Telangana government readies Kaleshwaram’s Medigadda project fiasco as ammo to target BRS

Irrigation Minister Uttam Kumar Reddy summoned Irrigation Department officials and L&T officials, who said that they would no longer fund the repairs.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published Dec 19, 2023 | 9:40 AMUpdatedDec 19, 2023 | 9:40 AM

Telangana Chief Minster Revanth Reddy Medigadda Barrage Kaleshwaram Lift Project

The Revanth Reddy-led Congress government in Telangana is keen on exposing the alleged poor quality of construction of the Medigadda (Lakshmi) Barrage in the Assembly when it meets on Wednesday, 20 December.

The Medigadda Barrage is part of the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Scheme (KLIS), which the previous government — led by the BRS — considered one of its greatest achievements. The KLIS is touted as the largest in its class of projects in the entire world.

Chief Minister Revanth Reddy is now in the process of obtaining details of the project, including how it had been constructed, how the safety precautions were given a go-bye, and who should be responsible for the sinking of its piers.

The chief minister announced in the Legislative Council on Saturday that he intended to order a judicial probe led by a sitting high court judge into the circumstances that led to the sinking of pier number 20, which impacted two piers on either side — piers numbered 18,19 and 21, 22 on — 21 October.

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Uttam Reddy speaks to contracting agency

Irrigation Minister N Uttam Kumar Reddy summoned the Irrigation Department officials and those of L&T, the contracting agency for Medigadda, on Monday.

He reportedly made no bones about the government’s intention to get to the bottom of who was responsible for the fiasco.

The minister told L&T Group Director SV Desai in clear terms that the government would not remain a mute spectator to what has happened in the past and wanted to know how the construction could be so substandard.

He is said to have told the L&T officials in clear and unambiguous terms that they could not wash their hands off the matter by writing a letter to the Irrigation Department stating that the maintenance contract was over and that it was the government which would have to fund the cost of the repairs.

“We will not spare anyone responsible for the colossal waste of public money,” he said.

He asked the officials to submit a comprehensive report on the disaster to him as soon as possible. He said that the contracting agencies for the Annaram and Sundilla projects would also be summoned. They would have to explain why the two projects were leaking, too, he said.

“If anyone responsible for the sinking of the piers of Medigadda and the leaks at the two other projects tries to get off the hook, the government will take action in accordance with the law,” Uttam Kumar Reddy said.

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CM Revanth wants answers

The chief minister, at a review meeting with officials at his residence on Sunday, discussed the legal implications of the letter that L&T had written and whether it could back out from its responsibility of restoring the project with its own funds.

L&T, in a recent letter to the Irrigation Department, is understood to have said that since the period of the maintenance contract was over in March, it did not have to bear the expenditure for the restoration, as the piers of the project sank on 21 October.

The contracting agency is understood to have said that the government had to first release money for the construction of the coffer dam to divert waters to facilitate an assessment of the damage to the piers. Only then would it be able to tell the government exactly how much it could cost.

The chief minister had also asked on what basis the agreement was reached with L&T for the construction of the project and, in the wake of the recent letter by it, what should be the way forward.

He also wanted to know how much the repairs to the project would cost and whether the state government had enough resources to undertake them.

KCR a financial terrorist: Revanth

That Revanth Reddy is serious about the Medigadda fiasco is no secret. After inspecting the damage to the piers of Medigadda along with Congress senior leader Rahul Gandhi on 4 November, Revanth Reddy said that the party, after coming to power, would excoriate those responsible for the shoddy construction of the Medigadda Barrage.

He had called the then-chief minister K Chandrashekar Rao a “financial terrorist”, and alleged that he had used the Kaleshwaram project as a smokescreen to loot people’s money.

“KCR changed the original design and constructed a different project. He has said that Kaleshwaram was his creation, which implies that action should be taken against him now for the poor construction quality,” he said, adding that Kaleshwaram fell victim to KCR’s thirst for money.

He added: “KCR killed Kaleshwaram and Kaleshwaram will now kill KCR.”

After the visit by the National Dam Safety Authority (NDSA), the CWC had written to the state that Medigadda Barrage was now useless in its present condition until it was fully rehabilitated.

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Caution given, ignored?

In his letter to then-Irrigation Department Special Chief Secretary Rajat Kumar, CWC Member (Design and Research) Sanjay Kumar Sibal had said that the NDSA, whose team inspected the Medigadda Barrage between 23 and 25 October, said in its report that the distress condition that developed in one block of the Medigadda Barrage was adversely affecting the functionality of the entire barrage.

He also cautioned that the damaged block of Medigadda might have to be structurally restored to make it functional.

He referred extensively to the report submitted by the NDSA to explain the damage caused to the project and how the state government had ignored its statutory responsibility of undertaking operation and periodic maintenance per the laid-down norms.

He also pointed out that the NDSA had regularly asked the Telangana State Dam Safety Organisation (TSDSO) to conduct pre- and post-monsoon inspections to check for any unusual behaviour or signs of distress.

But it appears that this was not complied with, he said, thus attracting provisions of Section 41 (b) of Chapter X of the Dam Safety Act of 2021.

“There appear to be many areas where compliance with the DSA, 2021, was missing, which is a serious matter as the barrage has a high risk potential for life and the economy,” he said.

The CWC member, expressing concern over the condition of the two barrages constructed upstream from Medigadda under the Kaleshwaram project — Annaram and Sundilla — have similar designs and construction methodologies, making them prone to similar failure modes.

Signs of “boiling” already exist downstream of the Annaram barrage, a precursor to failure. These barrages also should be examined urgently for signs of piping or distress, he said.

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NDSA review of Medigadda

The NDSA deputed a team of officials on 23 October to visit the Lakshmi (Medigadda) Barrage of the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project (KLIP) and study the reasons for the sinking of pillars No 15 to 20 of the sixth to eighth blocks on the night of 21 October.

The committee, constituted as per Schedule II of the Dam Safety Act of 2021, interacted with all the stakeholders, including officers of the Water Resources Department of Telangana, the State Committee on Dam Safety (SCDS), and the TSDSO, the agency involved in the construction of the barrage.

The team visited the Medigadda Barrage after Union Tourism Minister G Kishan Reddy made a request to the Ministry of Jal Shakti.

Kishan Reddy, in his letter to Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekawat, raised concern over the release of 10 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) of water by opening all 85 gates after the piers sank.

He said that it was not only a waste of water but also posed a threat to the safety of people living in the villages downstream. He recalled how the Annaram and Kannepally pump houses of the Kaleshwaram project were submerged due to the floods last year.

The minister specifically sought an inquiry into whether foundation investigations were done and whether the “borehole samples” were taken to know how much compaction needed to be done before the project designs of this barrage were made.

He also wanted the inquiry to cover whether the river cross-section studies were done at both pre- and post-monsoon times to study the upstream and downstream cross-sections and compare the model studies with ground reality.

He said that the piers seemed to have failed because the soil was still settling and it was not treated properly.

“This indicates that it is a fit case of foundation inspection failure. The inquiry should also cover whether the designing responsibility was given to the construction agency under the EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) method or whether the designs are done by the State Irrigation Department’s CDO (Central Design Organisation), and responsibility needs to be fixed accordingly,” he said.

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About the Medigadda Barrage

The Lakshmi Barrage, also known as the Medigadda Barrage, is strategically positioned at the inception of the project, just downstream from the confluence of the Pranahita river. This juncture ensures a minimum assured flow of 300 tmcft of water.

The Kaleshwaram project — claimed to be the largest such lift irrigation project in the world — is designed to facilitate the lifting of 160 tmcft of water annually, at the rate of 2 tmcft per day.

The first component, known as the Lakshmi Barrage — in conjunction with the Lakshmi Pump House — is responsible for the water-lifting operation from this point.

Upstream along the Godavari river, the Saraswati Barrage is the second structure, and the Saraswati Pump House is tasked with the responsibility of water lifting from this location.

Subsequently, the system includes the Parvathi Pump House, which channels water to the long-standing Sripadasagar-Yellampalli Reservoir. From this reservoir, water flows to the Gayatri Pump House, located underground.

Parvathi, Saraswathi, and Lakshmi are the newly-constructed barrages, each with a daily water-lifting capacity of 2 tmcft. Unfortunately, the Lakshmi Barrage is currently in a state of disrepair and water lifting from this particular barrage is temporarily halted.

The original design specified a maximum discharge capacity of 28.25 lakh cusecs of water. Astonishingly, last year’s flood surpassed this capacity, reaching 28.7 lakh cusecs.

The inauguration of the Lakshmi Barrage took place in 2019, in the presence of the then-chief minister KCR and the then-chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Lakshmi Barrage is 1.6 km long with a storage capacity of 16.17 tmcft, which can irrigate thousands of hectares of land and provide water to millions, including the citizens of Hyderabad.