Jayalalithaa will formally commission the project through video-conferencing

A drinking water supply project, conceived nearly 50 years ago for water-starved and fluoride-hit people of Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri districts in north-western belt, is to become a reality on Wednesday when Chief Minister Jayalalithaa formally commissions through video-conferencing.

The project, now called Hogenakkal Water Supply and Fluorosis Mitigation Project, was originally mooted when K. Kamaraj was Chief Minister in the 1960s. Over the years, it witnessed various changes and eventually, when the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam was in power, the project took off.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) decided to fund the 80 per cent of the project cost, which is around Rs. 1,928 crore. A senior official of the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage (TWAD) Board, the executing agency, says that in terms of cost, this is the biggest taken up by the Board.

But, the significance of the project is not just about the cost. It is going to serve people in a region, which is among less developed in many respects.

As per an estimate of the funding agency, the districts of Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri had, as of 2006, about 1.1 million people living below poverty line.

According to 12th Five Year Plan document of the State Planning Commission, human development indices of the Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri districts are 0.748 and 0.707 against the State’s overall figure of 0.765.

Known for chronic water shortage, the two districts receive less rainfall compared to many other parts of the State. Their average annual rainfall is 815 mm whereas the State’s annual rainfall is 977 mm. But, what affects them more is the presence of fluoride, harmful to the human body, in the groundwater. People suffer from dental and skeletal fluorosis, says a note prepared by the funding agency.

A document of the Municipal Administration and Water Supply Department [under whose administrative control comes the TWAD Board] states that among 3.8 lakh school students assessed for dental fluorosis, the intensity of the problem was severe in respect of three per cent of the students while it was moderate in the case of 10 per cent.

Taking into account all these aspects, the authorities have designed the project, which will benefit about 3.3 million spread over three municipalities, 17 town panchayats and 6,755 rural habitations in the two districts.

Using Cauvery as the source, the project can take care of the requirements of four million. On completion of the project, all rural habitations will have the prescribed norm of 40 litres per capita per day (LPCD) and the urban local bodies, 135 LPCD, adds the official.

Classic case of cost overrun

The Hogenakkal water supply project presents a classic case of cost overrun.

When it was sought to be revived nearly 25 years after the project was mooted in the 1960s, the project was estimated to cost around Rs. 110 crore.

In 1986, when M.G. Ramachandran was Chief Minister, he had come up with a scheme to benefit people of three others districts too — Tiruvannamalai, Vellore and Cuddalore — along with Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri. [Now, the project covers only Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri].

As a mark of remembering Kamaraj who had originally mooted the scheme, MGR had even named it as “Kamaraj Plan Project,” Ms Jayalalithaa said five years ago when she, as Leader of Opposition, led a walkout of her party members from the Assembly over a controversy involving the Hogenakkal project.

After Ms Jayalalithaa became Chief Minister for the first time in 1991, the project was sought to be given a fresh lease of life again and in 1994, the project cost was revised as Rs. 450 crore.

When the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam came to power in 1996, the cost went up to Rs. 600 crore. Even at that time, Japanese assistance was sought. When it looked like the approval of the Japan government was only a matter of formality, the 1998 Pokhran nuclear blasts took place. Consequently, economic sanctions were imposed on India. Years later, the project was revived once again and in August 2005 when the AIADMK was in power, the cost rose to Rs. 1,005 crore, and remained the same when the project was posed to the Japanese authorities in 2006.

In four years, the cost almost doubled, owing to one reason or the other. In 2010, it went up to Rs.1,928.8 crore from Rs.1,334 crore.

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