Er. Vinod Malhotra
Before the construction of Ranbir Canal (before 1903 AD), irrigation facilities in plain areas of Jammu in 1900 A.D were very limited.
Pratap Canal, which irrigated agricultural land lying towards west of Chenab river, was started in 1900 A.D as a famine relief work and completed in 1905 at a total cost of Rs. 5,10,000/- but most farm lands towards east of Chenab river (i.e. in Jammu, Samba & R.S Pura tehsils) were devoid of a dependable & regular irrigation facility. There were 15 No. water courses taken out from Tawi & Chenab rivers respectively but these did’nt ensure regular supply throughout the year to agriculturalists. For cultivators near Jammu city, there existed those days a water channel namely Jogi Gate Canal which was tapped from river Tawi. It was actually a small minor about 5.5 miles in length with a mean discharge of about 10 cusecs. It was built by PWD at a cost of Rs. 42,208. All these Water courses & Jogi Gate canal serviced very small quantum of agricultural lands in Jammu tehsil. In R.S Pura and Samba tehsils where lands were flatter (thus better suited for agriculture) farmers depended only on rains and few wells. Overall agriculture in these areas was in distress condition.
Thus necessity of a canal from river Chenab to irrigate agricultural lands in Jammu/ R.S Pura/ Samba Tehsil was long felt. In roughly 1873 (during Maharaja Ranbir Singh’s period 1856-1885) a canal called Shahi Canal was started from Akhnoor village on the left bank of Chenab river. It was excavated upto Bhagiar Khad (about midway between Jammu and Akhnoor). Head regulator was also built. But when water was released into this canal, it never reached Bhagiar Khad. The reason for its failure, it was later found, was wrong levelling. This project was abandoned. A few years later, another effort was made to bring water from river Chenab and so called Rajpura Canal was started. Digging for same was done upto Hazoori Bagh, the then Maharaja’s Garden in Jammu City (now lost under urbanization). But when water from Chenab River was let into it, it was never seen in regular flow. The fault was against defective levelling. This scheme, too, was given up.
Despite failures from many earlier efforts made from time to time the then State Durbar under visionary Maharaja Pratap Singh (1885-1925 A.D) did’nt give up started afresh in 1903 to build a canal from Chenab River for Irrigation of lands in Jammu/ R.S Pura/ Samba tehsils. In 1903, Lala Tej Ram (Div. Engineer, Irrigation Division, J&K), who worked under the then State Engineer of Durbar Mr Field (an Englishman), did extensive surveys and finally submitted a technical report of Akhnoor Canal project at an estimated cost of Rs. 17 lakhs to the State Govt. The same was promptly approved by the Durbar and work on its execution was started in 1903 itself. Since the vision and efforts (though they did’nt materialize) for this Canal were visualized during Maharaja Ranbir Singh’s rule, the State Council in its resolution No. 41 dated 5-11-1903 named this canal as Ranbir Canal. Later on, a revised estimate of Rs. 37.00 lakhs was submitted which was sanctioned by Maharaja Pratap Singh vide his order No. 59 dated. 26.04-1910. To carry forward the work more efficiently, Lala Tej Ram was replaced by Rai Sahib Makkan Lal as Div. Engineer at a high monthly salary of Rs. 600. (Unlike at present the salary and status of engineers those days was much higher than other public servants).
Salient Design elements of Canal
In view of the earlier failures to bring Chenab river water to Jammu city, full supply of the Canal at its off take point from Chenab river was kept one foot below the lowest water level of river to ensure permanent regular full water supply in the Canal even in lean winter months when Chenab river flows at its lowest level. It was designed as a gravity-run water channel ((with no pumping involved anywhere) for a total discharge of 720 cusecs of water. It traversed upto Jammu city, crossed Tawi river through an underground masonry super-passage and then running through flatter lands in R S Pura & Samba tehsils, terminated at the State boundary with the then British-ruled Punjab in village Dohali in R S Pura tehsil. Total designed length of Ranbir Canal is 59.55 Kms (26.55 Kms from Akhnoor to Jammu and 33 Kms from Tawi river in Jammu city to its terminal point in R S Pura tehsil). The Canal section was designed with a bed width of 30′, full supply depth of 7.3′ and bed slope @ 1 in 4000 to ensure water flow by gravity at a mean velocity of 2.9 feet per second. It crossed 16 barsati nallahs from Akhnoor to Jammu and seven beyond Tawi river. 17 no. distributaries (with regulators) were taken out of Ranbir Canal at various locations the total length of which were 274 Kms. A network of roads were constructed all along the distributaries/main Canal. For regulation of water supply, a telegraph line all along its length was laid for prompt transfer of site information to H/Q in Jammu. To cross the river Tawi below its bed in Jammu city, a 26′ fall for 460 cusecs of water was proposed in Jammu city where a Hydro-Electric installation was built. This electric power station, designed by Div. Engineer Lala Makkan Lal, started its operation in 1909 and generated 1,250 (Horse power) of electricity. During those days, expensive steam power was used for lifting public water supply to Jammu town (situated on a higher plateau). The electricity generated replaced steam power and provided regular electricity to residents as well. Canal banks/park developed between two canals in Jammu city became a very popular picnic spot for locals & residents of nearby areas. Ranbir Canal was also made navigable from Akhnoor to Jammu and small boats used to ply in it for the recreation of elite population those days.
Completion Report of Ranbir Canal was submitted by State Engineer Lotbinhere to the then PWD Minister, State Durbar vide his letter no. 4339 dated 04.07.1912. Thus completion of this project, at total cost of Rs. 36.50 lakhs, took about nine years. The dedicated work of Lala Makkan Lal (Div. Engineer) and other engineering staff were greatly appreciated by Maharaja Pratap Singh and they were awarded with special increments
Benefits of the Project
Ranbir Canal was thus truly the first game-changing project which laid the foundation for rapid transformation of not only rural economy of vast agricultural belt in its catchment area but it changed the face of Jammu city as well. Direct benefits from this project were.
1. Cultivators who were previously sowing millet and chari (low crops) switched to better crops like rice and sugarcane. The famous basmati rice of R.S. Pura owes its cultivation primarily to Ranbir Canal. Besides fruits/vegetable cultivation in its catchment area got a fillip and their imports from adjoining Punjab State got reduced drastically. This Canal irrigated, those days, 108360 acres of cultivable land at the @ 150 acres per cusec.
2. Ranbir Canal system opened up 274 kms of good cart roads (constructed along all 17 no. distributaries) thus increasing easy moveability of people and goods in its catchment area. It contributed in a big way in ushering in faster economic growth in the region.
3. Hydroelectric generation from Ranbir Canal in Jammu city replaced expensive steam power used earlier to lift water from Tawi river for the residents of then Jammu city located on higher plateau. It also improved electric supply system in the city and gave strong push to the growth of agro-based small scale industries in and around Jammu city.
4. Ranbir Canal carrying ice-cold glacier water, running through Jammu city, increased the beauty and magnificence of Jammu city. It is now a very special heritage asset of Jammu region.
The pressure of urbanization (mostly unplanned) on lands along both sides of canal and in its catchment area has sadly resulted in increased levels of pollution in it. It could adversely affect the crops as well in future if no corrective measures to maintain quality of its water are taken now. Crops too, need toxic free clean water for healthy growth. Besides, unwanton conversion of rich agricultural lands in its catchment area into urban use is another cause of worry. Yes, in the changed socio-economic conditions now, Jammu city has to grow. Direction for Jammu city’s future expansion ought to be pushed towards unirrigated land patches. If necessary conversion of agricultural lands for urbanization need to be minimized by encouraging High-density Urban Development (High-rise bldgs) in new extensions in a planned way.
Very soon work on Akhnoor-Jammu road widening shall get started. Protection of Ranbir Canal should get due focus and needs to be an integral part of the project. Adequate green buffers on its either side throughout its length need to be developed to save it from pollution and further decay. It is not only a life line for agricultural growth in Jammu/R.S.Pura/Samba tehsils but it holds tremendous potential for development of many recreational spots as well by its side in areas close to Jammu city which is one of very few lucky cities in the country through which ice cold glacier water channel flows.
Hope sincere and timely steps to save this invaluable economic, recreational and heritage asset of Jammu are taken by the concerned State Authorities in a holistic manner.
(Information in this Article is collected from the original files lying in the State Archives Department. The author is thankful to Dy. Director Archives for the same.)
(The author is former Development Commissioner, Town Planning Orgn., J&K Govt.)
Er. Vinod Malhotra