Hindustan Times
30 August 2003

Godman to the rescue
Khushwant Singh

I do not have much time for godmen or godwomen. I know they bring solace to a large number of their disciples and open schools, colleges and hospitals from the offerings they receive. But most of the time they raise new places of worship and go round giving darshan to their admirers, sing bhajans and deliver sermons. What I have against them is that they do not involve themselves in problems facing our country like telling their followers not to have more than two children (one would be better) and to plant trees on birthdays, weddings and in memory of the dead etc. Their word will count much more than ministers, exhortations.

Sri Sathya Sai Baba has always been an enigma to me. He probably has the largest following in the country, among them highly intelligent
and well-placed men and women, including my friend Nani Palkhiwala, retired chief justice Bhagwati, retired air chief marshal O.P. Mehra, retired general Chibber and Ambika Soni. He has set up many educational institutions and hospitals, as well as Sai temples, across the country which people throng in thousands. They regard him as an avatar (incarnation of god) and call him bhagwan. His latest bequest is to bring potable water to thirsty Chennai.

Chennai has had an acute water shortage problem from the time it was Madrasapatnam and Madras and its population was no more than 4.7 lakh. A British engineer, Fraser, solved the problem by damming a stream and conserving monsoon water in three reservoirs. Since the population of the city almost doubled, the search for more water increased. The two possible sources were the Krishna river in the north and Kaveri in the south. The Kaveri project was aborted because of corruption and did not yield a drop.

M.G. Ramachandran, then chief minister of Tamil Nadu, made a deal with N.T. Rama Rao of Andhra Pradesh. Waters of Krishna were brought to a reservoir on the border of Tamil Nadu. A 150 km long canal was dug to take the water to one of Chennai's reservoirs. It was given the grand name, Telugu Ganga Project, and was completed in 1996. It proved a non-starter: the canal was in fact a narrow ditch which subsided at many places and farmers en route stole water from it and so, precious little trickled into Chennai. It was then that Sai Baba came on the scene. On January 19, 2002, he sanctioned trust money to open up the ditch and made it into a proper canal, had its sides lined with stone and brick to prevent seepage and get all the water to the Chennai reservoir.

It is not the government, that had nothing to do with this attempt, but the people who have given it the name Sai Ganga. At the end of this month (August), the Sai Ganga Project will be finished. Despite being a non-believer in godmen or godwomen, I raise my glass to him with the invocation, "Jai Bhagwan!".

Posted by saibabanews