IANS | Last Modified - Sep 16, 2010, 11:41 AM IST
New Delhi: Be it in Delhi, Kerala, Orissa or West Bengal, ancient waterways are being sought to be revived to facilitate heritage tourism and public transportation in a throwback to history when inland rivers were the economic lifeline of urban settlements.
If a green master plan for Delhi gets the government nod, the natural storm channels in the capital that drain into the Yamuna river will become an inland heritage trail.
The plan, "Greenway Concept", drawn up by a group of heritage planners and architects, envisages developing the 19 natural storm drains and its numerous tributaries into landscaped heritage zones and inland waterways to promote heritage tourism.
"Under the plan, the water channels will be converted into eco-friendly recreational spaces for sustainable development of the historic capital," architect and heritage planner Akash Hingorani, creator of the Greenway Concept, told IANS.
"It will not only help revive the ancient storm drains but also reduce waterlogging and the heat island effect brought about by the covering of several natural drainage channels in the metropolis to make space for car parks and new arterial roads in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games."
The heat island effect is a warming phenomenon that sparks temperature variations within the city when natural water channels are blocked.
The architect said the "capital had numerous natural water bodies along the 13th century fort Rai Pithora, Siri and in Satpula (the rain harvesting dam with seven bridges) in ancient Tughlaqabad that could be restored as heritage and inland transport lungs of the capital."
He is currently working on an eco-mobility project for the Delhi government to facilitate non-motorised transportation
through the capital's storm drain network.
Hingorani's pilot South Delhi Greenway Project, under consideration for the Delhi Tourism and Transport Department, the Delhi Development Authority and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, is a 30-km theme trail along a 12.5-km storm drain flowing from Saket to Nizamuddin in the capital.
"It is happening in Delhi now. The rivers are once again coming out to become part the settlement like in my country, Switzerland, which is now making intense use of its natural waterways," Nicole Balomey, the Unesco programme specialist for culture in India, told IANS.
Waterway is emerging as a viable option for sustainable urban development, she said.
Kerala is reviving two of its major urban waterways as inland transport systems and heritage trails.
The government has initiated work on the 74-km TS canal that will connect the beach resort of Kovalam to historic Kollam. A part of the state's National Waterway-III from Kollam to Kottapuram via Kochi, it is central to the Southern Waterways Project that aims to link Maharashtra to Kanyakumari across four states.
There are three major inland waterways under consideration for revival with the purpose of commercial transportation - the 4,500-km Himalayan waterways project, the 5,750-km central waterways project and the 4,625-km southern waterways project.
Sanghamitra Basu, an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur in West Bengal, said the "Orissa government was dredging a small inland water channel in the capital to explore the possibility of cheaper water transportation".
She has developed environmentally sustainable development models for heritage cities like Bhubaneswar in Orissa and Bishnupur in West Bengal.Basu said one of the reasons for "frequent inundation of Mumbai during monsoon was the clogged Mithi channel that supported Asia's biggest shantytown Dharavi on its bank".
In Kolkata, opening inland channels for public transportation is difficult, Basu said. "It will incur high costs, and squatters' shanties along the waterways will have to be removed," she said.
The Central Inland Water Transport Corporation, which looks after inland water transport in West Bengal, uses the Hooghly (Ganges) river to transport freight to Ganga Sagar, Diamond Harbour, Bangladesh, Guwahati, Haldia Port, Patna and Allahabad.
But the city's inland waterway - the Adi Ganga Canal, once a thriving 19th century port near Kalighat - is no longer navigable.
A private cruise company, Kolkata-based Vivada Cruise is promoting heritage river tourism along 1,000 km of the Hooghly river that meanders through the landmarks of colonial Bengal - right up to the Gangetic delta of the Sundarbans, a Unesco world heritage site.
"We are looking at more people's participation, mostly from non-resident Indians, willing to fund sustainable heritage-based development projects in their native cities under the Indian Heritage Cities Network founded as a Unesco programme in India four years ago," Balomey said.
The network with 22 Indian and several foreign members support Indian cities in their endeavour to use heritage resources for sustainable development.
Inland waterways were in use even during the Indus Valley civilisation nearly 5,000 years ago.