Prof.T.Shivaji Rao,

Director, Centre for Environmental Studies,

GITAM Engineering College,


If  Egypt  is the gift of Nile, the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh are the gifts of the Godavari and Krishna figuratively the white and the blue Niles of the Deccan.  Since historical times the conventional practice of irrigation in the valleys of Krishna and Godavari was by mains of surface tanks, canals and wells.  For the first time the large scale utilisation of the river water for irrigation dates back to the 50’s of the last century when a Noble British Engineer who successfully restored the Cauvery irrigation system in 1834  was placed in charge  of harnessing the mighty floods of Godavari and Krishna for irrigating a tract that had been ravaged by devastating  famines very frequently.  This British Engineer who faught against his British bosses to make coastal Andhra the granary of India is none else than  Sir Arthur Cotton who prepared unique designs and completed construction between 1846-1859 the famous anicuts over Godavari at Dowlaiswaram and over Krishna at Bezawada within a unimaginably low cost and short time span.  Major water storage facilities across Godavari, the Krishna Tungabhadra and the Bhima were clearly enunciated by him and referred to various advisory memorandum furnished by him to the Government of India.  Even after his retirement Sir Arthur Cotton campaigned for developing irrigation and navigation of India on a large scale by utilising all the natural water resources.  It was only after India became independent  major dams like Nagarjuna Sagar dam and Tungabhadra dam have been built over river Krishna.  However no such major reservoirs have been built to harness the waters of Godavari eventhough a pioneer Sir Arthur Cotton the father of irrigation in South India  visualised a great future by harnessing Godavari waters not only to prevent the recurring natural catastrophes like famines and floods in these river basins but also to develop inexpensive water transport and more employment generative water transport in preference to more mechanised and expensive and energy consuming rail transport.  At a time when Andhras all over the world are celebrating their achievements in different fields of music, dance, drama, literary and cultural activities it is considered appropriate to pay our homage to Sir Arthur Cotton one of the greatest personalities who devoted most of his life to serve the cause of Andhras in distress and convert their drought and flood prone tracts into smiling green lands of prosperity.

At a time when British administrators like Arthur Welleseley were  expanding their collonial teritory in India.  Arthur Cotton was born on 15-5-1803 in the family of Beron Sir Lynch Cotton of  Chesiar of England.  He was one of the 11 brothers  6 of whom had distinguished careers in Government services.  In the Biography of  Sir Arthur Cotton published by his daughter Lady hope the author states “These brothers, “were  a noble body of men, handsome, clever, brilliant in conversation, their callings were useful and without a blemish, not one of them had a personal enemy, so honourable had been their lives through all the vicissitudes of their different careers.  Some of them, however, because of the strength and honesty of their convictions had very determined opponents, Arthur in particular.  But his most inveterate opponent, who perhaps, was the late Sir George Campbell, K.C.S.I., testified to his great ability and the nobleness of his aims”.

As a child when he was playing with the criss cross of rain water he is call them “canals” and this indicates his bent of mind and an inborn instinct for doing things pertaining to irrigation.  As an intelligent and able boy he obtained a cadetship for India at the age of 15 and joined the Military Seminary at Addiscombe where candidates were trained for the Artillery and Engineering services of the East India Company.  His performance was so good that he obtained in appointment in the Royal Engineers without taking any examination.  in January  1820 Lieutenant Cotton started his career with Ordinance Survey in Wales and prepared an excellent report which was highly commanded.  At the age of 18 he was appointed to  service in India.  He left England in May 1821 and reached Madras in September and he was directed to work with the Chief Engineer  of Madras presidency.  From 1822 to 1827 he worked as Assistant to the Superintendent of Tank Irrigation Department and partly worked on military duties notably in the first Purmies war.  While in Burma he was asked to play cards after dining with his principal officer to whom he lost  20 in the gamble from then on he began to hate card playing a dislike which he losted all his life and he never allowed his children to play with cards.  While returning from Burma  Cotton sat on the deck of the ship and suddenly began to admire  the sea and the stars that eluminated the sky and realised that these creations are the  work of God, the great creator.  He felt that the Bible is word of the God and began to read it to know what God says gradually he began to see life in a fresh light.  Hunting, card playing, dancing, amusement and recreation became distateful to him and it pained him to see that some gentlemen and women were wasting their time in such pleasure seeking ways.  Infact he was seeking the spiritual life and wanted to consecrate his energies to the God who  manifested Himself to his heart.  The sole enquiry in hismind was “How shall I live my life for God?  What shall I do for his glory and for the benefit of men.   After he returned from Burma he was appointed to undertake a marine survey of the Pamban pass between India and Ceylone. After 8 years of service he was made a Captain and put incharge of Cauvery irrigation system which was a need of  major repairs and restoration.


A terrific famine ravaged Godavari districts from 1832 to 1841 and consequently the East India Company deputed Sir Arthur Cotton in 1844 to study the problem and recommend for remedial measures, cotton found that the only solvation lies in utilising the Godavari waters for irrigation by constructing a weir across the four mile long river at Dhavaleswaram   on the recommendation of Sir Arthur Cotton the construction was started in 1846.  Although Godavari district was one of the most backward districts in the old Madras Presidency after completion of the Godavari anicut in 1852 it became the second most prosperous district, the first being ofcourse  Tanzore after getting inspired by the grand anicut built on Cauvery by the native Indian rulers, Cotton developed the courage to adopt simple and sound design on the win principles of indestructibility and incompressibility  of sand when confined effectively and the crucial role of skin-friction under well foundations.

Cotton had implicit faith in the British rule, which he literally worshipped and he was quite innocent about politics.  When the British officers were constantly harping on the need for development of railways under the pretext of facilitating transport of food grains all over India - the real object was movement of military – he went on arguing in favour of Irrigation since he was innocent about the real intentions of the British Government.  Infact  there are no adequate stocks of food grains for transported  by railways.  His missionary zeal as a true Christian to produce more food grains to feed the millions of hungry mouths of Indians he always pleaded for more and more of irrigation schemes for national prosperity.  Consequently his critics remark sarcastically that his brain was full of water and the conservative engineers used to condemn him as reckless, adventurous, dangerous and foolish person.  The bureaucrats criticised him by pleading constantly that money could not be wasted on the wild demands of an Engineer.  The critics of cotton used to say that famine was only ones in 10 years in any track and hence one need not bothered about them.  Cotton had many critics and few admirers among Government officials as well as in general public.  Cotton had an uphill task to promote irrigation for eradication of recurring famines and for increasing purchasing power of people, the agriculture labour and the poor farmers.  At every stage he had to fight against the negative forces and the stony attitude of the bureaucrats.  It is surprising that even today the same negative attitude among the bureaucrats is preventing the Central and state Governments to come forward  to harness enormous water wealth of Godavari river to avert the impending water and food famines expected in all the Southern states by 2025 AD.  It will be interesting to recall here a few instances of negative forces that worked against public good mostly in Sir Arthur Cotton’s own words.

1.      When Sir Henry Montigmory was deputed to make minute enquiries into the causes of the decline of revenues in Godavari district (it was based on this report that the construction of Godavari anicut was commenced in 1847), the then Collector, not unnaturally, in the uncritised and unchecked manner in which the Indian Administration was carried on, imagined that his work was to  be called in question and deeply resented Henry’s visit.  He did all that in his power to put obstacles in the way of the Commissioner obtaining information and prosecuting his enquiries!

Evidently, Sir Arthur Cotton had contempt for the Revenue Officials.

2.      ‘The forces  against which Sir Arthur Cotton had to contend were too strong for him’.

3.      ‘Had only half of the amount thus spent on railways been expended in the construction of navigation and irrigation works, there would have been great prosperity and avoidance of much, if not all, of the famine suffering ‘.

‘Against the total expenditure of $84 millions of famine (1876-78), the total expenditure for all India on account of Irrigation works was only $20 millions’.

4.      ‘B’ (from the Secretariat ) wrote me a letter which made me sick, from which the pains the Board of Revenue has taken to throw cold water, not on the district, but on the plans.  He says I ought not to write in my report, what I or even he thinks would be best, but what I think the Government would consider advisable which is certainly a good way of confirming them in a system which has ruined them’.

5.      ‘The tone of the orders of the Government is less satisfactory, still less encouraging.  The object most conspicuously observable in them is to get rid of the papers.  I feel quite certain from all that has passed of late years that there is not the slightest possibility of any large irrigation works being carried out by the Government’.

Inspite of the highest respect and devotion for the monarchy, Sir Arthur Cotton did not hesitate to criticise the administration, that too, quite sarcastically, A few observations, mostly in Sir Arthur Cotton’s own words, are given below:

1.      ‘Would it not be unworthy of the Government after having had position of the district for a long serving of years, merely to put in repair, old, partial and radically defective works, executed by the native Government under immense disadvantages when we have it in our power to construct a complete system of works which will bring the last drop of water in the river to the surface of the land and put it all under complete control.

2.      ‘So magnificent a country in such a state of ruins was the greatest disgrace to the civilised Government’.

3.      ‘Why are the Indians so poor? English rich’?

4.      ‘English man in India occupied from morning to evening with the settlement of land revenue of his district’.

5.      “The rulers are mere revenue collectors – they are not statesmen’.

6.      Lamenting on the niggardly provision of funds for Godavari anicut, Sir Arthur Cotton says ‘this history of the work is the most perfect specimen of how not to do a thing, that could be found’.

7.      Commenting on the Orissa and Tungabhadra works, he says  ‘the success of works there also is complete – the failure is only in the refusal of water, through the inconceivable evils of the revenue management’.

8.      Standing before the Parliamentary Committee, Sir Arthur Cotton says; ‘the enormous returns of the Godavari works are inspite  of every effort to prevent their being completed, although required money is not provided.  The dispute among them is only whether the return is 27, 28 or 40%!’.

9.      “Why blame Almighty  God  for the famines that they occur because He does not send rain when, as a matter of fact, He does send enough for all our needs, but we are too careless to store it against the day of the need’.

      Is not this a good lesson for us?

10.  ‘The plain fact is that the rulers of India have most greviously neglected the fundamental duty of rescuing from famine and the result we have before our eyes is the terrible disgrace for our rule’.

11.  ‘It may yet help to resuscitate the most vital subject of irrigation against which the whole Indian official body, almost, have so entirely set themselves.

12.  ‘Giving India iron instead of water was the sole cause of all this awful loss of millions of lives and hundreds of millions of money in the value of crops’.

13.  As late as 1897 Arthur Cotton says:  ‘About India and its famine, I can not tell you my feelings, almost the whole loss of life being solely to the Government’s obstinate rejection of irrigation…  you will observe that these two words’ Irrigation and Navigation’ do not appear in any official papers lately published on the famine!

14.  Again, even as late as in 1898, in a letter to his son-in-law, Sir Arthur Cotton says: ‘nothing but the removal of this opposition from the Indian Council and the Civil Services can save India’.

15.  ‘India has abundance of openings…. But the whole subject is ignored and everybody who dares to mention the subject must expect to meet with treatment I have experienced and the Government  allows things to continue in this state’.


Sir Arthur Cotton says: ‘Why blame God for the famines that occur because He does not send rain when, as a matter of fact, He does send enough for all our needs, but we are too careless to store it against the day of the need’

He says further: ‘India is bestowed with abundant  rivers.  Why should the water of any manageable river be wasted into the sea?’

 In order to fulfill Sir Arthor Cottons dream of wiping out the impending water and food famine of Southern states by 2025 AD  we have to no other option except to make optimum utilisation not only the 75% dependable yield of 2950 TMC estimated by the Bachawat Tribunal but also the remaining part of the annual average yield of 3500 TMC. Since the upper states like Maharashtra, Mandhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Orissa cannot utilise a large part of their share of Godavari waters due to unfavourable topographical features with steap hills and dense forest most of the waters of the river cause flood havoc in the Telangana and Coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh. Hence the flood waters of Godavari must be utilised by diverting the same to the North Coastal Andhra, Telangana and Rayalaseema districts in Andhra Pradesh and any surplus water should be permitted for the use of the vast Andhra Population in Madras and Tamil  Nadu.

 Since 2000 TMC of Godavari water is being wasted into sea every year we must not only utilise our full share of water alloted by the  Bachawat Tribunal but we can also use some part of the remaining flood waters being wasted into the sea.  Since yield of Godavari  water is morethan one and half times larger than that of Krishna we should construct atleast  3 major reservoirs each of about 300 TMC capacity near Mahadevpur in Karimnagar district, Eturunagaram in Warangal district and Polavaram in West Godavari district.  Abundant hydro-electric power can be produced at a very inexpensive cost at these dams. Each of the dams may cost Rs.2000 to Rs.3000 crores, however Rs.12,000 to Rs.15,000 crores may have to be spent for development of irrigation canals which can be taken up in phases spread over a period of about 15 to 20 years.  Since Telangana lands are located at a very high elevation major pumping has to be undertaken.  In this connection the National Water Development Agency made a proposal to divert about 40 TMC of water from upper Kolab and develop a few hydro-power stations in the Sabari-Indravati complex.  Water is proposed to be taken from Dhuduma with FRL +229 meters (750ft.) to be linked with Wainaganga at Garchirioli where a dam is proposed with FRL of 218 meters (715ft.) with a storage capacity of 174 TMC a link canal will take of at an elevation of 213 meters (700ft) along a 406 miles contour canal and the water lifted in stages by about 122 meters (480ft.) to cross the Warangal ridge and join Srisailam reservoir  at an elevation of about 270 meters (885ft.).  A total tunnel length of about 95km (59miles) is involved in 3 reaches the first 2 being just before the Godavari crossing and the last one being before the Srisailam reservoir.  Thus about 500 TMC of Godavari water is proposed to be transferred to the Krishna river through the Sabari, Indravati, Wainaganga – Krishna link.  These linkage proposals must examined in depth for optimum utilisation of Godavari waters.  It may be recollected that the Rampada Sagar dam proposed at Polavaram in 1946 but given up due to lack of finance was to have a storage capacity of 690 TMC with an FRL +198ft. , to irrigate  27 lakhs of acres in the entire coastal belt starting from Visakhapatnam to Prakasam districts.  In the light of the recent clearance given by the Supreme Court for Sardar Sarovar Project the Government need not show the problems of rehabilitation, land and forest submersion has excuses for delaying the work on the project.  In order to get the necessary funds for the project a separate autonomous body must be created on the lines of Sardar Sarovar and Tehri hydro development corporations so that they can secure the require funds from International Funding Agencies, Non-Resident Indians and the general public and also complete the project within the schedule time.  Andhras can pay real homage t o Sir Arthur Cotton if only they exert pressure on their elected representatives, state and Central Governments  to take up the above irrigation schemes on river Godavari to eliminate the impending scarcity of water and food for Andhras in the Southern states in particular.