By JR Janumpalli
(The author is a retired government official and Telangana activist)
The Kaleshwaram project is in news again. This time the opposition is questioning its economic viability and technical feasibility. On earlier occasions, it opposed it on civil liberties, land acquisition, R&R, environment and re-engineering. There were protests, meetings and PILs.
The TJAC prepared a report on it and placed it in public domain. But the Telangana government went ahead with the project as the courts cleared legal wrangles. The Central Water Commission (CWC) too is said to have cleared it fully.
Kaleshwaram is a complex capital-intensive project. Its operational and maintenance costs are very high when compared with traditional gravity canal projects. But it is a compulsion owing to the dire need for water and the topography of the benefiting area. The water needs to be lifted 525 m and carried through pipes, tunnels and open canals at a length of 1,843 km over a steep slope of land from the source of water. It is a unique project not only in the country but perhaps in the world too.
Telangana has been allotted 954 tmc of the 1,400 tmc water in Godavari basin. But the use is less than 200 tmc in TS and over 500 tmc in Andhra Pradesh. Much more water goes into the sea. In the united State, because of the limitation of technology to lift water over such a long undulated terrain and due to vested political interest of the lower riparian region, Telangana could not use its due share. Consequently, the semi-arid and low-to-medium rainfall area depends on lakhs of borewells depleting groundwater to a critical level. Now the conditions have altered. Political freedom and the availability of technology prompted Telangana to make use of its hitherto denied share of water.
Kaleshwaram was started in 2007 as Pranahita-Chevella — part of ‘Jalayaganam’ — by the Congress. A barrage was to be built at Tummidihatti, Adilabad district, with 152 m FRL to use 160 tmc water for irrigating 16 lakh acres from there to Chevella in Ranga Reddy district. But Maharashtra did not agree to 152 m barrage height. The CWC did not clear the project and alerted the new Telangana government about the non-availability of requisite amount of water for the project at that site. The Maharashtra government, meanwhile, agreed for 148 m after deliberations at the behest of the TS government.
As the State government found more water at Medigadda downstream than Tummidihatti, it re-engineered the project. The cost is estimated to be Rs 80,500 crore.
The newly-formed Telangana Jana Samithi (TJS) harps on the cursory TJAC project report. Its spokesmen say that going by the BC (Benefit-Cost) ratio, the design of the project is not satisfactory. Capital expenditure, maintenance and operational costs are very high to make the project economically viable. However, it does not present any alternatives saying it is not its job.
A State does not do any project with its own assumptions. The Central government, through the CWC, scrutinises the project and gives its clearances on many aspects. The Telangana government has explained adequately the need for re-engineering the project. Now, in all reasonableness, one can assume that the CWC exercised its due diligence while according clearances. The opposition can discuss it in the Assembly or in Parliament for whatever changes it wants to make on it.
As for its high cost and burden to the State, the concern of the opposition is not out of place. Perhaps, it is the costliest water project in the country. For a capital investment like this, the State needs to borrow and service the debt. It is within the bounds on its debt portfolio so far. Its debt-GDP ratio as at the end of 2018-19 is pegged at 21.36. But it can increase as these projects go forward. The State with its balanced Budget and revenue growth promises well for the future. But for a unique project like this, which is economically and technically challenging, the Centre needs to give its helping hand.
Compare this with the Polavaram project, which is now slated to cost Rs 60,000 crore and is given a national status in the AP Reorganisation Act for obvious political reasons. Its operational cost will be less because of its traditional gravity canal design, but its R&R itself costs more than 50% in it. It submerges 270 villages, about one lakh acres agriculture land and one lakh acre forest land against a modest R&R cost of the Kaleshwaram project. At least 80% of the benefiting area is already irrigated under lift irrigation projects. There the benefiting area is plain, rainfall is high and the area is groundwater-rich.
It has not even got many clearances. There are court cases on it from other States and some environmental organisations. The cost, benefit analysis on its irrigation proves it is not economically viable, leave alone the humongous R&R problem. The only saving grace is its power production. But Andhra Pradesh is said to be power-surplus and does not need power at present. Moreover, the way the cost is escalating, eventually, the project may cost the same as Kaleshwaram.
TS does not have a grudge against the Polavaram project. Kaleshwaram deserves much more. If the Centre takes care of the capital investment or at least subsidises it, this can reduce the debt burden of TS and the State can complete it with comparative ease. As for the operational cost, it is within the capacity of the State. It needs to devise more economical and imaginative methods to use the water, generate substantial revenue from its utilities and fine-tune other schemes.
Therefore, it would be wise for the opposition to demand national status to Kaleshwaram instead of nitpicking on it. For, it is a fait accompli by now. Yet, it can still engage the CWC to suggest better economic and technological inputs if it feels so.
Source: Telangana Today