The recent release of Godavari waters into the Kondapochamma reservoir near Hyderabad marks an important day in the history of India. It signifies the successful execution of the massive Kaleshwaram project for pumping millions of cubic metres of water to a height of 500 metres and a distance of 110 kilometres. This achievement will usher in an era of water security for Telangana, just as the green revolution of the late 60s brought us food security, and the white revolution of the 70s created a milk surplus economy in India.
Implementation of irrigation projects in India are delayed among other things, by issues related to multiple statutory clearances, land acquisition, and rehabilitation of displaced persons. Often, these issues extend project timelines endlessly. For instance, the prestigious Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat, started in 1980, could only be commissioned 37 years later in 2017. In the circumstances, a project of the scale of Kaleshwaram scheme could easily have been expected to take two to three decades for completion.
It is, therefore, nothing short of a miracle that the project was inaugurated only three years after its foundation was laid in 2016.
State-of-the-art project management techniques were employed to cut down time and reduce cost verruns. Underground pump houses and tunnels were constructed wherever feasible to minimize land acquisition and reduce environmental footprint. Latest technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) and LiDAR surveys were used to plan and monitor works in real time. The Herculean task of land acquisition and rehabilitation of displaced persons was tackled humanely within the existing legal framework, ensuring that there was no opposition to the project. It is estimated that the completion of Kaleshwaram involved more than 60 times the earthwork compared to the famous Hoover dam in the USA.
The entire effort was driven by a deep commitment to fulfil the long-cherished aspirations of the people. During the decades-long Telangana agitation, their grievances had centred on the denial of their fair share of water (Neelu), resources (Nidhulu) and jobs (Niyamakalu). To address these issues, the State government, led by Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, got down to developing a blue print for irrigating one crore acres of land in the State, soon after Telangana was formed in 2014. Long-stalled projects were redesigned to utilise every drop of allocated water for the Telangana farmers and far-reaching agreements were worked out with other states like Maharashtra. Drinking and industrial water for were also given priority in the master plan.
Four years later, the benefits of the projects are already visible. Even though only about 20 lakh acres of irrigated lands have been added as of now, the State has witnessed a 42 per cent rise in agricultural production this year. During this Kharif season, it has contributed 53 lakh tonnes of paddy out of the total national production of 83 lakh tonnes. Groundwater has witnessed a remarkable recharge, leading to reduced environmental and agrarian stress. Fishing and tourism industries are poised for a big leap. Most importantly, the State has shown the naysayers that India is capable of matching the best in the world in terms of timely execution of complex engineering projects.
Just as the Hoover dam served to transform the Californian desert into one of the most productive and fastest growing regions in the world, it is expected that the irrigation schemes of Telangana will contribute significantly to the creation of a vibrant economy in the State. Further, the technologies, the systems and the spirit of federal cooperation used to bring about the water revolution in Telangana could well lay the foundation for similar developments in other parts of the country.
Principal Secretary, Irrigation, Government of Telangana