Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Lower Bari Doab Canal, Boundless Magnanimity

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By the turn of the 20th century, much of the irrigation system inherited by Pakistan and India at Independence was already established. A part of this, the Upper Bari Doab Canal taking off the Ravi River at Madhopur near Gurdaspur, India, had just started to turn things around in the doab of Bari, the name a compound of Beas and Ravi.

Ganga Power Station on the Lower Bari Doab Canal. In 1992, the station was renamed Zaheeruddin Babar Power Station by an over-zealous mob incensed at the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ajodhya, India. Except the new name did not stick for more than a couple years.

Plans were afoot for a second canal in this land belt. Designated as the Lower Bari Doab Canal (LBDC), it was debated whether it should off-take from the Beas instead of the Ravi, canals from which were already flowing.

Chief Engineer John Benton, who had already made a name for himself for revolutionary canal engineering, advised in 1901 that the LBDC should not be dependent on the Beas or the Sutlej and would be better off fed by the Ravi lower down its course. Nearly five decades before Partition, it seems clairvoyant Benton somehow knew what was to come and was favourably inclined to the country that would be called Pakistan.

Aesthetics were not surrendered to functionality by Ganga Ram as evident in the key- and cornerstones set to pleasing advantage against the pink of finely baked bricks.

And on sound grounds, it turned out. In 1947, the UBDC that passed by Amritsar and Lahore was of a sudden cut off east of the newly demarcated border and waters that once nurtured green fields ceased to flow. In fact, had it not been for canals on Pakistan’s side of the border, Lahore and Kasur would have lost a substantial agricultural quantum for several years to come.

Benton pushed against opposition to win government approval for the LBDC to off-take from the Ravi. Accordingly, surveys favoured the village of Balloki, 75 kilometres southwest of Lahore, as the site of the headworks for this new canal. Preliminary work of soil testing and design began in 1906 with civil works beginning two years later. On April 12, 1912, Governor of the Punjab Sir William Malcolm Hailey inaugurated the canal.

The canal did well for land along both its banks until it hit the vicinity of Okara, 50 kilometres downstream of the headworks. While there was no trouble irrigating land along the canal’s right bank, stretching thousands of acres south of Okara on the left bank was a thick forest of tamarisk, acacia and peelu. This huge swathe of land was completely barren as it lay some 5 to 6 metres above the level of the LBDC, making irrigation impossible. The low plateau may have remained uncultivated if the Irrigation Department did not know a man called Ganga Ram.

Agriculturist at heart and civil engineer by profession in the service of the Public Works Department, Ganga Ram was the lessee of 50,000 acres of this barren upland. Acquired as far back as the 1890s, Ganga Ram was seeking ways of turning his desert green. With the LBDC operational, he designed a network of subsidiary canals taking off from it. At five sites these canals were to be equipped with lift pumping stations to mechanically hoist the water to channels above the level of the LBDC into the heart of the forest.

The 1920s were a time of limited electricity, especially in remote villages of the Punjab. Not to be discouraged, Ganga Ram set to work assessing how much power could be generated from the flow of the LBDC. In 1924, 12 years after the canal started flowing, he began work on a power station on the LBDC just outside the town of Renala Khurd.

Ganga Power Station, as it is known to this day, was completed in 1925 with five generators delivering a total of 1.1 megawatt of electricity. This power worked the five pumping stations in order to irrigate hitherto barren country. The subsidiary network of channels, funded entirely by Ganga Ram himself, was designed to water over 59,000 acres of land, most of which was his lease holding. In the end, the system was irrigating way above its limit. Today, with those five pumping stations still working, albeit with new machinery and power from other sources, the network irrigates 64,000 acres of prime wheat and cotton growing country.

Interestingly, lift irrigation was in use in a few other places across the Punjab before its deployment by Ganga Ram. For similar systems operating elsewhere, the abiana or water rate was charged at 2.5 times the standard rate. What is truly admirable and epitomizes the benevolence of Ganga Ram is that when he handed over his private irrigation network to the government it was on the condition that standard water rates would be charged from all farmers. To this day, Ganga Ram’s lift irrigation network works on the same rates.

In December 1992, Ganga Power Station faced a desperate moment. The destruction of Babri Mosque in Ajodhya, India sent enraged crowds in Pakistan destroying everything that had any Hindu or Sikh connection. Inevitably, Ganga Power Station came in the crossfire when a large mob gathered to destroy it until someone talked sense and reminded the miscreants how much they stood to lose as agriculturists. The protestors relented and satisfied themselves by renaming the establishment Zaheeruddin Babar Power Station with a signboard covering Ganga Ram’s name.

Within two years, the madness was forgotten. The sign was removed and the name of the power house name restored to what it had been since 1925.

Today, 90 years since they first fired the wires leading to the pumping stations, the five generators are at the end of their life. Repaired and rewound several times by WAPDA mechanics, Ganga Ram’s power house is drawing down to closure. In 2010, a survey was carried out for a new facility, following which it was decided that the building be pulled down and replaced by a larger power house.

If the maddened mob spared the lovely brick building, it now seemed that institutional inanity would finally do it in. Fortunately, a mind worked somewhere and it was decided the old building with its excellent brick and mortar work would be left in place. The new power house, work on which is scheduled to begin mid-2015, is now sited a couple hundred metres upstream.

The five generators that once produced 1.1 megawatt of power to run the pumping stations designed to lift water into a barren higher land southeast of this installation. For various reasons, the generators today produce only 750 kilowatts.

As they inspect the ears of wheat or cotton bolls on the stalk, one wonders if the farmers of the elevated country ever remember Ganga Ram’s name and send up a prayer for him for his magnanimity.

Previous: Begari Wah, Salam, Jekum Sahib Bahadur, Jamrao Canal, The Dragon’s TailKhanki Headworks, From Primeval Forest to Breadbasket

Odysseus Lahori one year ago: Rendering in Dressed Stone - Taxila - Book of Days 2014, Discoveries of Empire

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 1 April 2015 at 11:13, Blogger Brahmanyan said...

Thanks for the informative writeup. Of course,man made irrigation systems were found in many parts of the sub continent prior to British rule. But, we cannot ignore the excellent Dams and Barrages built by the British during their rule. In South Mighty emperor of the Chola Dynasty in South India,Karikal Cholan (180 AD) built Kallanai (Stone Dam) acoss river Cauveri, now known as the Grand Anaikat,which is considered one of the world’s oldest man made Water collecting and regulating structure which is still in use. This dam was constructed from unhewn stone and is 329 m (1,079 ft) long, 20 m (66 ft) wide and 5.4 m (18 ft) high. Numerous dams were also constructed in the subcontinent In South India a design employing hewn stone to face the steeply sloping sides of earthen dams evolved, reaching a climax in the 16-km- (10-mile-) long Veeranam Dam in Tamil Nadu, built from 907 to 955 AD by Rajaditya Chola of Chola dynasty.

At 1 April 2015 at 15:50, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

Very informative write up

At 2 April 2015 at 10:04, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, sir. Very nice detail of south Indian dam building. I did read references to these structures in a 1922 book on Indian irrigation.

At 2 April 2015 at 10:05, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you very much, Athar. Glad that you liked it.

At 20 September 2015 at 21:26, Blogger pakasia said...

aap ne jo likha parh k maza aa gaya kal main renala gaya c te ajj parh laya

At 22 September 2015 at 10:13, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Pakasia.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

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Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

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