SRI SATHYA SAI DRINKING WATER PROJECT FOR CHENNAI
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
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 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.