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Irrigation project on Godavari river set to raise Telangana’s debt

At an estimated cost of Rs 80,000 crore, Kaleshwaram is the costliest lift irrigation project in the country involving the construction of three barrages.

india Updated: Jan 26, 2019 23:17 IST
Srinivasa Rao Apparasu
Srinivasa Rao Apparasu
Hindustan Times, Hyderabad
Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao inspects Annaram barrages under Kaleshwaram Project lift irrigation scheme, Bhoopalpally. (PTI FILE PHOTO)

The Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Scheme, being constructed on the Godavari river in Telangana, is set to escalate the mounting debt of the state further with the government going in for massive borrowings to complete the project, as Delhi has turned a deaf ear to its plea for central assistance.

With an estimated project cost of Rs 80,000 crore, Kaleshwaram is the costliest lift irrigation project in the country, involving the construction of three barrages, reverse pumping of water from Godavari into three major reservoirs and diverting it into a huge and complex system of reservoirs, water tunnels, pipelines and canals.

As per the Detailed Project Report, the Kaleshwaram project will utilise nearly 200 thousand million cubic feet (tmc) of Godavari river water, including 134 tmc to irrigate 18.25 lakh acres, another 34.5 tmc ft for stabilisation of already irrigated area of six lakh acres, 10 tmc towards drinking water and 16 tmc for industrial purposes.

The Telangana government has taken up such a massive project with its own financial resources, besides borrowing heavily from various financial institutions. So far, the government has spent over Rs 40,000 crore on the project, including borrowings of Rs 20,550 crore from various commercial banks, besides another Rs 12,067 crore from the Power Finance Corporation (PFC). The funding is being released in tune with the progress of the project works.

On Wednesday, the government approved a proposal to borrow another Rs 8,685 crore from the PFC, taking the overall debt component of the Kaleshwaram project’s funding to more than Rs 40,000 crore. “The latest borrowing from PFC is meant for funding mostly the power component of the lift irrigation scheme, as it involves erection of various electric pumps and construction of sub-stations,” Sridhar Deshpande, Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao said.

Deshpande said the project of such a gigantic magnitude would need liberal funding from the Centre, but so far, it had not received a penny despite repeated representations from the state government.

According to him, the first phase of the project will be completed by April or May.

Such a huge borrowing would add to the debt burden of the state government. As per the budgetary figures, the outstanding borrowings of the state went up from Rs 70,000 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 1.7 lakh crore in 2017-18 and is expected touch Rs 2 lakh crore by 2018-19. “This indiscriminate borrowing in the name of Kaleshwaram is not a healthy sign. The state requires another Rs 13,000 crore for annual operations and maintenance cost. Right from the beginning, we have been telling that the cost-benefit ratio of the project is very less. In the name of redesigning [the project], the TRS government escalated the cost from Rs 34,000 crore to ₹80,000 crore just to benefit contractors,” alleged former minister, Marri Shashidhar Reddy, the previous head of the Forum for Utilisation of Godavari Waters.

Deshpande, however, said the burden on the state would come down if the Centre declares Kaleshwaram as a national project with 100% funding. “The chief minister is hopeful of achieving national project status to it, once there is a favourable government at the Centre after next elections,” he said.

Telangana BJP official spokesman, Krishna Sagar Rao, refuted the TRS government’s allegations that the Centre had turned down state’s pleas for funding the Kaleshwaram project.

“KCR just submitted some frivolous letters to the Prime Minister asking for funds. He did not follow the due procedure of submitting detailed project reports to the Centre,” he said.

In July 2018, Union minister of state for water resources, Arjun Ram Meghwal, told Rajya Sabha in reply to a question from Congress MP, T Subbarami Reddy, that the Central Water Commission had not received any proposal from the Telangana state government seeking financial assistance for the Kaleshwaram project.”

First Published: Jan 26, 2019 23:10 IST