The 205 km West Coast Canal system comprising the 168 km waterway between Kottappuram-Kollam, the 23 km Udyogmandal canal between Kochi-Eloor and the 14 km Champakkara canal between Kochi-Ambalamugal was declared the National Waterway (NW)-3 in February 1993. In a recent move, the NW-3 received an impetus, with the development of fairway, terminal, and navigation aids being underway.
National Waterway 3 is a tidal waterway with four sea openings at Munambam, Kochi, Kayamkulam and Neendakara. A 2m deep navigational channel of 38m width in the wider reaches and 32m in narrow reaches has been envisaged for navigation in NW-3. To develop the navigation channel 40.33 lakh cu.m of capital dredging over 87 km has been planned. To carry out the dredging, NW-3 was divided into seven stretches: i) Champakara canal, ii) Udyogmandal canal, iii) Kottapuram-Kochi, iv) Kochi-Alappuzha, v) Alappuzha-Kayamkulam, vi) Kayamkulam-Edapallikotta; and vii) Edapallikotta-Kollam. So far, capital dredging has been completed in Champakara, Udyogmandal, Kottapuram-Kochi and Kochi- Alappuzha stretches. As on 31 March 2015, IWAI has carried out nearly 37 lakh cu.m of dredging over 83 km of the canal.
With this, a single channel of 2 m depth has been provided for national waterway 3. As of yet, widening to provide a two-lane channel with planned width of 32 m remains to be done in 3.65 km, for which work is in progress. Protection of the canal banks against erosion is another important activity for safe navigation. As on 31 March 2015, 14.67 km of canal banks have been provided with permanent protection in the Champakara and Udyogmandal stretch.
In the canal sections between Alappuzha and Kollam, bank protection is being undertaken along with capital dredging. By March 2015, 6.73 km of banks have been provided protection.
The progress of capital dredging and widening of narrow canal works in national waterway 3 were severely hampered due to various local issues related to disposal of dredged material, demand for extra bank protection, frequent stoppage of works due to litigation with locals and objections by fishermen.
Out of the total 11 locations, terminals have already been constructed at 8 sites in Kottapuram, Aluva, Maradu (Kochi), Vaikkom, Cherthala (Thanneermukkom), Thrikunnapuzha, Kayamkulam (Ayiram Thengu) and Kollam. Construction is in progress at Alapuzha, of which 99 per cent has been accomplished.
Terminals at Kakkanadu and Chavara are proposed to be constructed in the next phase after cargo availability is firmed up. For effective utilisation through private sector participation, operation and maintenance of IWT terminals at Aluva, and Vaikkom has been outsourced to the Kerala government undertaking, i.e. Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC).
Two IWT container terminals, one at Bolgatty and the other at Willingdon island with roll on/roll off (RO-RO) facilities have been constructed by IWAI through Cochin Port Trust to provide connectivity with International Container Transhipment Terminal (ICTT), Vallarpadam. Due to this trucks/trailers bound for Vallarpadam need not pass through the congested roads of Kochi city. These terminals are in operation since 2011. As on 31 July 2015, total 186693 TEUs have been transported between these terminals using the RO-RO facility. The entire route length of NW-3 in Kerala has been provided with aids to facilitate 24-hour navigation.
Notwithstanding delays due to disputes with locals and coastal fishermen, the West Coast canal system is very near completion. Navigational aids, strategically-placed terminals and a well-maintained depth through regular dredging, will prove this waterway a boon for trade, helping decongest the traffic and aiding economic growth in the region.