Prime Minister Narendra Modi has of late underlined the need to conserve water by constructing check dams, percolation tanks and other such structures, as the country is passing through one of its worst crises. Yet, the Centre appears to be sleeping over certain key projects in various states, be it from Telangana or the new initiatives now taken up by both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh aimed at utilising surplus waters from the Godavari. And the Union Budget did not address it at all.
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao, soon after the formation of the new state in 2014, took up three mega projects involving an expenditure of around Rs 2 lakh crore to conserve water. Through Mission Kakatiya, he aimed to restore all irrigation tanks to their original form by taking up desilting and strengthening the bund structures.
Mission Bhagiratha envisioned supply of safe drinking water to each and every household in the state. Several overhead tanks and reservoirs were constructed and pipelines laid over 1 lakh km across the state for the massive scheme, which was partially launched by none other than Modi. And recently, KCR formally launched the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Scheme that was funded purely from state resources and bank loans.
On the flip side, there has been hardly any meaningful push from the Centre to inter-link various rivers to divert waters from surplus states to the deficit ones. Despite the assurance given to the Supreme Court by the Centre to complete inter-linking of all rivers by 2016 — when Vajpayee was in power — hardly anything has happened on the ground so far.
The fact remains that except for Himalayan-born rivers, the rest of the inflows in India are completely dependent upon monsoon showers. It is also a fact that none of the rivers barring Godavari has a significant surplus going to the sea. Even in the worst year, the Godavari at the Dhavaleswaram Anicut will have a surplus of 1,000 tmcft flowing into the Bay of Bengal. In a normal year, the figure ranges between 2,500 and 5,000 tmcft. Remember, till the 1980s, just 1 tmcft was enough to meet the drinking water requirement of the entire Hyderabad city. It will be nothing short of a crime if the Godavari surplus is not put to proper use.
Modi has always articulated the need to keep politics aside for development. But it has not translated into reality in this part of India.
For example, the Centre did not provide funds for the Kakatiya, Bhagiratha and Kaleshwaram projects, despite the NITI Aayog’s recommendation. When Andhra Pradesh was split in 2014, there was a clause in the Bifurcation Act on treating the Polavaram Multi-Purpose project as a national initiative. So, the Centre agreed to provide 100% funding, which is estimated to be around Rs 60,000 crore. But when a similar demand came from Telangana to consider Kaleshwaram as a national project, the Centre refused to do so. Even the new scheme announced by the Centre in the General Budget, Har Ghar Jal, is but a copy of Mission Bhagiratha already implemented by Telangana without Central funding.
Now, both the chief ministers of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have agreed to work out a joint action plan to divert the Godavari surplus to the Krishna river basin projects like Pulichinthala, Nagarjuna Sagar and Srisailam, which are facing scarcity. But it is not possible for both the states put together to bear the entire expenditure of lifting two to three tmcft of water on a daily basis to fill the major dams to provide waters to more than 50 lakh acres of land, which is where the Modi government ought to come in. The Centre may consider diverting the remaining surplus to other states like Tamil Nadu, which is badly struggling for water. It is high time the prime minister takes proactive action and walks his development talk. The project ought to be seen from the prism of national interest and not from the narrow view of the benefits going to two non-BJP ruled states.