If Calcutta is poised to be a second London, Salt Lake’s canals will emulate the waterfront of Singapore. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has announced that the Kestopur Canal, flowing between VIP Road and Salt Lake, will be renovated to resemble Clarke Quay, a popular tourist spot on the Singapore river.
“Besides Calcutta proper, the towns on its fringes would be beautified too. Kestopur Canal renovation work and canal side beautification is part of the plan,” chief minister Mamata Banerjee said a fortnight ago.
Singapore’s Clarke Quay has been chosen as the model since, like Kestopur Canal, it was once a polluted waterbody, state municipal affairs minister Firhad Hakim told The Telegraph Salt Lake. “The Singapore government turned it into a popular entertainment and commercial hub. I don’t know of any other such project in the world,” said Hakim at Nagarayan Bhavan.
Hakim said the project would be a public-private partnership. “Techno India has been roped in as our private partner,” he says. Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority and the state irrigation department would be the public partners.
The first phase of the project would be the 1km stretch from Durgapur Bridge (the flyover connecting Ultadanga to VIP Road) to Lake Town footbridge at AE Block.
Says Satyam Roychowdhury, managing director of Techno India Group: “The biggest challenge would be to clean the water and the banks. Dredging is a must and the bushes must be cleared. If the deal works out, we would need help from the municipality and the police to remove the shanties that have mushroomed on both sides of the bank. Actual beautification can start only after this.”
Even though only 1km is being beautified at first, the entire 14km long canal — stretching from Chitpore lock gate to Rajarhat — has to be cleaned. Else the water hyacinths will spread and the dirty water circulate. “Phase I is a pilot project. If it is successful, the beautification would be extended,” Hakim clarified.
Roychowdhury envisions the banks to have pretty parks and sidewalks. Besides a children’s corner and senior citizen’s corner, there would be cultural activities held around the year for all to enjoy. “There would also be light-and-sound shows featuring the heritage of Bengal. It would be a must-see for local and foreign tourists,” said Roychowdhury.
Craftsmen from the districts would be invited to sell artefacts and a food court, featuring pan-Indian cuisine, and a hawking zone would complete the picture. Ramps would be built at entry and exit points for differently-abled citizens. The lights at the venue would be powered by solar energy and modern waste management methods would be applied.
There would be much activity in the water too. Besides boating facilities, Roychowdhury contemplates boats-cum-restaurants where customers could hop in for a bite or boats from where vendors could hand out snacks to customers on other boats.
Hakim said that Singapore being a popular travel destination for Calcuttans, Clarke Quay is a spot many have visited. The quay, situated on the Singapore river, has been a centre of trade since modern Singapore was founded in 1819. Since its colonial era, it has had a lot of commercial activities with barges transporting goods to warehouses there. By the later half of the 20th century, the river had got badly polluted.
The Singapore government then decided to clean up the waterfront and its surrounding environment. After working on it from 1977 to 1987, the area is now a residential and entertainment zone as well as commercial hub.
If it took Singapore 10 years to transform its quay, Calcutta has been at it for at least six years, with long gaps in between failed attempts.
The Left Front government had cleaned Kestopur Canal in 2006 and started a ferry service there. The then chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had inaugurated it but the service was stopped as the canal was found unsuitable for navigation. In August 2007, the canal was cleaned and the launch service relaunched. The launches sailed till 2008.