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Monday, Oct 14, 2002

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Godavari: Still a sleeping beauty

S. Gurumurthi


Statue of Sir Arthur Cotton at the entrance to the Dhawaleswaram Barrage across the Godavari, of which he was the architect.

IN THE article, "Inter-State water issues: Towards a lasting solution" (Business Line, October 8) attention was drawn to the wastage of 90 per cent of the Godavari waters into the sea even after irrigating the East and West Godavari districts of Andhra Pradesh. The attempts at utilisation of the Godavari waters need special mention.

The Peninsular River Development Component of the National Perspective Plan prepared by the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) envisages inter-connecting Mahanadhi-Godavari-Krishna-Cauvery rivers and establishing storage points in these basins. The individual components of the proposed inter-connecting project include four major linkages — Mahanadhi (Manibhadra)-Godavari (Dhawaleswaram), Godavari (Polavaram)-Krishna (Vijayawada), Godavari (Inchampalli)-Krishna (Nagarjunasagar) and Godavari (Inchampalli Low Dam)-Krishna (Nagarjunasagar Tail Pond Link).

It has been estimated that this inter-basin water transfer links, if completed, would benefit an additional area of about 35 million hectare (25 million hectare from surface water and 10 million hectare from groundwater) which would be in addition to the ultimate irrigation potential of 140 million hectare anticipated from major, medium and minor irrigation projects coupled with generation of 34 million kW.

Under the Peninsular Component in which the surplus waters available in the Mahanadhi and the Godavari basins are proposed to be transferred to the deficit basins of the Krishna, the Pennar, the Cauvery and the Vaigai, and the storage reservoirs at Manibhadra (on the Mahanadhi) and Inchampalli and Polavaram (on the Godavari) are vital for realising the inter-basin transfers. In this connection, it is necessary to appreciate the history behind construction of the barrage at Dhawaleswaram across the Godavari in the old Madras presidency.

While serving in Godavari District, Major Arthur Cotton, a Superintending Engineer in the Public Works Department in the Madras Presidency, after a careful study of the sufferings of the people in the delta caused by the floods on the Godavari, urged the Board of Revenue in May 1844 that the surest way of converting one of the poorestdistrict into the richest in the Presidency was to create irrigation-cum-navigation facilities in the Delta by constructing an anicut across the Godavari. In April 1845, Major Cotton submitted a detailed report to the East India Company in London for a 120,000 project. He justified the investment with the anticipated revenues that would accrue to the Company by way of land revenue and water charges. His proposal got the assent of the Company.

According to Prof Mohanakrishnan, Retired Chief Engineer, Public Works Department, Government of Tamil Nadu and now Chairman of the Cauvery Water Authority: "The project was a bold one without a prototype in the whole world apart from the anicuts which Arthur Cotton himself had built on the Cauvery, which, however, were on a much smaller scale."

The anicut, twelve feet above the river bed two and a quarter mile long across the river bed was built at Dhawaleswaram with undersluices, two headsluices on either side of the large canals designed to irrigate one million acres to grow paddy and sugarcane.

All the canal links falling in the delta area are navigable with the provision of adequate number of locks. The transport was cheap, movement of produce so convenient and helpful that trade flourished and enriched the countryside. While the benefits that flowed from this major work were rather difficult to quantify, the fluid carried by the river to the sea year after year had now turned out to be liquid gold in the hands of the farmers.

When great famine occurred in South India in 1876-77, and the House of Commons debated measures to mitigate the dangers of such calamities, references were made to the extension of irrigation and the role of Arthur Cotton in the Cauvery and Godavari deltas. Owing to the difference of opinion over the advisability of spending on irrigation in preference to railways, the subject was referred to a Select Committee with Lord George Hamilton, the Parliament Under-Secretary as its Chairman.

In 1878, Arthur Cotton had to appear before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on India Affairs consisting of 18 members (not one of them an engineer) to justify and vindicate his stand that irrigation expansion any day deserves a better investment than railways: "... the railways cannot carry either the quantities, or at the price, that is essential in India, ... or nothing can be more certain than that in the present case the future of India's millions depends greatly upon whether money is still expended upon Railways, to cost 9,000 a mile and carry 30,000 tons at one penny, or upon canals to cost from 2,000 to 8,000 and carry two or three million tons at one twentieth of a penny, and whether districts are to be put into the state of Tanjore, Kistna and Godavari, or left in the state of the rest of the Carnatic last year and of Orissa, Bihar and Central India a few years ago... "

And when Arthur Cotton read criticism by Lord George Hamilton in the House of Commons on January 22, 1878, he prepared a fitting reply and sent it to the Secretary of State for India appealing for justice and due publicity of his defence. The appeal was in vain. Detailing in several pages all the statistics he could gather in defence of the utility of irrigation in a country like India, Arthur Cotton concluded with the following pithy sentence: "My Lord, one day's flow in the Godavari river during high floods is equal to one whole year's flow in the Thames of London."


The Godavari-Krishna-Cauvery linkage can also be looked upon as a project that, besides creating a vital link to the water- starved Krishna and Cauvery, will provide employment to thousands of people in the three States.

Arthur Cotton's explanation of the benefits that accrued owing to the construction of barrage justifying the investment was not only commended but he was knighted and Major Arthur Cotton became Sir Arthur Cotton. Even today one can see the portraits or photographs of Sir Arthur Cotton in almost all government offices in the East and West Godavari districts.

Since much of the Godavari waters still goes waste, the Godavari-Krishna-Cauvery linkage should receive the highest priority. Though the same may be true of the Brahmaputra, utilisation of its surplus waters is fraught with practical difficulties owing to the involvement of other countries.

In the early-1940s, Sonti Ramamurthi, ICS, the then Chief Secretary of the Madras Presidency, prepared a preliminary report on the feasibility of constructing a dam across the Godavari near Bhadrachalam in Andhra Pradesh which borders with Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. However no follow up action was taken on this project after bifurcation of the Presidency.

Apart from providing irrigation to additional areas and contributing to enhanced agricultural production, this project will also lead to creation of employment on a very large scale in the Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

In this connection it needs to be mentioned that the Buckingham Canal conceived by the British was executed purely as a drought relief project — that is, the project got executed only during different spells of drought mainly to provide employment to the agricultural labourers who had been affected by the drought.

Therefore the Godavari-Krishna-Cauvery linkage can also be looked upon as the project to provide employment to large number of people in the three States. Execution of this project during the Tenth Plan, besides creating a vital link to the water starved Krishna and Cauvery will also help reduction of unemployment, which is one of the major objectives of the Plan.

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