Thursday, 21 June 2012

The beauty of engineering marvels from the past – Ganga Canel System


Ganga CanelI recently happened to be traveling from Delhi to Dehradun by road. Somebody advised me to take a left along the canal near ‘Muradnagar’ and drive along the canal till ‘khatauli’ to avoid congestion. The journey turned out to be a real beauty in terms of the world of engineering and enterprise it opened for me. The wonder from the past (over 150 years old) that was introduced to me was Ganga canal system. The beauty and grandeur of the canal system, the prosperity that it brings the region and its antiquity simply took my breath away. The area abounds in rich flora and fauna and has immense scenic charm.
Ganga CanelDigging into its history a little I discovered (thanks to Wikipedia and other sources) that an irrigation system was felt necessary after a disastrous famine in 1837-38 that resulted in considerable loss of revenue and expenditure in relief works for the British East India Company. Around 1900, according to the Nuttall Encyclopedia of 1907, it had a total extent of 6,000 km, of which 800 km were navigable. The canal is primarily an irrigation canal, although parts of it were also used for navigation, primarily for its construction materials. Separate navigation channels with lock gates were provided on this system for boats to negotiate falls. Originally constructed from 1842 to 1854, for an original head discharge of 6000 cusecs. The Upper Ganges Canal has since been enlarged gradually for the present head discharge of 10,500 cusecs. The system consists of main canal of 272 miles and about 4000 miles long distribution channels. The canal system irrigates nearly 9,000 km² of fertile agricultural land in ten districts of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Today the canal is the source of agricultural prosperity in much of these states.
DamOne of the moving forces behind the canal was Colonel Sir Proby Cautley, who was confident that a 500-kilometre canal was feasible. There were many obstacles and objections to his project, mostly financial, but Cautley persevered and after spending six months walking and riding through the area taking measurements, he managed to persuade the British East India Company to sponsor the project. It is a pleasure to visit house of Cautley (popularly known as ‘Dam Kothi’) at Hardwar, the locale and the beauty of which is simply breathtaking. Today it functions as a guest house of the Irrigation department of the state of Uttarakhand.
GangaDigging of the canal began in April 1842. Cautley had to make his own bricks, brick kiln and mortar. It is truly impressive to notice the pioneering spirit that would have enabled all that. Initially, he was opposed by the ‘pandas’ at Haridwar, who felt that the waters of the holy river Ganges would be imprisoned; but Cautley pacified them by agreeing to leave a gap in the dam from where the water could flow unchecked. He further appeased the priests by undertaking the repair of bathing ghats along the river. He also inaugurated the dam by the worship of Lord ‘Ganesh’, the god of good beginnings. This really has some lessons for active stakeholder management and active community involvement in large projects.
Among the engineering challenges the project faced was the problem of the mountainous streams that threatened the canal. Near ‘Roorkee’, the land fell away sharply and Cautley had to build an aqueduct to carry the canal for half a kilometer. As a result, at ‘Roorkee’ the canal is 25 meters higher than the original river. Similarly the system of gates (most of them still functional) at many locations to meet challenges posed by falls is impressive. The canal also offers power generating potential at couple of places and indeed has some quaint power generating stations.
The joy of discovering these systems besides spending a quiet moment with yourself, lies in recognizing the making of India, saluting the human enterprise, knowing the local communities and their culture, appreciating local flora and fauna and maybe fueling the imagination of youngsters. The Other Home offers many options to explore this rich and wonderful region around the Ganga Canal System.

1 comment:

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