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Between the cup and the lip

Chandrababu Naidu graciously agreed to heed to the request of O Panneerselvam to help quench the acute water problem of Chennai.

Between the cup and the lip

CHENNAI metro which suffered a deluge of excess rains during November-December 2015, has experienced a severe shortage of rainfall, of 57 per cent, during the current year. The combined storage of the four reservoirs of the city at Poondi, Chembarambakkam, Red Hills and Cholavaram that cater to the drinking 

water needs of the city, has dropped precipitously to 1.3 tmc feet against a capacity of 11.05 tmc feet. Already the water supply to the 8.2 million population of the metro has been cut from 830 million litres per day (mld) to 550 mld, and the summer is still a couple of months away. And Chennai suffers a long spell of hot weather right from March extending up to September. Unlike most other parts of India Chennai gets its rains only during the north-east monsoon from October to December. 

Naidu agreed to provide some quick relief. There were expectations of 1 tmc feet of water for meeting the immediate need. But look at the reality: the AP government released from the Kandaleru reservoir at a flow rate more than 1000 cusecs (28,300 litres per second). After 12 days the flow rate had reduced to a paltry 1.93 cusecs (55 litres per second) in its passage of 152 km through the Telugu Ganga canal linking Kandaleru with Poondi. 

The Telugu Ganga canal began as a good example of cooperation among states to quench the thirst of Chennai metro which lacks a perennial source of supply for drinking water. Thanks to the combined initiative of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M G Ramachandran, the three states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh had agreed to supply five tmc feet of water each from their share of Krishna water. 

It took some time to complete the details of the project which finally boiled down to providing 12 tmc feet of water every year from the Kandaleru reservoir off Krishna river in Andhra Pradesh. Tamil Nadu agreed to bear the cost of construction of the canal which was then estimated around Rs 800 crore.

AP insisted on building an open canal that will facilitate villages en route to draw water for irrigation and drinking purposes. The Chief Minister and planners of Tamil Nadu did not foresee the problems inherent in this: of seepage and drawal of water far more than the original plans by farmers in AP living along the canal. This came in the way of huge shortfalls in delivery from Kandaleru and what reached Poondi. There was also the indifferent releases by the three states. In the last ten years releases have been erratic and were far short of the agreed 12 tmc feet. During 2006-07 to 2014-15 the average was less than six tmc feet per annum; in 2015-16 it was nil thanks to the bounteous monsoon of 2015. In 2016-17 so far the release has been a mere 0.991 tmc feet.

The aging Karunanidhi and the insular J Jayalalithaa did not bother to maintain cordial relations with the chief ministers of other states to ensure compliance with the agreement.  Regular meetings with chief ministers of neighbouring states to resolve such issues have not been done. 

There are other complications and excuses. The bifurcation of old Andhra Pradesh and the formation of Telangana requires the cooperation of the chief minister of the new state. The seepage issue was addressed by the grace of Sri Sathya Saibaba. The Baba entrusted A Ramakrishna of L&T Constructions with the task of lining the Telugu Ganga canal at a cost of around Rs 250 crore. But other issues of theft and over-drawal could not be controlled. 

The later project of laying a pipeline from Veeranam to draw from the Veeranam lake to Chennai Metro initiated by the Jayalalithaa government has addressed these twin issues efficiently and delivers the estimated quantum.

Chief Minister Panneerselvam is of a different make and doesn’t suffer the effects of charisma, large mass following and related egoism. He rushed to the AP Chief Minister for relief. He should extend this initiative to meet with his counterparts in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Telengana as well, as also seek the cooperation of the Prime Minister. –SV


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