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The Rediff Interview/Sam Kannappan

February 10, 2003

Sockalingam 'Sam' Kannappan, a first generation immigrant from Nattarasankotti in Tamil Nadu, moved to the United States in 1968. Registered as a professional engineer in Texas and with a 25-year experience in petrochemical, power plant, nuclear and offshore design, he is listed in the 12th edition of Marquis Who's Who in the World.

He received the meritorious performance award at the Tennessee Valley Authority for expediting the handling of non-conformance reports and received awards from General Electric and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Kannappan is also a recognised leader in Houston's Indo-American community. The founder of the Bharathi Kalai Manram, a Tamil language and cultural organisation, he is the founder secretary of the Sri Meenakshi Temple in Pearland, Texas.

As chairman of India's Disaster Relief Committee, Kannappan coordinated earthquake relief in Gujarat and met with lawmakers in Washington DC, who approved an additional $ 10 million for earthquake relief.

He subsequently helped Indo-American organisations to jointly raise $230,000 for the victims of September 11.

Currently, he is trying to participate in a project on interlinking the rivers of India.

In an interview to Special Contributing Correspondent Shobha Warrier in Chennai, he talks about his project and his meeting with President A P J Abdul Kalam.

You have been living in the US for several years. What was the reason for you to think about a project to interlink India's rivers?

It all started in October last year after reading in the Indian press about the shortage of water that many states in India suffer from. We also read about the Supreme Court's directive to urgently interlink India's rivers. Some of us friends met in Houston and felt that we, the NRIs and Persons of Indian Origin living in Houston, must offer some assistance to link India's rivers. We met Indian Ambassador-at-large B K Agnihotri who was in Houston then. He said he would talk to the prime minister about the project.

Are you planning to provide technical knowledge available in the US?

I have a friend called Rao Rathnala who owns a company that specialises in infrastructure building like water, roads, etc. He has promised to help me as he has an office in New Delhi. There are many such people over there.

The long Colorado river runs through Texas before it joins the sea. We have an upper, middle and lower Colorado River Authority managed by the Texas government for water usage and distribution. Texas also has an International Treaty with Mexico for sharing the waters of the Colorado and Granty rivers that run between Texas and Mexico.

We have legal documentation models for an international treaty and also a model to depict how river water can be shared and used effectively.

I also met with Texas Governor Rick Perry. He has promised to help me with technical know-how.

I found the amount involved in the project was humongous. Rs 100,000 crore. When a large amount is involved in a project and when you have a deficit budget, no politician would like to commit to a large project.

I have also requested for some support from the Bush Administration; that is, when the Government of India goes for a World Bank loan, the United States should help recommend [the project], as on previous occasions, concerns were raised by the World Bank and UN about the same project.

This time, we promised to give technical remedies so that the project proposal becomes acceptable to the World Bank. If the US recommended the project to the World Bank, it would be beneficial.

When did you meet the Indian authorities?

At the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in January. Mr Chidambaram, who is the principal advisor to the prime minister, was chairing the session when I presented my paper, and he was very appreciative.

I am happy the prime minister has appointed Suresh Prabhu as chairman of the task force to link various rivers in India and he has given a time line to follow. The Supreme Court has given the timeline of 2012 for all links to be completed. They are looking at 30 links, out of which the feasibility study of six links has been completed. It is not necessary that all the links have to be completed at the same time; each link can be taken one by one.

The task force will begin with either one link or all the six links depending upon the availability of funds. After that, they will do the feasibility study of the other 24 links.

You also met President A P J Abdul Kalam. Was it because the President has spoken about linking rivers and written about it in his book?

The President also hails from my village. We all belong to Ramanathapuram district, which is very dry. As children, we have suffered a lot due to water shortage. We understand the value of water.

I was in touch with him even when he was principal scientific advisor to the prime minister. Above all, he was also a technical man like me. So, there was a meeting of minds. Before the meeting I faxed the speech I made at the NRI conference and also what the NRIs were willing to do. He appreciated the technical information I provided. That could be the reason why he gave the appointment.

He spent 30 minutes with me, and said there was a political climate in India now, compared to before, about the linking of rivers. That was because there was a general feeling among all leaders that linking rivers must be done sooner or later. He said if the rivers were linked and an effective distribution of waters took place, it would change the face of India.

Did you tell him about the Texas Water Authority and the know-how you could provide?

It was he who asked me about the Texas Water Authority, Tennessee Valley Authority, etc. There are a lot of new advanced technologies available in Texas in oil drilling, rock drilling, etc. In the old days, you could only drill the shaft vertically downwards but now in Texas deep sea drilling, longitudinal drilling, lateral drilling, inclined drilling etc have been perfected.

We have to do a cost-effective transfer of water. We can bring in these experts from Texas for consultations as Houston is the energy capital of the world.

Did the President want you to do any specific job?

After I came back from the meeting, his office called me and said the President was very interested in the technical parts of my proposals and the details on wharf drilling, etc. He then asked me to continue sending the President further project proposals, what we would like to do, etc.

What are your plans for the project?

I feel NRIs and Persons of Indian Origin can contribute though we have not come up with any dollar amount. But we have asked the Government of India -- 'What do you want us to do?' We have decided to finance whatever the government wants us to do. What we are trying to identify now is the task we need to do. Like I said, since the government has done the feasibility study of six regions, we expect to be a part of one such project. We can also bring in technical experts, not only of Indian origin but foreigners too, who can give realistic project timings.

Are you interested in taking up a particular area to work?

On a personal basis, I would like to work close to Tamil Nadu not only because I belong to the area but also the fact that Tamil Nadu has a severe water problem. We also would like to work in Rajasthan. These two states need immediate attention. With every passing year, these two states are going to suffer more.

When do you expect to start working on the project?

The task force under Suresh Prabhu will come up with immediate action items by mid-2003. We hope we will be assigned at least a small part of this project.

We invite all NRIs and Persons of Indian Origin to join us in this venture because we feel the Indian tax payers' money has educated us. We want to pay back in a small way.

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