.

Officials said that the average depth of the canal should be eight feet. But along most of its length, the canal is about five feet deep. At some points, it goes down to even two feet.

Before going on the joyride, irrigation secretary Sadhan Ghosh announced that the depth of the canal is enough to sail big launches.

“It was just a trial run. Today, we tried to ascertain the problems and difficulties that may appear in plying launches commercially,’’ transport secretary Chowdhury said.

But the trial run showed that the waterway has other hurdles facing it and the project will miss its deadline — it was to be flagged off by the chief minister on August 15 — by more than a margin. One hurdle is the footbridge just ahead of Ultadanga, which must be brought down for commercial launches to ply. But there is a lot of local resistance to the demolition.

There are other footbridges ahead in Kestopur.

Officials added that the further de-silting necessary to keep the ferry service afloat can only be undertaken after monsoon.

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