From HT Archive: ‘Temple of modern India’ thrown open | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

From HT Archive: ‘Temple of modern India’ thrown open

By, Nangal
Jul 08, 2023 12:07 AM IST

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru opens the Bhakra-Nangal canal system, aiming to irrigate millions of acres of arid land in Punjab, PEPSU, and Rajasthan.

Amid scenes of great rejoicing and enthusiasm, in which about 150,000 Punjab peasants participated, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru opened on July 8, 1954, the vast Bhakra-Nangal canal system to irrigate several million acres of arid land in Punjab, the Patiala and East Punjab States Union (PEPSU), and Rajasthan.

Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru addresses a gathering of workers and political leaders at the Bhakra-Nangal project site. (HT Archive)
Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru addresses a gathering of workers and political leaders at the Bhakra-Nangal project site. (HT Archive)

To the roar of “Bharat Mata Zindabad” and “Nehru Zindabad “ from the gathering on the right bank of the Sutlej, the Prime Minister pressed an electric button which lifted the sluice gates of the Nangal dam, on the left bank of the river and released the Sutlej waters into the cement-lined Nangal hydel channel.

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The operation was timed at 11.45am. At that moment, hundreds of powerful countrymade bombs exploded on the left bank to herald the beginning of the new irrigation era in North India. Two IAF planes dropped a mass of leaflets proclaiming the benefits that would flow to the people from the mighty project.

Numerous National flags were waving from the Nangal dam across the river. Many banners were also splashed.

In a speech, which drew loud cheers, Nehru described the ceremony as “a very special occasion” and said Bhakra-Nangal was the glowing symbol of India’s determination to go ahead with her progress. It was also the symbol of the nation’s self-reliance and self-confidence to achieve greater tasks and to banish poverty and unemployment from the land.

The Prime Minister spoke of the great advances India was making in several directions.

“India is in commotion. Mother India is in labour, producing and creating things.”

Saying that India had achieved the biggest revolution of the age, Nehru said with great fervour: “We fought for freedom and won it. We are children of that revolution, but that revolution is not yet over. We shall still continue it. We finished it in the political sphere but we have to continue it in the social and economic sphere. We cannot remain static.

“Let no one imagine that the revolution in India was not a revolution because it was a peaceful change. Revolution does not mean breaking of heads. It means changing things in a big way. We made India independent. That was a big change in the world. As the very method of revolution in India was peaceful, people perhaps did not realize what was happening because, unhappily, peaceful construction did not make news. If there was a petty riot somewhere, it was news, but a great piece of work coolly and peacefully done was not news.”

Nehru spoke enthusiastically of his visit to the Bhakra gorge, eight miles from Nangal up the Sutlej River, where construction has begun of the highest “straight gravity” type 680-foot-high dam.

With great feeling the Prime Minister described these sites as “temples and places of worship” where thousands of human beings were engaged in great constructive activity for the benefit of millions of their fellow beings.

“These are sacred places where people invest their sweat and blood and suffer and endure for the commonwealth. These places make the noblest temples, gurdwaras, churches and mosques, to be found anywhere, and I feel more religious-minded when I see these works.”

Declaring the canal system open, Nehru dedicated it to “the good of the Indian people”. A miniature sluice gate in silver was presented to the Prime Minister by Punjab chief minister Bhimsen Sachar to mark the occasion.

The canal system will carry the waters of the Sutlej through 3,000 miles of canals, and their branches and distributaries to irrigate 3,800,000 acres of parched land in Punjab, PEPSU and Rajasthan.

On his arrival, the Prime Minister was given an enthusiastic reception. As Nehru, accompanied by Indira Gandhi, came out of the station, he was cheered by a large crowd present there.

Nehru mentioned at length the canal water dispute with Pakistan and reiterated that India still stood by the 1948 Indo-Pakistan agreement in regard to the Sutlej waters. India did not wish any harm to Pakistan, he said.

“It is wrong to imagine that we want to deprive Pakistan of anything. We are prepared to help them to the best of our ability to make good their own canal system so that they may not only have the usual supply of water but much more. But we are not prepared to continue the present state of affairs and to accept the position which would encourage Pakistan to do nothing in regard to improving their existing canal system,” Nehru said.

While India was prepared to help Pakistan in tapping alternative sources of water, it must be clearly understood that nothing could stop the progress of the Bhakra project, Nehru added.

In 1948, an agreement between India and Pakistan was signed regarding utilisation of water resources of the Indus basin. It was signed by the present Governor General on behalf of Pakistan and Nehru was one of the signatories for India. The main feature of the agreement was that India would gradually divert the water resources for purposes of irrigation in Punjab and that Pakistan would make alternative arrangements.

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