Even as his counterparts in the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka squabble over sharing the Cauvery waters, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has suggested the revival of a three-decade-old scheme to link the Ganga and the Cauvery.
Naidu discussed his views on the ambitious project with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani in New Delhi last month.
Dr K L Rao, an irrigation engineer who had served as Union minister for over a decade, had first suggested the Ganga-Cauvery link as the core of a 'national water grid' back in 1972.
According to Dr Rao's proposal, the 2,640km long Ganga-Cauvery link would withdraw 60,000 cusecs of flood flows from the Ganga for 150 days a year and pump 50,000 cusecs of this water over a height of 1,800 feet for transfer to the peninsular region while using 10,000 cusecs in the Ganga basin itself.
The proposal envisaged the use of 2.59 million hectare metres of Ganga waters to bring an additional four million hectares under irrigation in central and south India.
The estimated cost of the project three decades ago was Rs 12,500 crore (approximately US$2.58 billion at current exchange rates).
Subsequently, the Central Water Commission examined Dr Rao's proposal and observed that the scheme would require almost 7,000 megawatts of power to lift the water. It would also have no flood control benefits. The proposal was therefore not pursued.
But over the last three weeks, Naidu has made fervent pleas for reviving Dr Rao's grandiose project, not only as a permanent solution to the nation's water problems, but also as a way out of the internecine disputes among states over the sharing of inter-state river waters.
He has pointed out that the benefits of the Ganga-Cauvery link would be many, with the project tackling the recurring cycles of drought and flood in various parts of the country. The flood-prone states of north India and the drought-prone states of the South would benefit from such a project, according to the chief minister.
Further, the project would lead to an improvement in the groundwater table across central and south India, more availability of surface water, and a better environment. The socio-economic benefits would include reduction of poverty and overall economic development of backward regions. It would also prove to be an efficient way of managing and conserving water sources.
The Ganga overflows during the monsoon season every year, resulting in floods in several northern states. A major quantity of the water simply drains off into the Bay of Bengal. If these floodwaters are tapped properly, they could help the water-surplus states as well as transform the water-deficit states.
But close collaboration among different states is essential to realise this ambitious project.
According to Naidu, the Ganga-Cauvery link would involve an outlay of Rs 300,000 crore (approximately US$61.86 billion), which is equivalent to a seventh of India's gross national product for 2001-02.
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