WHEN Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu released water from the Velugode reservoir into the canal system of the Telugu Ganga project on August 5, he looked relieved. For, this gesture takes the state a step closer to honouring the promise of providing drinking water to Madras by September 15—the birthday of Tamil icon Annadurai.
But the Telugu Desam Party cannot afford to celebrate just yet as another storm (the first being the Almatti dam row) is brewing in its backyard, fuelled by the opposition Congress—a rift which has the potential to rock the foundations of the 11-month-old Naidu-led TDP government.
In keeping with efforts to work as a pressure group within the United Front, Naidu is keen to cement ties with M. Karunanidhi and his DMK—which lends support to the Government. But with the Congress baying for his blood, and Lakshmi Parvathi waiting in the wings, Naidu may have blundered by inviting trouble on his hometurf.
In early August, the expelled Congress leader M.V. Mysoora Reddy took a group of mediamen to the Telugu Ganga project to show them the truth. He wanted to know why the TDP government was keen to honour its promise to Tamil Nadu at the cost of the drought-prone farmers of the Rayalaseema region. That the chief minister hails from the area made matters worse.
Congress MP Y.S Rajasekhara Reddy filed a public interest writ petition, challenging the TDP'S decision and the High Court responded by directing the government to provide a status report on the project.
The Congress-led stir comes on the heels of the Almatti controversy, which was triggered off by the Congress Legislature Party leader, P. Janardhan Reddy, who took a press party to the dam site to expose the "mala fide intentions" of neighbouring Karnataka to increase the dam height.
The Telugu Ganga project was originally conceived to irrigate 2.75 lakh acres (now 5.25 lakh acres) in Kurnool and Cuddapah districts with 29 tmc ft of Krishna waters drawn from the Srisailam reservoir, besides conveying 15 tmc ft to Madras. But as work on the project is yet to be completed, the TDP government has channelised Krishna waters to an existing canal system to Madras so that it can live up to its commitment. And, in the process, has put on hold plans to irrigate the Rayalaseema region.
The project was inaugurated by Indira Gandhi on May 25, 1983 in Madras in the presence of the chief ministers of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The project cost, estimated around Rs 899.63 crore, has escalated to a staggering Rs 2,000 crore now.
The Tamil Nadu government has already cleared its share of the project cost—Rs 400 crore—to the Andhra Pradesh government and the balance Rs 92 crore is expected to be paid after getting the water. But though Tamil Nadu has been regular in clearing dues, the TDP government's financial constraints adversely affected the project.
During the 30-40 days of heavy rain, the Srisailam backwaters are drawn into the Pothireddypadu head regulator from where it empties into the cross-regulator at Bankacherla. From this point, the canal branches off into three directions—to the Srisailam bank canal (right), the escape channel (middle) and the Telugu Ganga canal (left). According to the original plan, water from the regulators was to be let into the Velugode reservoir before flowing to the Chennabasaipally reservoir (Cuddapah district). And then on to the Veera Brahmam reservoir through a branch channel while the main canal was to be extended further to join the Penna river on its way to the Somaisila and Kandaleru reservoirs. The entire length from Pothi-reddypadu to Madras is 410 km.
What the TDP government has done is to divert the water at Bankacherla through the 'escape channel' straight into the river Penna which joins the river Kundu downstream and from where a canal system to Madras already exists. By doing this, the government has ensured water supply to Madras—while the Telugu Ganga project awaits completion.
The TDP government's anxiety to provide drinking water to Madras is understandable, but how long can it ensure the supply through the diverted route, and when will it undertake the pending project work? Moreover, if Karnataka increases the Almatti dam height, it will pose a serious threat to the inflow into Srisailam reservoir.
And the people who have been affected most by Naidu's largesse to Tamil Nadu—the Rayalaseema farmers—are not willing to let go so easily. Their leaders are gearing up for battle which they claim is a fight for justice. And if the spirit of the erstwhile Rayalaseema Vimochana Samiti is revived, Naidu may find it difficult to handle the turbulent days ahead of him.