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Politics

Telangana Polls: Congress Ups the Ante Against BRS Over Damage to Kaleshwaram Project

The Congress set up 'Kaleshwaram ATMs' as symbols of an alleged scam in constructing the irrigation project. Rahul Gandhi's visit to the project has resulted in a war of words between Congress and BRS.

Hyderabad: The sinking of a couple of piers of a barrage of the Kaleshwaram project – touted as the biggest lift irrigation project in the world, across river Godavari in the Bhoopalpally district of Telangana – has given the Congress party a point of attack on the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) ahead of assembly polls in the state.

The piers at the Medigadda barrage sank on October 21. But, on November 1, another barrage of the same project downstream of the river at Annaram village showed bubbles, reflecting seepage of water underneath the raft foundation of two more piers. This led to the Congress pressing the panic button.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who was supposed to return to Delhi after two days of election campaign in the state on Wednesday evening, called off his departure and rushed to Medigadda to see the site early on the next morning.

Strangely, the BRS government which had always denied permission to the Congress party to visit projects or even hold demonstrations highlighting alleged lapses, facilitated Gandhi’s visit by constructing a helipad on payment of cost by the party. He flew in by helicopter, addressed a public meeting nearby, and then left for Delhi.

The Congress upped the ante against the government over the sinking of piers, by saying that the Kaleswaram project had become an ATM for chief minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR).

It was Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president J.P. Nadda initially and later Union home minister Amit Shah who had said in their public meetings last year that made this claim, noting there was a “scam” to the tune of Rs 1 lakh crore.

Both the Congress party and the BJP have, at regular intervals in the last few years, attacked the BRS government for the project’s alleged faulty design and escalating its cost from Rs 40,000 crore when it was conceived to Rs 1.40 lakh crore now, with some more work pending.

The Congress set up replicas of ATMs, calling them ‘Kaleshwaram ATMs’, to symbolically shed light on the alleged scam in some places. Rahul Gandhi was shown one such ATM at Shadnagar during his campaign. They say: “Kaleshwaram ATM. This century’s biggest scam (Rs 1 lakh crore). KCR = Kaleshwaram Corruption Rao.”

Congress leaders show a replica of ATM, titled ‘Kaleshwaram ATM’, to Rahul Gandhi in Shadnagar, Telangana. Photo: X (Twitter)/@revanth_anumula

Union tourism minister and BJP state president G. Kishan Reddy alerted the Union water resources minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat about the damage at Medigadda as soon as it came to light. The next day, a six-member team of the National Dam Safety Authority, led by its chairman Anil Jain, was constituted to study the issue.

The team carried out a preliminary investigation at the site and suggested a geological investigation after evacuating water from the reservoir, said Sridhar Deshpande, an officer on special duty (OSD) to the chief minister, who also held the irrigation portfolio.

Deshpande said the initial investigation revealed that only one pier caved in due to hollowness caused by sand erosion under its raft foundation. A geological investigation will be done to know the exact cause after dewatering the area and constructing a cofferdam.

He added the sinking of one pier had a cascading effect on adjacent piers and resulted in cracks of slabs in piers on either side of the damaged one.

The reclamation steps will be taken in all eight blocks accommodating the piers after the geological survey. He recalled that the barrage withstood all floods, including the biggest ever in the river last year, since its commissioning in 2019.

Regarding the seepage of water at pillars in Annaram, Deshpande said it was a routine discharge of water from the permeable raft foundation. It was a pressure relief arrangement made as a built-in mechanism with sand filters. Whether the water was released within the permissible limit or not was to be seen. Also, it should be ensured that the water does not carry soil particles, he added.

The irrigation department is evacuating about 10 tmcft of water by opening all 85 gates of the Medigadda barrage to construct the cofferdam and prevent fresh inflows in the river. It has also mobilised hundreds of sandbags and stones to close the affected points in the Annaram barrage.

Senior Congress leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan who was in Hyderabad on Thursday alleged at a media conference that Rs. 97,449 crore belonging to state public sector undertakings was spent on the Kaleshwaram project so far. The burden on people due to debt servicing will go up to Rs 25,109 crore by 2040, Chavan claimed. There was a 250% hike in project cost due to price escalation. “Where did all the money go?” he asked.

BRS minister K.T. Rama Rao had earlier said there would be no burden on the state exchequer due to the sinking of piers as the barrage was constructed by L&T under a defect liability period of five years. Seven ultra-critical pumps at the pumping station at Medigadda were submerged during heavy floods last year. The contracting agency undertook the repair work.