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NRIs keen on river linking project

By Shobha Warrier
June 25, 2003 20:18 IST
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Sockalingam 'Sam' Kannappan, a first generation immigrant from Nattarasankotti in Tamil Nadu who migrated to the United States in 1968, eagerly awaits a meeting with Suresh Prabhu, chairman of the task force on interlinking rivers in India during his visit to Texas this week. 

Prabhu, now touring the US, is expected to be in Houston on June 25 and Austin on June 26.

Last October, Kannappan, who has more than 25 years of experience in petrochemical, power plant, nuclear and offshore design, read a report about the project which seeks to link India's major rivers within 15 years to tackle droughts, floods and disputes over the sharing of river waters in the country.

He then organized some of his friends in Houston to offer whatever help they could for this project. This was followed by a meeting with Bhishma K Agnihotri, India's ambassador at large for People of India Origin who was in Houston at the time. 

Realising that the phenomenal cost (estimated at an astronomical Rs 560,000 crore or Rs 5.6 trillion) would probably put off most political parties from investing in it, Kannappan urged the Bush administration to support India when it sought World Bank aid for the project.  He also pledged to use his technical expertise to ensure that the proposal report would be acceptable to the World Bank.

Interlinking the Ganga and the Cauvery, first mooted in 1972 by then irrigation minister Dr K L Rao, envisaged a 2,640-kilometer long Ganga Cauvery link. Then in 1977, the Morarji Desai government dusted off and revised the Dastur Plan, also known as the Garland Canal, first proposed by Captain Dinshaw J Dastur in the mid-1940s.

In July 1982, the National Water Development Authority was created to carry out surveys and prepare feasibility reports. In September 1987 the National Water Policy stated that its prime goal was to interlink national rivers. But nothing has been done till today.

Like all the other previous ruling parties, the National Democratic Alliance also, in its election manifesto, promised interlinking of rivers. The political resolution of the BJP National Council meeting at Nagpur (August 27-28, 2000)  urged the government 'to consider a time bound programme to link the waters of the Ganga and the Cauvery.'

The NDA government finally came up with a revised National Water Policy in April 2002 and appointed a Special Task Force to monitor the project to interlink India's major rivers in December 2002.

Kannappan believes he could help get technical experts, both Indian and foreign, who could  give realistic project timings.

In Texas, Suresh Prabhu will meet with the secretary of state, Texas, officials of the Lower Colorado River Authority, Ratnala & Bahl Inc, a major engineering firm, and Skand Tayal, consul general of India at Houston. This was possible after Kannappan spoke to Texas Governor Rick Perry. "He arranged for the secretary of state to meet with Suresh Prabhu at 10 am on  June 26th in the State Capitol, Austin, to know how Texas would be of assistance for the linking of rivers project in India," Kannappan told  

Prabhu's meeting with officials of the Lower Colorado River Authority is important, for Texas has the long Colorado river running through the state before it flows into the sea. There is an Upper, Middle and Lower Colorado River Authority in Texas managed by the Texas government for water usage and distribution. Texas also has an International Treaty with Mexico for sharing the water of the Colorado and River Granty which run between Texas and Mexico.

There are legal documentation models for an international treaty and also a model to depict how effectively river water can be shared and used. According to Kannappan, there are a lot of new advanced  technologies available in Texas like oil drilling, rock drilling, etc. 

Ratnala & Bahl Inc would make arrangements for Prabhu to see the Colorado River Authority.

Asked if he expected Prabhu's visit to be fruitful, Kannappan replied: "I do not want to set high expectations. We will do our best for his visit to be fruitful. During his visit, he will have an opportunity to see and hear about large water resources projects done by major American companies. The size of these past projects is huge. The presentations on June 25th in Houston will give the scope, successes and lessons learnt in these large projects."

Consul General Tayal has arranged a meeting of like-minded Indian Americans with Prabhu where he would present the current status of linking the rivers.

Prabhu will also meet Tom Reid, mayor of Pearland, Texas, and discuss how water districts work in municipalities in the US. "Cities such as Pasadena use Trinity river water pumped through a water transfer canal. He would get a good idea about how water resource projects are handled in Texas," Kannappan says.

Asked if he felt that the task force was going a bit slow, Kannappan replied, "Response from any democratic government for complex issues may come slow. Long perseverance is required for any one who wants to get involved."

Under the directive of the Supreme Court, all the links have to be completed by 2012. The Government of India has decided upon 30 links throughout the country. The feasibility study of 6 links has already been completed. The task force will start either one link or all 6 links depending on the availability of funds. It was only after the first phase is finished that the feasibility study for the other 24 links will be taken up. 

"If the Government of India assigns a link to us today, we will start the necessary work tomorrow. Water will flow in that link in record time. Rajan Radhakrishnan from Houston will help in arranging for necessary funds to start the work. I have assurance of assistance from Congressmen from Houston that they will help linking of the rivers project through USAID and the World Bank," Kannappan said.

He plans to ask to work on a specific link such as Krishna to Cauvery at the feasibility study level. "I hope to get the support of the government of Tamil Nadu. In Andhra Pradesh, Rao Ratanala would work on the link from the Godavari to the Krishna for which feasibility study is already completed."

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Shobha Warrier