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Squatter key to Tolly’s Nullah revamp

Two World Bank officials inspected Tolly’s Nullah on Wednesday for a project to overhaul the waterway, the success of which depends on whether the civic authorities are able to clear the banks of encroachments.

Sources in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), which will be the implementing agency of the project, said a similar scheme in Singapore had been a “huge success” because the authorities could relocate nearly 16,000 settlers and many small industrial units and animal farms from the banks of the Singapore and Kallang rivers.

As part of the project to revamp the 27km Tolly’s Nullah, which has been approved in-principle by the World Bank, the authorities plan to dredge the canal, improve its water quality to ensure that aquatic life can survive in it, stop dumping of solid waste and discharge of untreated effluent into the water, beautify the banks and convert the waterway into a navigation channel.

The water of the canal, which has turned into a garbage dump, is now putrid. No aquatic life can survive in the water — except mosquito larvaes and other organisms that are a threat to public health.

The canal drains out into the Hooghly in the north; in the south it hits a dead end, about 10km from Dhalai bridge on the Bypass.

Around 2,500 families live in shanties on the canal banks, which are also dotted with hawkers’ stalls, pigsties and cowsheds. All these, as well as many pucca houses in Garia, Tollygunge and Kalighat, dump solid waste and release effluent into the Nullah’s water. Many people defecate in the Nullah.

“A project undertaken in the 1980s to improve the canal had failed. This time we have to plan things with much care,” said a CMC official.

“Whether the scheme will succeed or not will depend on whether there is a political will to remove all encroachments from the banks. So long the encroachments remain, no one can prevent dumping of waste into the river.... Relocation of people and businesses thriving on the banks will require intervention at the political level.”

Civic officials sounded worried over the fate of the project, going by the plight of a slew of infrastructure projects that have got stuck because of the authorities’ reluctance to remove encroachers.

The concept plan of the Nullah revamp — prepared by the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) — has pegged the project cost at Rs 632 crore, which includes operation and maintenance cost for 15 years. The cost does not include the money to be needed for relocating the settlers.

“World Bank officials have told us to submit a detailed report on how many houses and businesses need to be shifted and whether we have land ready to shift them,” said the CMC official.

The state irrigation department was responsible for the upkeep of the Nullah till it was handed over to the CMC in February this year.

Sources in the civic body said the authorities wanted to build roads on both sides of the Nullah so people could easily access the canal. Now there is no way one can move parallel to the Nullah because of settlements along the banks.

Civic engineers said they had studied the Singapore project in detail while working on the Tolly’s Nullah revamp.

The Singapore and the Kallang rivers, too, had started resembling the Tolly’s Nullah because of unchecked release of waste into the river from settlements on the banks.

The Singapore authorities had drawn up an action plan in 1977 and took 10 years to complete the project. It included relocating 16,000 settlers from the banks to housing estates with modern sewerage systems. The polluting industries and pigsties were relocated.

The World Bank money for the Calcutta project will be routed through National Ganga River Basin Authority, which functions under the Centre. While 70 per cent of the project cost will come from the Ganga River Basin Authority, the state government will have to cough up the rest.