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Recce for riverside revamp

world bank reviews makeover plan

A World Bank team sailed up and down the Hooghly on Tuesday to assess a Calcutta Municipal Corporation proposal to beautify the riverfront.

According to the proposal, sent to the Union government last month, a 7km stretch of the riverfront north of Howrah bridge till Cossipore would be converted into a popular public retreat with a continuous paved walkway.

The four-member team from the World Bank was shown the stretch and more. They went downstream from Millennium Park up to the Indian Botanic Garden and then travelled north to Belur and back.

“We want to create a beautiful stretch with walkways, gardens and lights. An elevated pathway standing on piers anchored to the river can be built on portions where no or little land is available,” a CMC engineer said.

The engineers pointed to the city’s newest showpiece walkway from Prinsep Ghat to Armenian Ghat, hardly 500m from Howrah bridge, that was a dilapidated, dirty and dangerous stretch until three years ago.

The sight was hardly pleasant beyond Prinsep Ghat, south of Vidyasagar Setu.

The smelliest eyesore is a place on the eastern bank where Tolly Nullah drains its black waste-filled sludge into the Hooghly. The 14km-long canal runs east to west from the Bidyadhari river through densely-inhabited areas such as Garia, Tollygunge and Behala.

The proposal includes a project to treat wastewater before it is discharged into the Nullah. “The plan is to build sewage treatment plants along the Nullah so that polluted water don’t flow into the Hooghly,” a CMC engineer said.

A civic official said raw waste has been discharged directly into the Nullah despite efforts to curb the practice.

The Garden Reach Ship Builders premises and a power-generating plant of the CESC jutted out like carbuncles on the horizon.

The tree-filled bank of the Indian Botanic Garden was an exception, though.

The starboard scenery of the western bank during the trip to from the Indian Botanic Garden to Belur was even more ungainly. Large rundown factories — relics of Howrah’s industrial glory — dot the horizon. Pollution, encroachments or discharge of untreated waste into the river was a common sight.

Trucks parked on the roadside near gargantuan warehouses of the Port Trust.

Solid wastes dumped along the banks. Wooden frames of idols stacked metres high on the riverside. Rows of squatter shanties. Not necessarily in that order but the severity of urban mismanagement was visible towards the north of Howrah bridge.

After the tour, Genevieve Connors of the World Bank team suggested the engineers: “You should make a complete master plan. It may be implemented in phases, may be over many years but the plan should be prepared at once.”

Barjor E. Mehta, a leading urban specialist with World Bank, was among the delegation while Debashis Sen, principal secretary at the urban development department, was the host during the four-and-a-half hour tour.

Sen and the World Bank team later held a meeting with chief secretary Sanjay Mitra at Nabanna.

The proposal has a plan for value-addition to the walkway between Prinsep and Armenian ghats.

“To attract more people, we must offer a clear view of the river from Strand Road. This means, all encroachments have to be cleared and walls must be pulled down or their height reduced,” said an engineer.

The inter-state bus terminus at Babughat could be shifted to some other location and the place cleaned up of unnecessary structures so that people get an unobstructed view of the Hooghly.

“There is immense scope,” said a state government official.

“But beautifying both banks of the river would require involvement of several agencies, including the Howrah Municipal Corporation and other municipalities.”

Other than CMC officials and engineers, their counterparts from the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority were also aboard the boat that took the World Bank team on a riverbank recce.