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VALUE OF THE WATER OF THE GREAT RIVERS OF INDIA.
As the object of the following paper is to call attention to the extreme value of the water of the great rivers of India, it was written for publication in that country; but in the light of the terrible accounts now reaching England of the misery brought to millions by one of the droughts that affect that part of the empire periodically, I am induced to think that the subject must interest readers in every part of the world, the absence of water being the sole cause of the famine, and an artificial supply from its rivers the only remedy.
The subject I want to bring to notice in this paper is the real value of the water of the great rivers of India. It might be supposed that the striking difference between the condition of the irrigated and unirrigated districts would be so clearly seen that no more writing on the subject could be necessary. And, all honour to the Government and to their bold and skilful engineers, there are already many admirable proofs of what water can do for India. But the fact remains that, while the country in general is thirsting for it, vast volumes are still falling every year into the sea as if it were valueless. It is difficult to understand why all this possession of the country is still allowed to be lost. But it may in some measure be accounted for by the way in which the returns from the existing
works of irrigation are quoted, which is indeed ruinously misleading, and I hope to make this clear to every one who will calmly consider what I write.
All that those works are credited with is the sum paid into the revenue treasury as water- rate, which represents only a small fraction of the increase of production from the effect of the water on the crops in an ordinary season. As there are no other entries in the revenue accounts as returns from the works, that is accepted as the whole return. And so it would be to a private individual or company undertaking the works, on condition of having the water-rate in return for the money spent. But the return to the country is of course an entirely different matter. there is no other return entered in the accounts, no one is to blame for not finding it there. But to ignore all the benefits to the country because they cannot be tabulated is indeed misleading, when the value of the water is discussed with reference to new works projected.
The actual benefits to the country from the water utilised are as follows: First and foremost, wherever the water for the irrigation of the land is carried, that country is free from all risk of famine. What
the money value of this is cannot of course be calculated; but that it should be ignored be
cause it is incalculable is beyond belief. Yet that it is so is proved by the fact that certain works are termed failures, though they have effected this wonderful change in the country, and to this I shall refer again. 2nd, In ordinary seasons, the whole increase of production from the effect of the water, not the fraction only claimed as water - rate. 3rd, In seasons of drought, the whole produce of the land, for not a blade could be grown without it. 4th, In a year of drought, too, there is the saving of the sum spent to keep the people alive, together with the saving of the loss by the non-payment of revenue, and the value of every head of cattle, which cannot be fed by imported food, but only by forage grown on the spot.
The difference between the value of all this and the waterrate is enormous, yet in quoting the returns the water-rate is alone given as the whole return. When Lord Curzon was speaking at Lyallpur of the results of the works on the Chenab which he had just inspected, he is reported to have said that an expenditure of 16 lacs of rupees is "yielding a return of nearly 7 per cent of the capital expended. It is now estimated that the total crop in a single year equals the capital cost of the entire works." The whole of Lord Curzon's speech is of extreme importance; but in these words his Excellency points out, what it is my object in this paper to explain, that there are two distinct ways of viewing
the returns: the one, of 71 per cent as reckoned by the revenue officer; the other, the entire value of the crops as reckoned by the statesman.
There cannot be a question which is the real return to the nation. Hitherto, however, the revenue officer's return has been the one quoted as the whole benefit resulting from the money spent. I must here explain that when it is said that a single crop returns the whole sum spent, this is the case when merely the value of the grain of that crop is estimated, though, as I shall show further on, even this extraordinary result is only a small part of the return from the water utilised.
The next great value of water not alluded to in the returns quoted is its value for navigation, offering the cheapest and most convenient carriage in the world. I do not see any better way of giving an idea of the profit that is realised by this additional use of the water than by giving the value of the navigation of the Godavery canals. There are in that district some 2000 miles of distributing channels, all of use for transport, of which 500 miles are so locked and perfected for navigation that they are, mile for mile, betterbecause offering cheaper carriage and a greater tonnage capacity-than a first-class railway, the cost of which could not be less than £10,000 to £12,000 a mile; 10,000 × 500 5 millions of pounds in railway value-just double the cost of the whole system of the Go
davery works, including those for irrigation, navigation, embankment to guard against flood, and for drainage also, as reported by Mr Walsh, late chief engineer to the Madras Government in the irrigation department.
This calculation, moreover, does not by any means show the whole value of the water used for transport. Besides those 500 miles, there are the other 1500 miles of distributing canals, all available for navigation, and taking the place of our county and farm roads in England. To any one who has been in China this will be evident enough, for in that country, where locks are unknown, every water-surface is navigated. And on all the minor canals of irrigation, down to the very smallest, boats are seen taking manure to the fields or bringing home the harvest, when one man with his puntingpole is doing the work of several carts and of all the men and cattle required for them. The money value of all this, though a vast amount, is another of the ignored returns.
I have hitherto only alluded to the use of water for irrigation for agricultural purposes and for navigation, and I am almost afraid to name the many other all-important though minor benefits conferred on India where water is led, lest it should be thought that I am bolstering up my arguments. I must, however, mention the following, as they are what in other countries would be valued in millions, and their value is
greater in the precarious climate of India than it would be in countries with less treacherous seasons: 1st, Water for domestic purposes. I need hardly do under that head than point to the millions spent in all the great cities of the world for this essential. 2nd, Water for the cattle of the country, as they can no more live without it than man. 3rd, The use of water in giving the great blessing of a well-watered garden to every single cottage in the country irrigated. 4th, The water-power, now a saleable article in India, the Madras Government having advertised it for sale.
To give some idea of the amount of power that may be made available by a more general use of water in the country, I need only mention the fact that in the Godavery system alone there are some fifty falls of ten feet each, distributed most conveniently all over the delta.
In a former paragraph I alluded to certain works of engineering that are spoken of as "failures." One of these sets of works is in Kurnool, the other in Orissa. Both were undertaken by joint-stock companies, with the result that both companies failed, and the Government took up the works to complete them at its own cost. Of the causes of the so-called failure I need say nothing, as my object is solely to show what has been the result to the country by the works as they now stand. And I think it will be admitted that it would be
difficult to point to any national outlay that was ever better spent.
Kurnool was a country which, in years when the rain failed, suffered from the worst horrors of famine. This can never occur again as long as the works exist. If there was nothing else to say of the return from the expenditure, this change in the condition of the country would be all sufficient to justify the outlay. But what Lord Curzon says of the Chenab works may be said again of these. A single crop of the grain raised has repaid the whole outlay. After all I have written, I need only say that Kurnool has, inclusive of a perfect navigation, all the benefits before enumerated.
The Orissa case is more striking still. First, because that district was liable to the double affliction of drought and flood, both of which have been removed for ever. And, secondly, because the works have been carried out more completely. In that country not only the years of drought were calamitous, but in other years the river Mahanuddy overflowed its banks, which was almost as disastrous to the country as the failure of the rains. As long as the works are kept in order, neither of these afflictions can occur again. In fact, the works are a complete counterpart of the Godavery system in irrigation, navigation, embankment, and drainage. These works have cost 2 millions, and again the value of a single crop has repaid the whole capital, leav
ing all the other benefits of the water as clear gain to the country.
As an illustration of one of those benefits, the traffic carried along 408 miles of the Orissa system of canals amounted in the year 1897-98 to 1,317,800 tons-representing in ton-mileage 70,539,090 tons, and a saving to the community in cost of carriage of from 1 to 11 million sterling-conveyed by over 99,300 boats; while the trade at the ports, which previous to the commencement of the works amounted to under £100,000, has now reached over £1,000,000 sterling per
Now let me say something as to the water available to produce these happy results. There is an idea that there is little more to be done with the great volume of water I have before alluded to, and that only those rivers that are supplied by the snow of the northern mountains can afford a safe supply. This is altogether a mistake. It would be a mistake if I were only calling attention
to the constant supply, for every large river that crosses the country has water in it even in the driest seasons. In the late year of drought the most southern of the great rivers (the Cauvery) supplied the district of Tanjore, where there was no famine or fear of it.
But in looking to the future the great supply to be considered is not the perennial volume available, but that which is carried during the
monsoon freshes. This is an enormous volume in every river, and even in the last year of drought the Cauvery had an early fresh that fresh that amounted almost to a disastrous flood. To utilise these freshes the water must be stored, which will entail an expenditure much greater than the sum spent heretofore on hydraulic works. And why not? If the value of the water as I have detailed it is once fully recognised, there will be no occasion for any extreme caution as to the outlay. And it will be no longer necessary for the engineer to fight for money for his works, as was the case all through the thirty-three years of my experience. Every year fresh calls will be made on him for extended works, and every possible encouragement will be given to the most successful-I might almost say, the most sanguine-projector, the very reverse of what hitherto has been the case.
I must now say a few words on the effect of a more general supply of water in the country on the railways. I need hardly do more than point to the way in which every great country in Europe and also the United States have of late awakened to the fact that, in spite of all they gain by their railways, they made a grievous mistake in neglecting their waterways. All are now spending money in improving and extending them. The additional prosperity that will result from them will, they feel sure, be a gain to the railways far exceeding any loss
from the competition in the carriage of the cheaper goods. The effect of this will be to convert a poor country into a rich one, and in so doing to fit it for a more rapid or more expensive means of carriage. The poor country cannot afford railway speed, a rich one may. In the state of New York this far-seeing and statesmanlike view is so thoroughly followed that the tolls have now been entirely removed from the great Erie Canal. And it is proposed to spend at least nine million sterling more upon it, with no other return to justify the outlay than the better prosperity of the country certain to result from it.
It will, I fear, appear like dictation on my part if I make any suggestion as to the first step to be taken towards utilising the water now lost; but I may plead that the dullest lad in a gipsy camp might teach Lord Curzon how make a basket. And my long experience as an engineer amongst the natives of India has made me thoroughly acquainted with my subject.
I will venture to say that the first step required is that the Government should show its determination that no more of this great treasure of water should be lost. The effect of this would be to correct the idea, now generally prevailing, that the question is of minor importance. The value of the water being admitted, the only thing required is the engineering skill that can utilise it. Great engineers, like great poets, are