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Sri Sathya Sai Baba Service Activities

  From distress to relief
Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project for Chennai

Source: Radio Sai E-Magazine, February 1, 2004

For more than two thousand years, India has been well known in Europe, especially for its spices, and there was regular trade as well as exchange of goods. Even knowledge [e.g., in mathematics and astronomy] flowed from India to the West. Traders and travellers from Europe came to India via the land route, which was also followed by Alexander when he invaded India. Subsequently when Muslims began to control the Middle East, the land route became blocked, and trade plummeted. Europe was keen to somehow resume contact with India and that was how the search began for a sea route. It may be recalled, that one of those who wanted to discover this route was Columbus.

Columbus sailed forth seeking a sea route to India, and as is well known, Columbus ended up discovering an altogether new continent. The challenge of discovering a sea route to India continued to remain, and it was Vasco de Gama of Portugal who finally made it. Thus it was that the Portuguese became the first to establish colonies in India. The other big powers quickly followed suit, and the British landed on the East Coast of India in early eighteenth century in what was then a small fishing village known as Chennaipatnam. Here they built a fort [Fort St. George, that exists to this day], and rapidly spread their influence all over the South, eliminating in quick succession the Dutch and the French. Under the British, Chennaipatnam became Madras, and grew to first become a town, then a city and finally a metropolis. Incidentally, Madras has recently been renamed Chennai. It is from Madras that the British later fanned out to the North East and still later to the North West to finally establish the Indian part of their Empire. Our story is all about the water problem of Madras/Chennai, and how Swami has provided the final solution.

There are no big rivers near Madras and thus, as far back as the late nineteenth century, there was a water problem. In 1884, a British Engineer named Fraser gave thought for the first time for an organized water supply system for the city of Madras. At that time, Greater Madras had a population of about 4.7 lakhs [approximately half a million]. Fraser suggested that a small dam be built across a river flowing nearby. This river is mostly dry but gets water during the NE Monsoon. A dam was built, and water from it was taken through canals to two reservoirs named Sholavaram and Red Hills. At that time, this water was used not only for providing drinking water to Madras but also for cultivation. The water to the city was taken to a filtration plant in a region of Madras city called Kilpauk, before distribution to the public. This plant exists to this day.

Some years later, the supply of water for irrigation was stopped, and the stored water was used exclusively for drinking purposes. In spite of this, the reservoirs were inadequate since the city demand kept on increasing. One more reservoir was built, this time at Poondi, but once again demand soon outstripped supply.

In the early sixties of the twentieth century, the Government at the Centre recognized the problem of Madras and announced that some steps would be taken to bring water from the Krishna River in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh to the city. A formal agreement to this effect was signed in 1968, whereby the States of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra each agreed to release annually, form their share of Krishna water, 5 TMC [TMC means thousand million cubic feet] of water from the River Krishna for the city of Madras. Thus, Madras was to get annually 15 TMC of Krishna water. But how exactly to bring that water over such a long distance? That scheme would require a lot of money which then was not in sight. Krishna water for Madras remained a concept.

Towards the end of the sixties and in early seventies, the Government of Tamil Nadu [the State in which Madras is located] planned a scheme called the Veeranam Project to bring water from the Kaveri river in the south. This project collapsed, having become enmeshed in corruption scandals. All that remained were huge concrete pipes lying by the side of the coastal road near Madras, and big ditches dug to lay the pipes.

The Veeranam Project having failed, the Tamil Nadu Government decided it was time to think seriously about Krishna water. It then made a deal with the Government of Andhra Pradesh for bringing Krishna water to Madras. Basically, the water of Krishna River stored at the Srisailam dam in Andhra Pradesh was to be brought by a canal first to a reservoir called Kandaleru reservoir in AP, and from there by another canal about 150 km long to the Tamil Nadu [TN] border. Continuing into TN, the canal was supposed to take the water to the Poondi reservoir in Madras. This was the scheme.

Actually, the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh had a grand idea of a scheme for using Krishna water for irrigation all over AP, and the request of Tamil Nadu gave him the opening he was looking for. If Tamil Nadu gave money, he could use that money to build a canal from Kandeluru reservoir up to the state border. This way, Tamil Nadu would get water and Andhra Pradesh could use the canal to supply water for irrigation in the southern region. The Chief Minister further named the Kandeluru-Poondi [KP] canal as Telugu Ganga.

The KP Canal project was formally launched in 1983 by Indira Gandhi at a formal function in Madras. AP spent about Rs. 2000 crores [1 crore = 10 million] on the entire project [covering large parts of the State], while TN gave about Rs. 500 crores for the KP canal or Telugu Ganga project as it was called. AP of course dug canals all over the place whereas TN was interested only in the canal linking Kandaleru to Poondi. As mentioned earlier, AP wanted to ride piggy-back on this KP canal for supplying water for irrigation to the southern region of AP. Years passed and finally, the Kandaleru-Poondi canal of the Telugu Ganga project was deemed to have been completed in 1996. A function was also held to mark the ?completion?.

At that time, it was said that of the 15 TMC released every year from Kandaleru, about 12 TMC would reach Poondi, after allowing for evaporation and other losses. However, from 1996 to 2000, the annual flow was quite poor. In some years, it was a miserable half TMC or so! There were many reasons for this poor performance. Firstly, the canal had been reduced to a long ditch, having caved in many places due to erosion; that reduced flow. Next there was seepage, which too reduced flow. Thirdly, farmers all along the route could easily dig diversion channels and take away the water. That in short is how the Telugu Ganga scheme failed to deliver.

Meanwhile, the problem of Madras [now renamed Chennai] started becoming more and more acute. It was at that juncture, that Bhagavan Baba made His dramatic and totally unexpected announcement on 19th January, 2002. It was the occasion of the first anniversary of the Super Specialty Hospital in Bangalore [the hospital was opened by PM Vajpayee one year earlier]. A grand Health Meet had been organised to celebrate the anniversary, and during the inaugural function, Swami gave a Divine Discourse. Naturally, He spoke a lot about health, health care and all that. But suddenly and most unexpectedly, Bhagavan Baba started making a reference to the drinking water problem of Madras. He said that He was greatly moved by the plight of the people there, especially the slum dwellers. He had received much Love from the people of that city and He wanted to do something for them. The rich there could buy water from tanker service but what about the poor? They had no recourse except to polluted water. They were already suffering from malnutrition and various diseases. And now, polluted water made matters even worse. He had to do something for them, and He was determined to do so. That was the essence of the dramatic declaration made on 19th January, 2002.

Discussions were then started with AP Government. Since Baba?s Trust had already executed various water projects in AP bringing drinking water to over two million people, the CM of AP was ready and eager to co-operate with Baba and do all that was necessary so that Baba?s promise to Chennai became a reality. After technical examination, it was found that water flow to Chennai was minimal because the original Telugu Ganga Canal linking Kandaleru [in AP] to Poondi [in TN] had become dilapidated. So, it was decided to literally rebuild the canal all the way [about 150 km] and Baba?s Trust took upon itself the responsibility of funding the entire project. In practice this meant a) making improvements to the reservoir in Kandaleru so that it could hold enough water to serve even during dry seasons, b) deepening and widening the canal as required, and c) lining the canal with the LATEST technology to totally eliminate seepage.

This work, has been going on steadily since mid 2002, and has now been completed. Related works in TN are also in progress and on the verge of being completed. As always, Baba took personal interest, constantly monitoring progress. Meanwhile, as an expression of gratitude to Bhagavan Baba for all that He has done, the government of Andhra Pradesh has decided to rename the project as Sai Ganga, from the earlier ?Telugu Ganga?.
This is an extra-ordinary development in national affairs. At a time when inter-state water disputes are the order of the day, here is an instance, probably the only one of its kind, where a private charitable trust, commanding the love of the people, is able to execute a project to bring the water of the river in one state to the people of another.

Madras which now has a population of over seven million is at last beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. Finally, it seems that the nightmare would be over soon, thanks to Baba. People wonder what Baba gets by way of return on His ?investments?? This question was raised during a UN Habitat Meeting at which a presentation was made by the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust about Baba?s water projects in AP, where nearly rupees 300 crores had been spent. The Trust representative replied that while others view returns purely in financial terms, for Baba, returns meant the Love that the people gave back.. In fact, when the projects in AP were first started, Baba?s guideline to the Trust was to bring drinking water to as many people of Anantapur district as possible, in as many villages as possible, in as short a time as possible, no matter what the cost and difficulty. People wonder where the Trust gets so much money to be so magnanimous. Baba says that it is Love that makes it all possible.

Love is something people normally wax eloquent about. But Baba with His projects [free education and free medicare] has shown again and again that Love can move mountains! The Chennai project is demonstrating that one more time.

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