$17m for river cleaning, desilting programme

Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Avinash Singh. - File photo
Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Avinash Singh. - File photo

More than $17 million will be spent to clean and desilt over 100 river tributaries and watercourses in the next two years, amid concerns from farmers over flooding.

(MALF) Avinash Singh gave this information while answering a question in the House of Representatives on Friday.

Singh was asked by Couva North MP Ravi Ratiram whether all the major watercourses once maintained by Caroni (1975) Ltd which pass through state-owned agricultural land in Exchange, Union Village and Orange Valley had been cleaned.

Singh said desilting rivers requires a collaborative multi-ministry approach, as the Ministry of Works and Transport (MOWT), Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government (MRDLG), and MALF share responsibility for it.

He explained major rivers (Caroni, Caparo and South Oropouche), watercourses and their tributaries fall under the purview of the MOWT, while minor rivers and watercourses across municipalities fall under the MRDLG.

He said the MALF is responsible for maintaining channels in agricultural areas but there are areas of overlap where all three ministries must work collaboratively.

Singh listed the river channels cleaned under his ministry in the last four years, but did not mention any of the watercourses Ratiram had asked about.

Singh noted, though, that additional channels have also been identified for desilting.

“Over the next two years, 105 water channels are listed under the ministry's preliminary proposal for cleaning and desilting. This proposal provides for the desilting of approximately 438 kilometres of channels, at a total cost of $17,536,400.

"The proposed works will include for cleaning of culverts, bridges along the part of the river and minor embankment repairs.”

Pressed by Ratiram for a direct answer, Singh said, “I gave the member the assurance that over the next two years, 105 watercourses will be looked at under the ministry's programme. So I'm sure most of these minor tributaries (are) part of this programme.”

But Ratiram said the waiting period was unacceptable.

“We cannot wait for two years. People are going to be flooded out as the rain comes down.”

Ratiram tried to get an assurance from Singh that these watercourses would be cleaned, but Speaker Bridgid Annisette-George shut down his attempt.

“I think the minister has answered that question at least twice,” she said.

Singh said farmers in Felicity and Waterloo area should see work begin on a new bridge to access the area via the Caparo river by 2025.

Singh said his ministry is preparing the scope of works and designs for reconstruction work at the Randy Carter Bridge, as it is outside the scope of bridges usually built by the ministry.

“We recognise the importance of this bridge, given that it provides access to over 1,000 farmers in Felicity and Waterloo. Based on the preliminary assessments, this bridge has a greater span than the bridges that are generally constructed by the MALF. While it may not be classified as a specialised construction project, the fact that it spans over the Caparo river, and will have traffic loading that is greater than the typical access road bridge, dictates that the services of a certified structural engineer be engaged.”

Singh said the Ministry of Works also has to be consulted in the building process, and a preliminary estimate from that ministry gave a cost of over $10.5 million.

When asked about plans to build a temporary bridge, Singh suggested there are no such plans, as farmers can currently access the area through the Brickfield community.


"$17m for river cleaning, desilting programme"

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