With the recent floods in Chennai, Cuddalore and Tuticorin causing irreparable damage to lives and livestock, water is the buzzword today. Yet ironically, Tamil Nadu continues to fight with the neighbouring State for its share of Cauvery river water. “Had we effectively used the flood flow draining into the sea, we could have prevented the loss and also fulfilled our water requirement,” says A.C. Kamaraj, chairman, National Waterways Development Technology (NAWAD TECH).
Dispute arising over sharing of river water between riparian states has strained relationship between States and also its people. In finding an answer to this perennial problem Kamaraj, who is also the expert committee member of Central Government’s inter-linking of rivers has come out with the Southern Smart Waterways project connecting Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and Tamil Nadu.
“It is part of the “Ganga – Kumari National Waterways Project” (NWP). Our main objective is to implement a sustainable water distribution system so that no State feels deprived,” he says.
Retrieval of flood water is the salient feature of the project that envisages a collection of 1500 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) of flood water annually, which otherwise drains into the sea. If implemented the project aims to generate jobs, provide 2,000 km of smart navigation operational round the year, provide drinking water to people, irrigate lands, operate an effective flood control mechanism and drought mitigation besides fish cultivation, tourism and water sports.
Hailing from an agricultural family in Kuruvithurai near Madurai, Kamaraj is closely associated with farming community and understands their plight. As an Assistant Executive Engineer of Public Works Department in Srivaikuntam near Tirunelveli, he earned a good name for effectively managing the water crisis. The appreciation ignited a spark in him to work for the cause of the peasants.
Blessed with a scientific temper, the Mechanical Engineering degree holder from Annamalai University went to London to study further on water management and also building design. “My job requirement was to supervise civil construction and so I mastered civil engineering on my own,” he says.
He resigned his job to dedicate his time to finding a permanent solution to the water problem. Initially, he supported inter-linking of rivers which was the talking point then, but when States showed no signs of acceptance, he thought the project was not viable and embarked on the smart waterways project as an alternative. “In inter-linking of rivers, water is pumped from one area to the other, whereas in the NWP, the rivers are networked and the returns are great,” he explains.
Every year, from River Godavari alone around 3000 TMC of flood water drains into the sea whereas water requirement for all the three states Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Tamil Nadu is just 25 per cent of it. “Like power grid, we plan to create a water grid where only the surplus water flows. Since we aim to collect only flood flow which is over and above the utility flow there is no problem in getting the acceptance of the States,” he hopes.
The project also envisages the water holding capacity of the canal to be 600 TMC round the year. Once the canal comes into operation, more than 50 rivers in the three states will be networked and more importantly they will become perennial rivers. “Use of hydro power and navigation will drastically bring down the oil consumption reducing pollution levels. The canal circumvents mountainous stretches to prevent pumping costs. Land acquisition is only two per cent of the irrigated land compared to other conventional projects that require 6 to 10 per cent,” says Kamaraj.
“As the concept is new, a meeting of secretaries of Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh with Secretary, Ministry of Water Resources has been arranged in Chennai on January 27 and 28 to discuss the project,” he says.
Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari promised to take up this project during his recent visit to Madurai. “It has been more than 10 years now since I submitted the National Waterways Project to the Union Government,” says Kamaraj and hopes the Government will accept it soon to end the water crisis.