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The Buckingham Canal is a 796 kilometres (494.6 mi) long fresh water navigation canal, running parallel to the Coromandel Coast of South India from Kakinada in East Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh to Villupuram District in Tamil Nadu. The canal connects most of the natural backwaters along the coast to the port of Chennai (Madras). It was constructed during the British Rule, and was an important waterway during the late nineteenth and the twentieth century.
It was first known as the North River by the British and was believed to be partly responsible for reducing tsunami and cyclone damage to much of the Chennai-southern Andhra coastline.
Originally known as Cochrane's canal, the first segment of the canal was constructed as a saltwater navigation canal in 1806, from Madras North to Ennore for a distance of 11 miles. It was financed by Basil Cochrane. Subsequently, it was extended north to Pulicat Lake, 40 kilometres (24.9 mi) north of Madras. The canal was taken over by the government of Madras Presidency in 1837 and further extended, ultimately reaching 315 kilometres (195.7 mi) north of Madras to Vijayawada on the bank of Krishna River in Andhra Pradesh, and 103 kilometres (64.0 mi) south of Chennai to Marakkanam in Tamil Nadu. When the canal was opened, it was named Lord Clive's Canal and later as Buckingham Canal. However, the section in Madras had been known as Cochrane's canal for much of the 19th century.
During 1877 and 1878 the people of Madras suffered from the terrible Great Famine and more than six million people perished. The 8-kilometre (5.0 mi) stretch, linking the Adyar and Cooum rivers, was built in 1877-78 at a cost of Rs.3 millions as a famine relief work. The canal was named the Buckingham Canal in 1878 because the link, was built on the orders of the then Governor, the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos.
Course of the canal
The canal runs approximately 1 km (0.62 mi) back from the coastline. The Cooum River connects the canal to the Bay of Bengal in the center of Chennai. The portion north of the Cooum is known as the North Buckingham Canal, and the portion south of the Cooum as the South Buckingham Canal. 257 km (160 mi) of the canal is in Andhra Pradesh, and 163 km (101 mi) is in Tamil Nadu. Approximately 31 km (19 mi) is within the city limits of Chennai.
|Stretch||Original (survey) width (m)||Existing width (m)|
|Adyar River–Greenways Road||107||116||25||31|
|Greenways Road–Kamaraj Salai||115||123||25||33|
|Kamaraj Salai–Venkatakrishna Road||98||123||33||48|
|Venkatakrishna Road–St. Mary's Road||122||123||37||38|
|St. Mary's Road–Agraharam Road||133||143||28||38|
|Agraharam Road–Kutchery Road||113||117||33||37|
|Kutchery Road–P.V.Koil Street||114||134||34||39|
|P.V.Koil Street–Radhakrishna Street||117||133||25||38|
|Radhakrishna Street–Avvai Shanmugam Salai||120||122||30||32|
|Avvai Shanmugam Salai–Besant Road||100||109||25||34|
|Besant Road–Barathi Salai||89||110||24||25|
|Barathi Salai–Wallaja Road||80||111||30||36|
|Wallaja Road–Swami Sivanandha Salai||42||73||32||36|
|Swami Sivanandha Salai–Cooum River||80||93||25||28|
Decline in usage
The canal was used to convey goods up and down the coast from Vijayawada to Madras (now Chennai). The cyclones of 1965/1966 and 1976 damaged the canal, and it is little used and no longer well maintained. Within the city of Chennai the canal is badly polluted from sewage and industrial effluents, and the silting up of the canal has left the water stagnant, creating an attractive habitat for malaria-spreading mosquitoes. The North Chennai Thermal Power Station (NCTP) discharges hot water and fly ash into the canal as well. In agricultural areas South of Chennai the former tow path along the scenic areas is used for light motorcycle and bicycle traffic. On January 1, 2001 the Government of India launched a project to prevent sewage outfalls into the canal and Chennai's other waterways, and to dredge the canal to remove accumulated sediment and improve water flow.
Within the city limits of Chennai much of the canal has been used as the route of the elevated Chennai Mass Rapid Transit System (MRTS). MRTS stations such as Kotturpuram, Kasturba Nagar and Indira Nagar have encroached on the canal and narrowed the width of the canal to less than 50 meters in few places.
Buckingham Canal is the most polluted of the three major waterways in the city with nearly 60 per cent of the estimated 55 million litres of untreated sewage being let into it daily, including by Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board.
Effect of the 2004 tsunami
Dr. B. Ramalingeswara Rao first identified buffer zone action of Buckingham Canal when he visited coastal areas of 300 kilometres (186.4 mi) along the coast and also he recommended to the Government to renovate the same to mitigate the Tsunami Hazards in future. Further, Ramalingeswara Rao (2005) reported as: During the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Buckingham Canal acted as a buffer zone and regulated the Tsunami waves on the coastal region over nearly 310 kilometres (192.6 mi) from Pedda Ganjam to Chennai. The canal all along the coast was filled with Tsunami water, which overflowed at a few places and receded back to sea within 10-15 min. This helped save the lives of several fishermen, especially in coastal Andhra Pradesh and parts of Chennai city and also helped in clearing of the aquaculture debris. The natural growth of vegetation on either side of the canal, has had an effect in Tsunami mitigation; for example in Vakadu Mandal at villages like Pudikappam, Srinivasapuram and Tudipalem, the damages were minimal.
Ramalingeswara Rao had further assessed on the extension of Buckingham Canal up to Vedaranyam in order to protect Tamil Nadu coast from the fury of Tsunamis in future. The maximum magnitude MW 8.5 may occur in future in Sumatra because of its continuous subduction activity.
Cause of 2015 floods
Buckingham canal drains water from south Chennai. A 2014 CAG report revealed that a diversion channel from Buckingham canal near Okkiyum Maduvu to the sea (drain project under JNNURM scheme) could have saved south Chennai from flooding. But the government dropped the 100 crore JNNURM scheme, which if completed, would have drained flood water at 3,500 cubic feet per second from southern neighbourhoods. The 2014 CAG report said defective planning of flood control projects caused delay and increased cost, defeating the objective of the scheme. "The fact is that alleviation of inundation of flood water in Chennai city remains largely unachieved," it said.
Revamp of the canal
Revival of Buckingham Canal took shape by government's National Waterway 4 (NW-4) declaration on November 2008. Both North Buckingham (Peddakanjam, Ongole-Chennai) and south Buckingham (basin bridge, Chennai - Marakkanam) canal will be developed under the proposed National Waterway 4 by Inland waterways authority of India. Periodically, government of Tamil Nadu also takes up dredging and widening of the canal through Water Resources Department, Public Works Department (PWD). With the provisions of State-Center shared Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission JNNURM, PWD has started widening the South Buckingham Canal from Okkiyam Madu to Muttukadu for a stretch of 13.5 kilometres (8.4 mi) About Rs.1447.91 crore has been allocated under the JNNURM for integrated development of waterways and macro drainages like Buckingham canal, Otteri Nullah, Virugambakkam – Arumbakkam drain, Cooum and Adyar river. Despite of the development, the central section of the canal running through the most congested areas of Chennai, a length of 7.1 kilometres (4.4 mi) will remain unnavigable due to severe encroachments and construction of the Chennai Mass Rapid Transport System.
On 22 January 2010, Government of Tamil Nadu has reconstituted the Adayar Poonga Trust as Chennai River Restoration Trust for restoration of Chennai rivers (Adayar river, Cooum river) including the Buckingham Canal.
In 2011 improvements were being undertaken on the 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) stretch between Okkiyam Madu and Muttukadu under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. The canal was being widened to 100 metres (328.1 ft) and a U.S.A. built dredge was being used to deepen the canal to 2.4 metres (8 ft). Also under this project, six small causeways across the canal would be reconstructed into single-lane bridges
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