Hyderabad: As the is stage set for the formal inauguration of Kaleshwaram, billed as the “world’s largest multi-stage lift irrigation scheme” and dethroning Colorado lift project in the US, this Friday, position parties and experts have raised questions about the economic viability and the cost of the massive project across River Godavari.

While Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is set to dedicate the project to the nation in the presence of his counterparts from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra in Bhupalapally district, several experts have found fault with the design and the cost of the project, notably its huge requirement of power.

The project was on the anvil for decades as typical topography of Telangana with river at a lower plane and parched lands on higher altitudes required lifting water by more than half a kilometre. Built on the confluence of Godavari and its tributary Pranahita in Bhupalapally district, 261km from Hyderabad, the project was initially estimated to cost Rs800 billion ($11.52 billion) but has now been inflated to Rs920 billion and is likely to increase further by the time it gets completed

While on the completion the project will have 19 pump houses, with only four operating initially, including the one at Medigadda, lifting two Tmcft of water per day.

“The government has already spent Rs500 billion and only 15 per cent to 20 per cent of work is completed,” said Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka, the leader of opposition Congress in the state assembly. He demanded that the government should come out with a white paper on the project.

However, the project is hailed by many as an “engineering marvel” as it will lift 250 Tmcft of water per annum from Godavari to an altitude of 650 metres to irrigate about 4 million acres of land in 13 districts through a network of barrages, canals and pipelines. Thunga Lakshminarayana, a socioeconomic analyst, said that the project was indeed a good one and will prove beneficial to the state. “Water in Godavari will be available in July-September period and the Kaleshwaram project will lift it to 19 reservoirs”, he said.

However, as it will require about 6,000MW of power, an analyst in the power sector M Venugopal Rao said that the cost of the power might end up over-burdening the farmers and that the government was not coming out with all the details. “It will depend on how the government manages the demand and supply of power. If it has to purchase the power from the open market, then it will be a very costly affair.”

Former minister Marri Shashidhar Reddy, who had visited Turkey and several other countries to study similar lift irrigation projects, said that hailing it as world’s biggest irrigation project was not going to fetch any medal to the state. “It could be the biggest but the question is of its economic viability. Where was the necessity of taking the water to such a height to fill the barrages and then supply it”, he said, adding that the project could have been designed in a better way.

He said that borrowing funds from the private banks for this project has only added to its cost. “The state government did not make any serious efforts to get national project status for Kaleshwaram from the Centre” However, KCR has argued that despite repeated requests by him, the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre did not give a single rupee as assistance to the project.

State BJP president K Lakshman also demanded that the government should come out with the details of expenditure of the project. “As the project was built with public fund, people have every right to know every aspect of it including the expenditure on it”.

D Prabhkar Rao, Chairman and Managing Director of Telangana State Power Transmission Corporation, said that all the required power infrastructure was in place at a cost of Rs289 billion to supply power to the Kaleshwaram pump houses. It includes 15 dedicated sub-stations to meet the demand of power for the heavy duty pump sets. Rao further said that when the project lifts 2 Tmcft, the power required would be 4700MW, and will increase to 6760MW from the next year onwards when it would lift 5 Tcmft. The state government has expressed interest in buying 2000MW of power from the National Thermal Power Corporation during the July to November period.