Pattiseema project: Boon or bane?
Primepost News Desk
Krishna and Godavari rivers are lifelines for Telugu people of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The people are emotionally and spiritually attached to the two rivers and their tributaries, as these are considered sacred.
So, when AP Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu created a history of sorts by linking Krishna and Godavari through Pattiseema lift irrigation scheme on Wednesday, there was jubilation in Krishna and Godavari districts. Hope is also held out for the four dry districts of Rayalaseema that surplus water would irrigate farm lands in Kadapa, Kurnool, Chittoor and Anantapur districts and supply drinking water to them.
Earlier in the day, Chandrababu switched on a giant pump at Pattiseema village of Polavaram mandal in West Godavari district to allow Godavari water to flow into Krishna through the right main canal of Polavaram project which is under construction.
On September 1, Godavari water was released from another lift irrigation project at Tatipudi to flow 174km through a canal to reach Nunna on the outskirts of Vijayawada city. With water from Pattiseema and Tatipudi reservoir, the flow would be continuous. The final phase of linking Godavari and Krishna was done ceremoniously by Chandrababu at Ibrahimpatnam when he released the Godavari water into Krishna at Prakasam Barrage in Vijayawada.
This was historic, in a sense, because a project of such magnitude was completed in a record 165 days. Foundation stone was laid on March 29 this year and on August 15, first phase of the project was completed. It has some other firsts to its credit: Pattiseema is South India’s first river integration project and the fastest ever completed in the country.
The ruling Telugu Desam Party has touted it as an example of AP Chief Minister’s administrative skills and determination to complete the project as part of his promise to farmers to make water available for their crops and meet the drinking water needs of lakhs of people.
However, not everyone is convinced by the arguments advanced by government officials and TDP leaders that Pattiseema is a boon to Andhra Pradesh. Some farmers’ bodies and opposition YSR Congress and left parties have junked the claims.
Among the benefits listed are, the Krishna-Godavari link would reap rich dividends for coastal farmers by making more water available in Krishna at Prakasam barrage. But the assertion has a counter: its storage capacity is limited and it can’t be increased. Moreover, silting over the years has reduced its storage level drastically. At its peak, 80 tmcft of surplus Godavari water can be released at Pattiseema. Can Krishna take in that much water?
The AP government’s rejoinder is: Water level in Krishna has been coming down because of dams constructed in the upper reaches by Karnataka. Since Almatti dam’s height was increased, down flow of Krishna has reduced drastically and what reaches Prakasam Barrage is the water released from Srisailam and Nagarjuna Sagar reservoirs. So, it is absolutely essential to supplement inflows at the barrage to meet drinking and farm demands of Krishna and Guntur districts. Moreover, water from Pattiseema will be released according to a mechanism that takes into account river levels and usage since the link is designed to act as a balance.
Once the mechanism is in place – all the 24 pumps should be operational by March next year — Pattiseema and Polavaram (after its completion) projects are expected to take care of the needs of the delta region while Nagarjuna Sagar and Srisailam water can be utilized for Rayalaseema. The principal aim of the entire scheme is to manage available water resources in a more efficient way.
Despite some convincing facts, fears have been expressed over the project’s impact on environment and doubts raised about the need for Pattiseema project and its cost. Allegations of corruption too are galore.
Ecologists fear irreparable damage to the environment because of the link canal. Loss of habitat in the canal area, change in water tables and soil conditions are some of the concerns. Since the two rivers have different characteristics and water compositions they can adversely affect fish grounds and aquatic life in estuaries. Environmentalists see a big threat to mangroves and the delta system because of curtailed water discharge into the sea.
Project opponents have questioned the need to construct Pattiseema when Polavaram is designed to serve the same purpose. When Pattiseema is only a stop-gap arrangement, why Chandrababu Naidu got it executed on a war footing is the refrain.
Among the allegations are the exorbitant project cost and lack of transparency. The estimated project cost was Rs 1007 crores. But the AP government had hiked it by about 20 per cent while awarding the contract to MEIL Company. Normally, 5% increase over the estimate is permitted. But 15% more was offered to complete the project within the stipulated period. Since it was completed ahead of the deadline, the contractor will get the extra amount. Thus the total cost will now stand at Rs 1,300 crores. The opposition alleges kickbacks in the deal.
Despite legal and rival challenges, the TDP government has succeeded in linking Krishna and Godavari, a dream of lakhs of farmers in AP who are expected to benefit immensely. If the scheme is successful, it may pave the way for linking more rivers in the coming years. (See Rivers of politics)