Telangana IT Minister KT Rama Rao has reportedly been invited to deliver the inaugural address at the Environmental and Water Resources Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The event, which will be held in California in May, expects to see KTR address delegates from around the world, about the ‘Mission Bhagiratha’ scheme that the Telangana government has launched.
This came a day after the Tamil Nadu Rural Development officers were reportedly impressed by their Telangana counterparts, as they were all praise for the scheme.
According to reports, the TN officials even indicated the possibility of replicating a similar scheme in their state.
In fact, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao has already said that his party, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), will not fight the 2019 polls if this project is not completed.
So what exactly is the Telangana government’s initiative and what are its merits and demerits?
What is Mission Bhagiratha?
According to the government’s own website, Mission Bhaghiratha, “is conceived to provide 100 litres per capita per day (LPCD) treated and piped water to every household in rural areas, 135 LPCD in municipalities, and 150 LPCD in municipal corporations.”
The state plans to do this, by laying pipelines that stretch across 1.30 lakh km, which would tap the surface water of rivers and major reservoirs in the state, and transport them to individual households, mostly via gravity, or via industrial pumps.
The project is expected to cost over Rs 40,000 crore.
These rivers involve the Godavari and Krishna, reportedly supplying 34 tmcft and 21.5 tmcft respectively.
Besides the Sri Sailam project, situated at the border with Andhra, the state also plans to tap water from other places like the Paleru Reservoir, the Nizam Sagar Project, and the Jurala Dam.
The idea itself, is not new, and was first proposed and implemented by KCR in the 90s, when he was the Siddipet MLA.
The Siddipet Drinking Water Project cost Rs 60 crore, and involved lifting water from the Lower Manair Dam and supplying it to every household in about 180 villages in the constituency.
How will the project be funded?
Initially, the state said that it would be funded by loans from banks and other financial organizations.
Telangana Finance Minister Etela Rajender, “The Water Grid project (Mission Bhagiratha) and 2 BHK houses would be funded by money borrowed from banks and other financial institutions. As all these schemes will be funded, no budget has been allotted to these in the 2015-16 budget.”
In 2016, it was reported that two more public-sector banks have extended a loan of Rs 4,270 crore for the flagship programme, in addition to a loan of Rs 6,750 crore which seven banks had already agreed on.
In total, KCR has claimed that banks and financial bodies are ready to lend up to Rs 22,000 crore for the scheme.
However, this approach has been criticised by policy experts including PRS Legislative Research, in its analysis of the 2017-18 Telangana budget.
Pointing out that such public sector undertakings borrow money, with the government providing the guarantee, the report also quoted the risks identified by the 13th Finance Commission and the RBI.
“While contingent liabilities do not form part of the states’ debt obligations, but in the event of default by borrowing entities, the states are required to meet the debt service obligations of these defaulting entities,” the commission had noted.
The PRS report also added that such guarantees also posed a risk to the finances of the state.
In the 2017-18 budget, the state has allocated Rs 3,000 crore for the scheme.
Though works had begun earlier, the initiative was officially flagged off in August last year, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Earlier that same month, Megha Engineering and Infrastructure Ltd (MEIL) said that they had completed first phase of the project, ahead of the scheduled time, in Gajwel.
Gajwel, is KCR’s present constituency, and MEIL claimed to have connected 66,837 households with 1,520 km of pipelines, at the cost of Rs 548.40 crore.
In October 2016, the state decided to buy all electromechanical equipment from public-sector BHEL, after the ‘attitude of some companies who quoted high price in response to the tenders called by the state government.’
KCR also said that the state had taken a decision to give water to Dalit and tribal habitations first, as “they were neglected all these years and the change should start with drinking water supply.”
By the first week of November 2016, drinking water had reportedly reached another 600 habitations in the area surrounding Gajwel.
Following demonetisation, the state faced a severe cash crunch, but said that its flagship programmes would go on.
In December, more funding began to pour in, as Andhra Bank pledged a Rs 1,300 crore loan for the project.
As of now, KCR has instructed that all the works under Mission Bhagiratha should be completed by the end of 2017.
“There is no dearth of funds for the Mission Bhagiratha. Financial Institutions have already pledged about Rs. 30,000 Crore. We have to speed up works at the ground level and that should be our aim as on date. Coordinate with all the departments for the pipeline works. Get clearances from the National Highways, state Highways, Panchayat Raj roads, Railway crossings, Canal crossings, River/Rivulet Crossings. Get the forest clearances faster. The district Collectors should be asked to play a proactive role in this,” he had said in January this year,
He also added that all key works had to be completed before June, when the monsoon could slow down the project work.
According to reports, the state is even providing the contractors with material, to speed up the work.
“We will supply the material worth over Rs 2,900 crore. The contractors only need to dig up the road and lay pipelines,” rural water supply engineer-in-chief Mr B Surender Reddy had earlier told TOI.
However, the scheme has not been without controversy.
The Opposition Congress party in the state has disrupted Assembly proceedings more than once, alleging irregularities in implementation of the project, while also questioning the process of tenders of the scheme.
Alleging that it was a Rs 10,000 crore scam, Congress leader Venkat Reddy said, “I have lodged a complaint with the State Vigilance Commission which is probing the allegations. I will also lodge complaints with Central Vigilance Commission and Central Bureau of Investigation against the irregularities in Mission Bhagiratha works.”
Even the BJP has criticised it, with MLA Kishen Reddy calling it “a money-spinning scheme without implementation.”
In response, KTR has refuted all allegations and even asked the Congress leaders to move court if they have any proof.