Early bricks of development

Early bricks of development

Early bricks of development
The rich tapestry of paddy fields that stretches for miles on both sides of the road on the way to Hampi, a renowned UNESCO world heritage site of the State, indicates the ‘change’ that the Tungabhadra Dam has brought to the lives and landscapes of the region.

The dam, built across River Tungabhadra, is significant to the State in many ways. While it creates one of the important water reservoirs of the State, the majestic view of the dam attracts tourists from across the country and even outside.

Vicious dry spell

River Tungabhadra has been the lifeline of the people of this region from time immemorial. It is said that the rulers of Vijayanagar harnessed this water source by constructing over 10 small dams across the river. After the fall of the empire, the condition of these irrigation systems deteriorated and gradually, the structures lapsed and the entire region reeled under a dry spell.

For many centuries, drought and flood were common in the vast dry zone of eastern plains of North Karnataka, and lack of a sustainable water source added to the agony of people. The great famine that hit the region in the 1870s took a massive toll on the people. It was Sir Arthur Cotton, a British officer, who conceived the idea of constructing a dam to help improve the living conditions of people. It is believed that the British felt that building a dam is more economical than undertaking famine relief measures. Arthur Cotton, who was also a reputed irrigation engineer, prepared a detailed plan of a dam across River Tungabhadra, but the project did not start due to financial constraints.

Later in 1902, Colonel A W Smart, the then chief engineer of Madras Irrigation Department, prepared a project report on the construction of a dam and submitted it to the first Indian Irrigation Commission. A T Mackenzie, who succeeded Smart as the chief engineer, submitted another proposal in 1906, which envisaged the construction of a reservoir near Hosapete. But the project didn’t take off due to conflict of interests among the rulers of four states — Hyderabad Nizam government, the Bombay Province, the State of Mysore and Madras Presidency — which had access to the river. 

In the 1940s, the Hyderabad Nizam appointed Engineer C C Dalal and the Madras presidency deputed a team of engineers under M S Thirumalai Iyengar to survey and identify the location and design for the dam and its canal systems. Two independent project proposals were prepared and the British government at Madras accepted with certain modifications, the project report prepared by Thirumalai Iyengar. He had suggested construction of a reservoir with a capacity to store 133 tmc feet of water near Hosapete. The foundation stone for the dam was laid on February 28, 1945 by the prince of Berar (Nizam of Hyderabad) on the left side of the bank and Sir Arthur Hope, the governor of Madras, on the right side.

As the construction was a joint venture, there were differences of opinion on many issues including design and method of execution. A committee, called the Board of Engineers, was formed under the chairmanship of Sir M Visvesvaraya to oversee the activities and resolve technical glitches. Finally, after years of conceptualisation and execution, the dam became functional in 1953. Over 90 villages were shifted for the purpose. After its completion, the dam became a joint project of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Once the irrigation system was put in place, agriculture flourished in the region. The farmers began harvesting good crop that changed the picture of entire command area of Tungabhadra Reservoir. The paddy-growing area of Gangavati and Sindhanur came to be known as the ‘Rice Bowl’ of Karnataka. Now, apart from paddy, a variety of crops including sugarcane, banana, sunflower and cotton are grown using water from the dam, which provides irrigation facility to around 16 lakh acres of land. The availability of water led to the establishment of a number of industries in the region. Fishing became a major livelihood activity after the construction of the dam. Fishing is done in Tungabhadra Reservoir through pen culture. All these activities have helped improve the socio-economic conditions of the people.

Biodiversity hotspot

River Tungabhadra is a biodiversity hotspot with innumerable aquatic life. Apart from hundreds of fish species, the river is home to smooth-coated otters, marsh crocodiles, and giant soft-shelled turtles. The 35-km stretch of the river from Tungabhadra Reservoir to Kampli Bridge has been declared as Tungabhadra Otter Conservation Reserve by the Government of Karnataka in April 2015.

In the pre-dam period, iconic grassland species like blackbucks, chinkaras and cheetah were flourishing in the region. Tigers were also sighted. The construction of the dam converted dry lands into irrigated swamps and it resulted in the gradual disappearance of these species. The huge reservoir that is spread over an area of 378 sq km now attracts many species of water birds including migratory birds from the northern hemisphere. It has also become a breeding ground for many species of birds.

Threats to the dam

Due to less rain in Western Ghats, the dam received less inflow of water this year. This has affected agriculture and thus, farmers in the region. Siltation has proved to be another threat to the dam. Over a period of 60 years, about 33 tmc feet of silt has been deposited in the dam, affecting its storage capacity. The reasons for siltation are excessive and unscientific agricultural activities, disposal of garbage, release of industrial effluents and domestic sewage into the upstream areas. Excessive use of chemical fertilisers in agriculture is resulting in the overgrowth of water hyacinth and other weeds. As the water level goes down, farmers try cultivating crops in the basin of the reservoir. Borewells have been dug and electric poles have been installed close to the reservoir affecting breeding of birds during summer. Strict measures  should be taken immediately to prevent further deterioration of the dam.

Tourist attractions

The Tungabhadra Board, which consists of a chairman and six members, oversees maintenance of the dam and proper distribution of benefits to the states concerned. The board also runs a mini-hydel power plant. The board has two main wings — Irrigation Wing and Hydro-electric Wing and supervises smooth functioning of dam-related activities.

The garden unit of the irrigation wing  has developed attractive gardens near the dam site. Nandanavana, the first garden to be developed, was planned on the lines of Brindavan Garden at Krishna Raja Sagar Dam near Mysuru. The Japanese Park is known for ornamental plants and an attractive aquarium, Parnaja. Pampavana in Munirabad, Vaikunta Guest House, Rose garden, Chakravana, Trivenibag, deer park, aviary and musical fountains are some other places that attract tourists. A multimedia theatre called Chaitanya at the dam’s gate house is used to provide information about the history of the dam, its management and its impact. It also screens documentary films on related issues.
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