WITH A swollen Ganga marooning all the 84 ghats in Varanasi, the flood has not only affected the residents but also Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s dream project, Varuna Riverfront Corridor — a part of which he planned to inaugurate by end of August.
While the state government wanted to showcase the project as part of its development agenda in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency in the run-up to the 2107 polls, for the last 20 days, no work has taken place as the entire project site — a 10.3-km stretch of Varuna river — is under water.
Machines and equipment being used in the project are also nearly under water. The irrigation department, meanwhile, has tied up geo grids and geo sheets — used to strengthen soil in landscape area on both sides of the river — to prevent them from being washed away.
On June 19, Varanasi Divisional Commissioner Nitin Ramesh Gokaran and District Magistrate Vijay Kiran Anand had kicked off a plantation drive along the river. Hundreds of saplings were planted before the water level started rising in the first week of August. Now, the entire plantation area, along with tiled walking tracks — a stretch of around 700 m — are marooned in flood water.
The project is so significant that its progress is regularly being monitored from the state headquarters in Lucknow. A few weeks ago, Irrigation Minister Shivpal Singh Yadav had inspected the project site.
Round-the-clock work had begun at the project site in May with the chief minister expected to inaugurate a 3-km stretch of the riverfront by end of August. But on August 3 and 4, the water level in Varuna increased with such speed that the irrigation department did not get enough time to find an alternate site to shift the equipment.
The estimated cost of the entire project is Rs 201 crore. Till now, nearly Rs 40 crore had been utilised in procurement of machines and equipment, geo sheets, geo grid, dredging of river, landscaping, development of pathways and plantation.
“Machines and other equipment like Amphibious Hydraulic Excavator are meant to function in water. But an assessment of the loss incurred in other sectors will done only when the water recedes,” Chief Engineer (Irrigation) Rajendra Singh said.
He claimed work would restart only when the area becomes fit for the movement of machines. “The Varuna riverfront corridor has to be developed in a stretch of 10.3 km. Dredging over a 3-km stretch is complete while landscaping has been done in around 700-metre area,” he added.
Irrigation officials said if water recedes in the next 15 days, they would be able to complete the 3-km stretch by end of October or November. The entire 10.3-km stretch may get completed only by January, next year. An official said while the water level in Varuna increases every year, such a flood-like situation was not expected. Hence, work was started on the project before the monsoon season.
Under the project, drains discharging untreated waste in Varuna would be diverted to new underground pipelines being laid along the riverbank. These pipelines would pump the sewage to a sewage treatment plant downstream. To maintain the water level in the river, extra water will be supplied in Varuna through Gyanpur canal. With around 150 cusecs to be supplied by Gyanpur canal, the river would maintain a depth of at least 2.5 m throughout the year.
Greenery, pathways, jogging tracks, public amenities and recreation spots are planned along both sides of the river. Sheets of geo-green material, along with three dimensional erosion control, has been laid on the banks.
“Varuna riverfront will become a picnic spot for people of Varanasi,” said an official. “To achieve clean Ganga, the first step is to clean Varuna… Ganga cannot be cleaned without cleaning Varuna,” read the tagline of the project prepared by the irrigation department.