A common sight in many Indian cities are decrepit or waste-laden canals that were once integral to the local economy. Cities have grappled with the mammoth task of cleaning and restoration of such canals with limited success. Often people who have made a life on the banks and margins become collateral damage to these efforts. Now Alappuzha in Kerala could pave the way for an alternative.
The Canalpy Project
A model canal-restoration project, Canalpy, is taking shape in the backwaters of Alappuzha. Funded by the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), the effort is supported by Cochin University College of Engineering Kuttanad, IIT- Bombay, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Consortium for DEWATS Dissemination Society, Bengaluru and Inspiration, Cochin.
An idea that stemmed from a meeting between the Kerala State Finance Minister Thomas Isaac and Professor Dr N C Narayanan of IIT Bombay has evolved into a project that hopes to see the revival of a network of canals that snake around Alappuzha. The canals, which were once used extensively for trade and transportation, have over the years fallen victim to neglect, clogging of solid waste and sewerage and overgrowth.
To restore the canals to the state of their prime would require holistic effort. Previous attempts focussed on the two main canals while neglecting the sub-canals that feed into the main canals. This resulted in temporary, unsustainable measures that have proven ineffective due to the downstream movement of waste.
The current project incorporates elements that would help avoid the pitfalls of the past by adopting an approach that will involve the entire network of canals. An extensive data collection drive was conducted to understand the challenges that will require attention.
The data gathered captured not just physical elements such as the dimensions of canals and the volume of sludge in a certain stretch but also the findings of a socio-economic survey of the people who have made the banks of the canal their home.
Taking cognisance of the need to involve a wide cross-section of stakeholders, the project has been designed with a two-pronged approach. The technological solutions to clean the canals and ensure the removal of waste and overgrowth will be supplemented by social solutions, which aim to spread awareness about the importance of the canal and the need to maintain sanitation and hygiene.
What sets the project apart is this people-centric approach to canal restoration. “The project will involve the participation of the people at every stage. We want the people to feel ownership over the canals and treat it as commons. People who reside on the banks have been made part of the canal-side committee and the committee will take ownership of that stretch of the canal” says Nithin Benjamin, Research Assistant, KILA.
A section of the canal near the Chathanadu area has been selected to pilot the various solutions, both technological and social. The pilot area is a hot-spot that sees many sanitation issues. Source segregation of waste, door to door collection and treatment of liquid waste to avoid contamination will be practised. The canal-side committees will also play an active role in monitoring and checking any illegal dumping or disposal of waste.
Successful implementation at this stage will help scale the project across the network. The youth of the city have been roped in to conduct extensive campaigns through art and short films to take the message across to the people.
The project is also notable in that the restoration will not see the eviction of people living along the banks of the network of canals, which is not often the case in many such initiatives. Institution building by reaching out to the people will be the first phase which will take place over the next three months. “The canal belongs to the people. No one is going to be evicted. We want the people to be a part of the plan” explains Nithin.
Watch the video below to get an overview and technical details of the pilot project: