Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam's Convocation Address

Convocation Address - National Institute of Technology, Trichy

24/Aug/2007 : Trichy


"Equitable access to water: An engineering challenge"

I am delighted to participate in the 3rd Convocation of National Institute of Technology, Tiruchirapalli (NITT). I greet the Chairman, Director, Faculty, Students and other distinguished guests. I take this opportunity to congratulate all the Faculty members, Students and staff of this Institute and all those who have contributed in promoting good educational standards in this institute, during the last four decades and now NITT is in the process of getting transformed into Indian Institute of Technology. I congratulate graduating Students for their performance and faculty members for shaping the young minds. Since I am in the midst of prospective scientists and technologists, I would like to share with you few thoughts on the topic “Equitable access to water: An engineering challenge”.

India in transformation

India is well on its way to become a knowledge power, there are all round growth in all the sectors of the economy namely the agriculture, manufacturing and services. Today we have an opportunity to take the leadership in the knowledge revolution. Knowledge Revolution is indeed the foundation for leading India into a Developed Nation. For this, the time is ripe because of the ascending trajectory of the economy, availability of great institutions for capacity building of the human resource such as NITT, abundant bio-diversity, and other natural resources and above all, our 540 million youth who are determined to make the nation prosperous, happy and a safe place to live well before 2020. With this background India must take the lead in mobilizing and integrating national and international knowledge resources.

Technology Interfaces

Technology is the non-linear tool available to humanity, which can affect fundamental changes in the ground rules of economic competitiveness. Science is linked to technology through applications. Technology is linked to economy and environment through manufacture of knowledge products. Economy and environment are linked to technology, which promotes prosperity to the society. Based on the ambience in the country today, I am visualizing how the Engineering professionals can make a difference to the billion people of India in the Development profile of the nation by 2020. Dear friends, when you graduate yourself from NITT as engineering professionals, you should map how you can contribute to one or more of the 10 missions. Let me present the distinctive profile of India 2020.

Distinctive Profile of India 2020

  1. A Nation where the rural and urban divide has reduced to a thin line.
  2. A Nation where there is an equitable distribution and adequate access to energy and quality water.
  3. A Nation where agriculture, industry and service sector work together in symphony.
  4. A Nation where education with value system is not denied to any meritorious candidates because of societal or economic discrimination.
  5. A Nation, which is the best destination for the most talented scholars, scientists, and investors.
  6. A Nation where the best of health care is available to all.
  7. A Nation where the governance is responsive, transparent and corruption free.
  8. A Nation where poverty has been totally eradicated, illiteracy removed and crimes against women and children are absent and none in the society feels alienated.
  9. A Nation that is prosperous, healthy, secure, devoid of terrorism, peaceful and happy and continues with a sustainable growth path.
  10. A Nation that is one of the best places to live in and is proud of its leadership through creative and effective leadership in Parliament, State Assemblies and other institutions of the State.

I am confident that these distinctive profiles of the nation will give adequate challenge to the creative and innovative ability of the minds of NITT’ians of Trichy.

When I am with you students and faculty of NITT, I was thinking what is the important problem, which I can discuss with you. According to me, water is becoming an important resource which needs focused attention. We constantly pass through a cycle of flood, drought and water shortage conditions. How do get out of this three dimensional vicious circle. I have suggested in Parliament and State Assemblies, as the President of India that “Interlinking of Rivers” is very vital. The Primary task of each states should to connect the river basins within the states, without waiting for the national interlinking of rivers.

I would like to discuss the aspects of water management including conservation, development and management of water resources, and also our concern for providing water for irrigation and good quality potable water for all citizens of the country.

There are some who have great expectations about linking of rivers. There are also some others who have a question whether this programme will be a blessing for the country?

I would like to discuss four aspects with you.

  1. What is the total requirement of water for our nation for drinking purposes, sanitation, irrigation and other industrial uses and what the nation gets through seasonal inputs (rain and melting of snow)?
  2. One third of our population is affected by flood or drought every year.
  3. Per capita availability of water varies from 10 kilo litre to 50 kilo litre for different seasons and regions.
  4. What are the optimal ways of meeting the minimum needs of water for the entire population, assuming a particular population growth rate for the country. We should remember that by 2020 we have to produce approx. 400 million tons of grain and the water requirement will also go up due to population increase.

Water Balance

India gets approximately 4000 Billion cubic meters (BCM) of water every year from all natural sources. Out of this 700 BCM are lost in evaporation and another 700 are lost during the flow on ground. Also, the large part of water namely 1500 BCM flows into the sea due to floods. Thus, the remaining available water is only 1100 BCM. Out of this ground water recharge accounts for 430 BCM per year and the present utilized surface water is 370 BCM. The balance unutilized water which can be harnessed is 300 BCM.

Flood and Drought Situation

I was studying the frequent occurrence of flood and drought. Flood normally affects, 8 major river valleys spread over 40 million hectares of area in the entire country affecting nearly 260 million people. Similarly the drought affects 86 million people who are spread in 14 States covering a total of 116 districts. Wherefrom this flood comes? It comes from the 1500 BCM of water every year flowing during the monsoon season. If we have to prevent the damage due to the flood and reduce the severity of drought, we have to harness this 1500 BCM of water and distribute it to the drought affected areas. We can also partly store it in proper storage system so that it can be available during non-monsoon months. If we succeed in doing all these, we will not only save the loss arising out of the damage caused to the crops, properties and people by the flood to the extent of Rs. 2400 crores on an average per year, we will also save the recurring expenditure of Rs. 1200 crores incurred by the government as short term relief measure. The questions, which arise, are how to harness the flood water? And how to regulate the out flow of flood water so that it does not go into sea and it is converted as useful water for the mankind.

Harnessing the Water

Hence our aim should be to channelise the 1500 BCM of flood water, so that it can be made use of for providing water to drought affected areas and make sufficient water available to the whole country during non-monsoon months through proper linking, storage and distribution. Our plans must consider that presently the sanitation facilities are not available in more than 50% of the dwelling units in the country. Planners must take into account this aspect while selecting schemes for harnessing and distributing the water for our growing population. We may have to align our interlinking of rivers project for meeting the growing water demands of the nation by having a hybrid scheme, which can harness the additional 300 BCM per year and also the flood water of 1500 BCM.

Flood control: There is an urgent need to find long-term solution to control flood, store and utilize the surplus water during drought. In the Gangetic region, I have recommended construction of layered wells in the entry points of Kosi river in. Normally the floodwater has certain dynamic flow conditions. The layered wells assist gradual reduction in dynamic flow velocity after filling each storage well. The water thus stored will be useful during shortage period. Similar solution can be found for the north-eastern region. I recommend this scheme can be included in the Interlinking of rivers programme.

Also the scheme chosen must be such that there is continuous availability of additional water for the growing population and the related needs of the nation by regulating the outflow into the sea.

State wise linking local river basins

During my address to the Andhra Pradesh assembly, I suggested that the Godavari water which flows into the sea to the extent of 2500 tmc during floods and 750 tmc during normal conditions may be diverted into the basin area for irrigation purposes through step dams, irrigation canals and water storage lakes and ponds. This will increase the irrigated area of the Godavari basin by over 30%. Andhra Pradesh Government is progressing in the implementation of this scheme. Also I was informed by the Chief Minister of Goa that the Government of Goa has interlinked Zuari river with Kalay river in Mandovi basin through installation of pumps and gravity flow. This has been done to ensure availability of drinking water in this region. Every State should be asked to inter-connect their own rivers on the lines of Goa. This should form part of the State Planning. Overall planning of interlinking of rivers has to integrate the state water resource connectivity.

Interlinking of Tamilnadu Rivers

Let me now focus on the interlinking of rivers in Tamilnadu. Every time, Mettur Dam gets filled up most of the water goes to sea. For instance, in 2005, 3 times Mettur Dam overflowed and more than 400 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic meters)water went into sea. In 2007, now it is overflowing and possibly around 100 TMC may go to sea. This has become a repetitive phenomenon in the changed environment conditions. In this context, let us discuss how we can harness the flood water during flood, so that the surplus water can be saved and made available to the other drought prone regions of Tamilnadu and to the same region when they are in drought.

Tamilnadu waterways:

It is our experience that when flood devastates one river basin, the other basin experiences drought. During the October 2005 rains , when Cauvery was in overflowing conditions, vaigai basin experienced less rain and Vaigai dam level stood at 49ft, just 1/3 of its full capacity. When there was heavy downpour in Chennai, the drinking water sources around did not receive enough water. When Cauvery overflowing 3 times, all other dams and tanks in Tamilnadu were far below the capacity, even less than 40%. Kollidam proved very effective, discharging 3.23 lakhs cusecs during the 2005 flood. Since the width is 1km and runs for 160 km. It acted as reservoir. The lesson from kollidam is “The flood carrier should be capable of absorbing heavy floods”. This gives the message that by making the river as a flood absorber, we get maximum benefit for preserving the water. Now I would like to discuss about the Tamilnadu Waterways connecting the Tamilnadu river basins.

Tamilnadu Waterways Project:

An expert team chaired by Mr. Kamaraj, has prepared a project report called “Tamilnadu waterways Project”. We had a detailed discussion, which I would like to present to you. Incidentally, I have presented this proposal to both the Chief ministers of Tamilnadu. They are also concerned about this problem and are taking certain steps towards to implement the project. We need to accelerate this programme in the interest of the state. It has to become a mission mode project. Tamilnadu waterways is a innovative scheme, which serves as a storage reservoir and contains flood. It facilitates two-way flow and allows inter-basin transfer without affecting the existing system. It proposes to connect the following dams such as Sathanoor, Mettur, Bhavani Sagar, Vaigai, Manimuthar, Petchiparai, Solaiyar, Papanasam, Servalar and connects the lakes and tanks such as poondi, cholavaram, redhills, chemparampakkam, veeranam, Ramanathapuram. All the west to east flowing rivers in Tamilnadu are linked with Tamilnadu waterways GRID. This waterways grid may be created at the height of around 300 Meters above Sea Level so that it becomes a single horizontal plane, which connects all the dams and rivers at the same plane facilitating water feed or withdrawal from any part of the GRID. Entire river system is connected to Tamilnadu Waterways Grid. Based on the preliminary estimates this project can be implemented in 5 phases. In the first phase – we may connect Mettur – Vaigai that is around 350 km stretch. Second phase, 270 km stretch will connect Mettur – Pallar. 150 km stretch of Vaigai to Tamirabarani can be connected in the third phase. In the fourth phase, 130 km stretch of Tamirabarani to Perunjani may be taken up. In the mean time, concurrently government should take up expanding the connectivity to all tanks and subsidiary rivers. The unique feature of this project is, it does not divert the utilizable flow of water from that river basin, but uses only excess flood water and ensures two way links. It does not involve any pumping; it can be implemented with in 5-8 years of time.


This project envisages the following benefits to the state: effective flood control, provides irrigation facilities for additional 7.5 million acres, generates 2150 MW of hydro power, reduces the power consumption by 1350 MW due to increase in ground water level, provides 900 km of waterways with smart navigation for transportation of goods, the navigation will be operational around the year and will have a depth of 10 meter and width of 120 meter, Oil saving in waterways is 90% compared to Roadways, provides domestic and industrial water supply for 50 million people. Facilitates additional fish cultivation and promotion of tourism and water sports.


The project is a financially viable proposition. It will cost around Rs. 36,000 crores including the cost of power generation, waterways reservoirs and dams. The returns estimated per year from the Tamilnadu Waterways is around Rs. 4600 crores, including power Rs. 2150 crores, Rs. 1350 crores from navigation, Rs. 1100 crores from other sources such as drinking, fisheries and tourism. In addition, it will enrich the environment leading to creation of additional forestryupgradation of environment through use of hydropower and more efficient waterways navigation, which uses only 10% of the oil required for equivalent road transportation. Certainly, this project can be implemented World Bank assistance or BOOT (Build, Operate, Own and Transfer) method. This project is multi-disciplinary and will provide challenge to all the disciplines of engineering such as civil engineers, hydraulic experts, mechanical engineers, IT and electronic engineers, Geological experts, Cartographers and remote sensing technologists and business management teams. Availability of the state waterways will enable easy connectivity to the national waterways as an when it becomes operational.


Economic development and prosperity Since I am in the midst of feature engineers, technologists and the business executives, I would like to talk to you about the growth of the economic development and prosperity.

  • Nations Economic development is powered by competitiveness.
  • The competitiveness is powered by knowledge power.
  • The knowledge power is powered by Technology and innovation.
  • The Technology and innovation is powered by resource investment.
  • The Resource investment is powered by revenue and return on Investment.
  • The Revenue is powered by Volume and repeat sales through customer loyalty.
  • The customer loyalty is powered by Quality and value of products.
  • Quality and value of products is powered by Employee Productivity and innovation.
  • The Employee Productivity is powered by Employee Loyalty, employee satisfaction and working environment.
  • The Working Environment is powered by management stewardship.
  • Management stewardship is powered by Creative leadership.

For success in all missions we need creative leaders. Creative leadership means exercising the vision to change the traditional role from the commander to the coach, manager to mentor, from director to delegator and from one who demands respect to one who facilitates self-respect. For a growing automobile industry, thrust will be on the growth of number of creative leaders for all the innovative organizations.

At this juncture, I would like to quote Maharishi Patanjali’s thoughts given in Yoga Sutra.

"When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bounds, your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents come alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamt yourself to be."

Once again let me congratulate all the graduating students and best wishes to the all the members of the NITT success in their mission of education.

May God bless you.

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam