Kaleshwaram, Telangana’s Baahubalian irrigation project

The Governor for two Telugu states and chief ministers of the three states through which the mighty Godavari river flows were present at the inauguration of the multipurpose Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation project, touted as a Baahubalian project. The Telangana government claims it is the world’s largest lift irrigation project as it envisages lifting at least 2 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) of water everyday over a height of half a kilometre. 

While it is built at a cost of Rs 80190 crore, what makes it different from other irrigation projects in the country is that the Centre has not contributed a paisa to it, according to the Telangana chief minister, K Chandrasekhar Rao. A consortium of 20 commercial banks have lent to this project, with Rs 7400 crore loan extended by Andhra Bank.  

Kaleshwaram will irrigate 45 lakh acres for two crops in a year and also take care of 70 per cent of the drinking water needs of Telangana. Industry will get an allotment of 16 TMC water. 

The presence of Devendra Fadnavis and YS Jaganmohan Reddy at the inaugural was significant because for long there have been inter-state disputes over the Godavari water sharing. The show of unity was to send across the message that states, in the true spirit of federalism, could resolve issues among themselves instead of asking the Centre to be a mediator. 

June 21 was also a significant day because the fight for a separate Telangana was mainly over self-respect and water. The grouse was that all irrigation projects in united Andhra Pradesh were designed to benefit Andhra region and not Telangana. Kaleshwaram, KCR believes, corrects that anomaly. 

The project has a water supply route of 1832 km, 20 lifts, 19 pump houses and 19 reservoirs with a combined storage capacity of 141 TMC. It will need 4992 MW of power to pump 2 TMC of water everyday in the first phase. The requirement will go up to 7152 MW to lift three TMC from 2020.

This will mean Telangana will incur a power bill of between Rs 7000 and 11000 crore just on account of Kaleshwaram. The government has asked NTPC to give it 2000 MW of unallocated power to take care of the extra demand.

That has been one of the criticism against the project if Telangana will have this much power to spend on just lifting the water and whether the project will be financially feasible. 

There is also controversy over how much of the project is complete and whether today’s event can technically be called an inaugural. While the BJP says it is only 20 per cent complete, the Telangana government claims it is 65 per cent complete. The BJP has also alleged that the project cost has doubled from what was initially envisaged due to KCR redesigning the project.

Being celebrated as a modern engineering marvel, with several actors in the Telugu film industry tweeting about it, this project was originally conceptualised by YS Rajasekhara Reddy in 2004. A decade later, KCR redesigned it, laid the foundation stone in May 2016, renaming it as Kalesharam project. 

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