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20-yr-long saga behind 4th canal breach: Water thefts, encroachment and unfinished civic plans

Initially, there were two canals that ran parallel to each other, but one of them was closed after the PMC laid a pipeline in it. It carries water from a chain of dams including Khadakwasla, Panshet, Varasgaon and Temghar.

Written by Ajay Jadhav | Pune |
September 30, 2018 8:21:31 am
20-yr-long saga behind 4th canal breach: Water thefts, encroachment and unfinished civic plans The damaged part of the canal wall being repaired, in Pune on Saturday. The Irrigation Department has said the work will be completed in the next two days. (Express photo by Pavan Khengre)

The flooding of areas near the Dandekar bridge on Thursday, when water from Khadakwasla dam gushed through the damaged canal wall and destroyed almost 500 shanties, has raised concerns about the safety of those living near the canal.  The 32-km-long canal was constructed to meet the irrigation needs of rural areas in Haveli, Daund, Indapur and Baramati talukas. Initially, there were two canals that ran parallel to each other, but one of them was closed after the PMC laid a pipeline in it. It carries water from a chain of dams including Khadakwasla, Panshet, Varasgaon and Temghar.

Encroachments alongside the canal
The canal enters the city in Dhayari and covers 17 km within city limits, passing through Vadgaon Budhruk, Hingane Khurd, Vitthalwadi, Parvati, Janta Vasahat, Swargate, Salisbury Park, Golibar Maidan, Hadapsar and Phursungi areas. Several shanties have come up alongside the canal due to the free availability of water. Slum-dwellers have been using the water for bathing, washing clothes and utensils.

Recently, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) decided to put up wired fencing on both sides of the canal. But parts of the fence were damaged or altered by local residents seeking access to the canal. The increase in the number of houses in nearby areas has also led to an increase in rodent population, and this was possibly one of the factors that weakened the structure, which caved in on Thursday.

Irrigation and Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan, who visited the affected area on Friday, had said, “The wall is very old and it is suspected that rodents have been damaging it for a long time. This weakened the wall and it finally caved in due to the pressure of the water released from the dam”.

Many cases of water thefts
Cases of water theft from the canal are common. From owners of adjoining farmlands to local small-scale industrial units, water is pilfered away by many, but no serious action has been taken against these thefts.

Wall damaged at various spots
The canal wall has been damaged at various locations, as power utility agencies and telecommunication companies have laid underground cables in the adjoining land. The breach in the canal on Thursday exposed the many underground cables in the area.

Wall never repaired
Despite the extensive damage, the canal wall has never been repaired. This is the fourth time in the last 20 years that part of the canal wall has caved in. But the earlier breaches didn’t take place within the city. While both local representatives and residents had complained about the damage to the Irrigation Department and the PMC administration, neither government body took it seriously.

Irrigation Minister Mahajan said it was difficult to repair the canal, as it had to supply water to both Pune city and rural areas throughout the year, without any breaks.

In the pipeline, plans for a closed pipeline
The Irrigation Department and the PMC have been involved in a back-and-forth about the quantity of water consumed by the civic body. The PMC has claimed that most of the water supplied through the canal was lost due to leakages, and it has undertaken a project to draw water directly from the canal to its Parvati purification plant. The water purification plant in Pune Cantonment area was earlier dependent on the open canal, but now the PMC is laying a closed pipeline to draw water directly for it. The work is nearing completion and the pipeline is expected to be commissioned in the next two months.

Modernisation plan delayed
Under its modernisation programme, the Irrigation Department had planned to reduce water loss due to evaporation, seepage and theft. It had proposed to carry water through an underground tunnel, all the way from Khadakwasla dam to Phursungi, but the high cost of the project has delayed the civic body’s plans. Back in 2016, the project was estimated to cost as much as Rs 1,000 crore, and the civic body planned to use the land adjoining the canal commercially to generate revenue.

Mahajan said that the state government has received proposals for the tunnel project from eight agencies and the government will soon take a decision on it, to find a permanent solution to the problems plaguing the canal.

PMC’s other projects
The PMC has also used the land near the canal for environment-friendly measures such as developing a jogging track and setting up a garden. Once the canal is closed and water is supplied through closed pipeline or tunnel, the land can also be used for the Pune Metro project.

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