Deccan Chronicle

Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project: Time for an expert review

Deccan Chronicle| Dr. Biksham Gujja

Published on: July 4, 2020 | Updated on: July 4, 2020

The overall objective of entire KLIP is to pump 2 TMC of water from Godavari to irrigate18 lakh acres and provide water to industries

Since quite lot of money has been already spent, now it is not the time for discussing the merits or otherwise of this irrigation project. DC Photo

Since quite lot of money has been already spent, now it is not the time for discussing the merits or otherwise of this irrigation project. DC Photo

On  30th May 2020, Kondapochamma irrigation project has been inaugurated in the presence of Telangana state CM, K. Chandrashekar Rao. This is one of the components of the massive irrigation project known as Kaleshwaram Lift irrigation project, KLIP, on Godavari river.

The KLIP is very complex, with nearly 11 stage pumping transporting water through canals, tunnels and storing water in massive water tanks.  The overall objective of entire KLIP is to pump 2 TMC of water from Godavari to irrigate 18 lakh ac, and provide water to industry and urban areas.

The KLIP estimated capital cost in Detailed project report, DPR was of Rs.80,000  crores. This reported to have increased to Rs.100,000 crores.

Since quite lot of money has been already spent, now it is not the time for discussing the merits or otherwise of this irrigation project.

Discussion should focus on the following points:

1. Completion of the project as mentioned in DPR at the estimated cost

2. Transparency about the project, its current status and realistic completion dates

3. The costs of operation and maintenance, O&M,  of the projects

4. Using the water judiciously

This article examines these points and provides some clarity on the project and suggests steps to increase the transparency of this massive project, Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project.

In Telangana, Godavari water is at lower level water needs for irrigation is at much higher level, so water need to be lifted through pumps and lift irrigation is capital intensive.

KLIP is particularly even more complex, since it involves 12 stages of pumping, that means same water has to be pumped 12 times to reach the final destination. Though several inaugurations of this project have happened, but the project is no where near completion and promised water for irrigation has not yet delivered, except a fraction of it.

So it is important to know three things a) When this KLIP in its entirety as mentioned in DPR will be completed b) When water for 18 lakh ac will be delivered c) What is the actual capital costs of this project as described in DPR

First KLIP was estimated to be Rs.40,000 crores then became Rs.80,000 crores and now it is being reported Rs.100,000 crores. Most probably, this will reach at least Rs.160,00,000 crores as and when completed. The project was originally, as per the DPR supposed to irrigate 18 lakh ac. but now it appears it has been revised to 36 lakh. So it is time for clear picture of what this project is and when this will be completed.

With revised cost of Rs.100,000 crores, this works out Rs.5,50,000 per ac. These are called capital costs. To maintain this project, as and when it is completed, every year, Government need Spend money for electricity, for repairs, for all other things.

This works out at least minimum Rs. 50,000 to 100,000 each ac the project supposed to provide irrigation, depending on what we are including in the costs. But certainly, the O&M costs  will not be below Rs.50,000 per ac per season.

The Kondapochamma component: As mentioned, KLIP has several components, each linked to other and water need to be sequentially has to come stage wise.

For example the Kondapochamma was inaugurated as per the news, but unless the earlier stages such as Mallanna sagar and other pumping stations are completed from Medigadda, such inaugurations raise expectations but will not deliver any water.

They synchronisation of these stages is extremely important. It is not each stage is completed, but it has to be done sequentially. Kodapochampalli is water tank, built over 4,400 ac, evacuating three villages.  

A circular bund with 15.8 km with nearly 40 m hight has been built at the cost of Rs. 3,500 crores. All this infrastructure is only useful provided the capacity to pump water before this stage has been established. Water will have to come nearly 300 km away after passing through 11 pumps to reach 620 metres RL.

In order to irrigate 2,85,000 ac, as stated, at least 45 TMC of water is required. This means the tank has to be filled three times at least. In order to pump 1 TMC of water from Medigadda at least Rs.50 crores of electricity is required at Rs.5 unit cost. This means in order to get the required water, 45 TMC to irrigate 2,85,000 ac, the electricity cost would be close to Rs. 2,200 crores.

That means every ac of irrigated with this water, Government is going to spend Rs. 80,000 on electricity alone. If we include all other costs, without capital costs, it would exceed Rs.1,00,000 an ac per season. Though the project has been inaugurated, its utility is no where near.

Benefits to farmers: As and when this project is completed, this would be one of the most expensive water ever used for irrigation in entire world. The cost of water delivery per ac would be for entire project at least Rs.40,000 per ac, this could go as high as Rs.1,00,000 for the components like Kondapochamma sagar.

The operation and maintance costs of water delivery far irrigation, may far exceed the entire value of crops. So every year, Government of Telangana has to spend two times more money  over the projected benefits to the farmer. This has to be spent every year.  This is not considering the several other aspects a) Government spending to maintain these structures b) accidents like the one happened on 11th June c) repair costs c) the other costs.

So what can be done?

Now that so much borrowed money has been spent on this project, naturally people will ask, what can be done?, Since we spent so much money, we can’t stop this project. Sure no one is asking that, but it is time to look at this project in order to learn some lessons before jumping into expanding it further.

The following steps might help in improving the performance and avoid even more costly expenditure, which might lock the state in a permeant financial crisis for decades to come.

Stop any expansion: Stop any new plans for expansion of lift irrigation, before completing already planned one. So complete what is at hand and show that water can be lifted and supplied to irrigation at the earliest way. This is to prevent over burden on the state finances.
Start the distribution canals.

Lifting of water to reservoirs is only one part, the other part of irrigation is distribution of water to 18 lakh ac as mentioned in DPR, start the canal work, just bring water to reservoirs will not reach. Complete the canal work so that water can be used as and when it reaches.

Publish the timelines for completion of  this entire project when it can provide irrigation as per the DPR. Publish the details of each district, mandal and village where this water is going irrigate as  per the DPR. This will have to be done immediately so that there is some transparency about where water is going to be reaching.

Publish financial spending of this project:  The project is being build mostly with loans on commercial interests. Publish the details, from where loans are takne and terms of such loans including re-payment schedules. So that people know, the cost of this project and the burden.

Commission independent review: Always it is better to review such projects. It is time for mid-term review with Independent experts. The review will not cost much with few lakhs of rupees, this could be done in three months. Select reputed people so that credibility of the report is ensured. This could save tens of thousands of rupees.

Publish a white paper: There is so much confusion, so many contradictory and conflicting reports by Government agencies about this project. Each time the area to be irrigated changes, each time projects costs are modified only towards several hundreds of crores. So it is time to publish a white paper on this project.

Finally, the Government of Telangana not only should do the good thing but seem to be doing good thing. By initiating actions on above mentioned points Government will clarify many doubts and apprehensions about this project.

It is possible our analysis is wrong. This Kaleshwaram project may indeed be irrigating 36 lakh ac, may indeed a great boon for the state. If that is the case, an Indipendent review could confirm those benefits. Such actions mentioned above will clarify these questions, which keep coming about this project.

What is the final cost of pumping 2 TMC of water as mentioned in original DPR? Is it Rs.80,000, is it Rs.100,000 or is it Rs.160,000

What is the area this project is intent to irrigate and where? Is it 18 lakh ac, is it 24 lak ac, is it 36 lak ac. When this project is going to be completed as mentioned in the DPR?

What would be the Operation and maintance O&M cost when it is completed with these revised capital costs?

How much money has been borrowed so far and from whom and how much is required to complete this project?

What would be the re-payment schedules and when does it start?

In the meantime, farmers who were supposed to have got water from July 2019, the date on which the project was supposed to have been completed, should get at least Rs.40,000 an ace as direct cash transfer.

This is the minimum amount Government is going to spend on O&M cost of this project as and when completed.  When water has been provided for the farmers, such cash support can be stopped.

Finally, it is important to clearly mention here, water can be transported from anywhere to any where. Godavari water can be pumped to Everest mountain. Technically that is possible. But such venture would at least meat the costs if not generate the profits.

Surely, Telangana farmers need water in order to get a benefit. If Government is spending on this project far exceeds the value of the crop itself, it does not make any sense.

It is better to pass on that cash going to be spent on bring the water. Government of Telangana now conclusively need to prove that, this project is indeed going to benefit farmers. It is public money and Government has responsibility and duty to prove that through an independent review, before it takes up any new expansion. That is not too much to ask in a democracy.

About The Author

Dr. Biksham Gujja is water management expert, earlier Head of water policy, at WWF-International also worked with UN, ICRISAT etc. He is co-author of book on water conflicts in India

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