Telangana: A Tale Of Unmitigated Misery
P . L. Vishweshwer Rao
The spectre of drought is a constant feature in Telangana especially. since no attempts have been made to fight it on a long term basis with the implementation of permanent anti-drought measures. The problem is made worse as irrigation is underdeveloped, there has been no industrialization nor has any skill development taken place in the region. The result is that a majority of the people, the poor and the landless are at the mercy of nature. Only a copious monsoon can assure them of at least three months of wages. Or else, they leave their hearths and homes and migrate to distant cities in search of livelihood.
Figures vary on the number of people migrating from the drought prone districts of Telangana: the more severe the problem the greater is the exodus from almost all areas of the state to the nearest urban conglomeration: from the North Telangana to Maharashtra from South to Hyderabad, and from West to Karnataka. According to estimates, during any year, the poorest and the driest district of Mahabubnagar sees the exodus of five lakh labourers, well-known throughout India for their hard work. Better known as “Palamur labour”, they have worked in every major project construction in India and yet they have remained half-fed, half-clothed, forced to live the life of nomads, going back to their native village not only to return to the old people they had left behind but to their soil to which they belong; A soil that remains dry most of the year, which does not provide them sustenance and yet to which they return year after year, season after agricultural season, with hope. According to estimates, as many as 12 lakh people have migrated out of Mahabubnagar in 1997 as monsoon failed.
Though the Indian Meteorological Department predicted an optimistic monsoon this year for the country, as far as Andhra Pradesh is concerned, the conditions are precarious. The onset of monsoon itself was delayed and even after onset, there were no widespread rains and drought conditions prevailed till the end of June. Only during the first week of July, there were rains, although the quantum received was low. Again, drought conditions prevailed during second and third weeks of July, rendering most of the rain fed crops unsown. There were long dry spells ranging from 15 to 18 days in almost all the agro-climatic zones of the State, which stunt crop and drastically reduce its growth.
The South-West monsoon normally sets in the first week of June in the State. But the monsoon in 1997 set in on June 12 and it was well below normal. The most affected region was Telangana with 45 per cent rainfall deficiency while overall deficiency for the State worked out to 38 per cent. The deficit in Coastal Andhra was 34 percent and in Rayalaseema 36 per cent.
The region-wise assessment of rainfall shows that North Telangana received 290 mm rainfall as against a normal of 472 mm as on August 6, 1997, a deficit of 39 percent. South Telangana was the most affected receiving only 201.5 mm rainfall as against a normal of 350 mm, which was a deficit of 42 per cent. The deficit in North Coastal Andhra was 32 per cent, in South Coastal 37 percent, and in Rayalaseema 36 per cent.
Up to August 27, the State as a whole received 275 mm of rainfall against 441 mm of normal, a deficit of 38 per cent of normal. The districts of North Telangana received a deficit of 44 per cent. This region received 356 mm rainfall as against normal of 641 mm. South Telangana received 247 mm as against the normal of 459 mm with a deficit of 46 per cent. The region-wise split-up reveals that north coastal Andhra received 381 mm as against 488 mm of normal, a deficit of22 per cent. Similarly, South Coastal Andhra also received a rainfall of 190 mm as against the normal of 318 mm the deficit being 40 per cent (Table I). Rayalaseema region which receives a normal rainfall of 233 mm has received only 160 mm recording a deficit of 31 per cent. Revival of the south west monsoon rains in mid-September did not do much to undo the damage since the crop was a total failure and could not be retrieved. To some extent the late rains filled up the water sources and recharged the groundwater but that was not enough.
The rain deficit in comparison to the normal annual rainfall showed that Telangana’s deficit was the highest with 45 per cent. The rain deficit in coastal Andhra districts was 30 per cent and in Rayalaseema 31 per cent, according to official estimates put out by the office of the Relief Commissioner. The rainfall deficit district-wise showed the deficit in Telangana districts ranged from 31 per cent in Khammam to 58 per cent in Mahabubnagar which was the worst affected (Table 2).
While the Union Agriculture Minister Chaturanan Mishra was taken on a whirlwind tour of the drought-affected areas in Mahabubnagar, Nalgonda and Rangareddy districts in the first week of September, the Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu assured the people that there won’t be any problems in the Krishna and Godavari delta regions but the upland areas would need attention. He did not utter a Word on the trauma being undergone by the people in Telangana. He undertook an aerial tour of Karimmigar in the second week of September and said that the state was in the grip of “severe drought”. It was not until September 13 when he announced that 755 mandals out of 1,110 mandals in the state that Naidu spoke of the drought situation in Telangana.
An analysis of the government’s figures on the number of mandals affected by drought as determined by the new norms laid down by the revised drought manual shows that 84.5 per cent of mandals in Rayalaseema were drought-hit; 76 per cent in Telangana and 59 per cent in coastal Andhra (Srikakulam district not included as the statistics were not available) (Table 3 and 4).
The government admitted that about 250 mandals were reeling under severe drought conditions with a majority of them being in Telangana but the government did not declare the areas drought-hit which would automatically devolve several benefit to the affected people in terms of employment, subsidized food grains and odder, postponement of loan and tax collections.
According to official figures, about 755 mandals out of 1110 in the state faced severe drought conditions. Six out of23 districts have received less than 50 per cent of the normal rainfall. In others, rainfall varies between 40-60 per cent but in view of the late onset of monsoon this year, the damage to crops even in districts which received normal rainfall is expected to be considerable in view of long spells of dry weather after the start of agricultural operations in the wake of monsoon rains.
Initial reports of the situation in the entire state said that against 8.16 lakh hectares of area under paddy during the previous kharif season, only 6.20 lakh hectares could be brought under the crop in 1997 kharif. In most of the areas, transplantations were delayed. Under dry crops, only 28.85 lakh hectares were sown this season, as against 47.34 lakh hectares during the previous season. According to Official statistics, agricultural production in the state is likely to come down by 25 per cent on account of adverse seasonal conditions. Paddy transplantation was completed only in 9.30 lakh hectares of land as against 28 lakh hectares. The average was 36 per cent of the normal area for paddy, 65 per cent for pulses, 50 per cent for dry crops and 36 per cent for oilseeds. Groundnut crop was taken up in 6.53 lakh hectares as against the normal area of 11.88 lakh hectares.
According to statistics, the total dry crops coverage in the State stood at 21 lakh hectares as against a normal area of 53 lakh hectares. The corresponding figure of dry crops for 1996 was 37 lakh hectares, which means that an extent 16 lakh hectares was not covered. Most of the dry crops are grown in Telangana Minor irrigation sources such as tanks and wells have dried up due to scanty rainfall and there has been no transplantation of paddy in areas irrigated by minor irrigation sources that which are mostly in Telangana.
While there is quibbling among officials as to when a drought should be declared and what criteria to follow, the most reliable indicators are the pee themselves. Among the people-oriented indicators of drought are: mass migra1 of people, widespread distress sale of cattle, and increased dacoities which attributed to near-famine conditions prevailing leading to unemployment and he the people driven to desperation. Even under normal conditions at least five I agricultural laborers migrate to other areas from the drought-prone Mahabubnagar district which is-the poorest and most backward, during the off-season in search of work. In 1997 it is estimated that 12 lakh persons have migrated.
For a more deeper perspective and the extent of the suffering of the people is necessary to study district-wise the overall picture of the drought.
Mahabubnagar district received only 220 mm rainfall against the normal 432mm up to August end. Almost all crops withered away with 654 irrigation sour received no water. An estimated 5000 bore wells and about 80,000 irrigation WI dried up. Due to shortage of fodder thousands of cattle were sent off to slaughter houses. In certain areas drinking water was available once in five days and Jadcherla town it was supplied once in 10 days. “Drought pensions” were sanctioned to 10,000 persons by the government in the district while scores of villages turned into ghost habitations with all able bodied persons migrating to distant cities with their young ones leaving behind the old who could not travel.
Mahabubnagar district bore the brunt of drought this year, with agricult1 alone reporting crop loss of Rs 400 crores. The district Collector sent several reports on the alarming situation in the district. Against 9.15 lakh hectares of la taken up for cultivation during kharif season, only 4.45 lakh hectares were taken up this year. Out of the cultivated area of 4.45 hectares, crops in 3.75 hectares were damaged due to scanty rainfall. Normally paddy is cultivated in 1.24 lakh hectares in the district, but this time it was cultivated only 38,304hectares,out of which the crop in 26,m hectares got damaged. As against normal area 2.71 hectares, jowar was sown in 1.37 hectares out of which the .crop in 1.27 lakh hectares got damaged. Similarly, castor was grown in 47,087 hectares as against the normal area of 1.37 lakh hectares and the crop in, 38.247 hectares was damaged due to continuing dry spell. Cotton is normally grown in 79,928 hectare, but this time it was sown in only 49,977 hectares.
Not many efforts were made to change the situation of almost continuous drought in Mahabubnagar district. This district receives one of the scantiest rainfall and yet whenever drought situation has arisen some temporary measures are adopted but no long-term programmes implemented to reverse the drought conditions nor efforts were made to mitigate them through the well-known measures such as watershed development, and harnessing rain water run-off. According to a study, the district uses only five per cent of the rain water for irrigation and drinking purposes while the rest flows unutilized into Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers.
Sheer neglect has marked the planning by irrigation department. Several major and medium irrigation projects planned for mitigating the drought conditions have remained on paper. For instance, the Priyadarshini Jurala project, Bhima first and second phases, Nettempadu, Koilsagar, Peddamarur and Kalwakurthy lift irrigation schemes which were expected to irrigate 4.5 lakh hectares apart from providing protected water supply to hundreds of habitations have not been taken up. Successive governments have shown little concern or sympathy with the people of Mahabubnagar.
Fodder scarcity has become a major problem in Medak as inadequate rains have prevented farmers from growing fodder and barren grasslands have affected cattle and she<,p in this district with one of the highest cattle population.
According to experts, drought conditions have been spreading to several non drought areas in Warangal. Failure of rains for the past six years in parts of Warangal has forced fanners to leave their land fallow which is increasing monsoon after failed monsoon. All the 50 mandals in the district were severely affected. The water level in minor irrigation sources like Parkal and Ramappa lakes and Salivagu project is much below the normal with Lakkavaram Lake and Malluruvagu project recording zero level till July 15. Lakkavaram and Parkal lakes have almost dried up with little in flows into them. It is feared that the groundwater resources would be threatened if such dry conditions continue. In agriculture, paddy transplantation was possble in only 15,000 ha as against the normal area of 1.03 lakh ha. Jowar, greengram, groundnut and cotton crops in thousands of hectares of land were affected by the drought.
The Warangal Collector reported that all the 51 mandals in the district were drought-hit. About 46 per cent of shortfall in rain during the South West monsoon had left 56 per cent of the normal sown area to be left fallow causing a crop loss of Rs 276.95 crores. In real terms, two lakh hectares were left fallow out of the normal 3.53 lakh hectares sown. Out of 1.53 lakh hectares sown in 1997 kharif lack of rains had damaged crops over 38,000 hectares. Special arrangement were made to transport fodder from Palampet to Jangaon, the worst affected revenue division in the district.
The district faced this kind of drought for the first time in 12 years. The most affected district after Mahabubnagar was Nalgonda. With the exception of only two mandals out of 59 in the district all the mandals have been affected by drought. Only five mandals received normal rainfall. More than half of the villages faced severe shortage of drinking water. All tanks dried up, and with the groundwater level receding, more than half of bore wells too dried up. Crops were raised in only half of the total cultivable area and there was acute scarcity of fodder. Milk collection in the district fell by 15 lakh litres daily due to the monsoon failure and fodder scarcity.
Nalgonda threatened to turn into a desert as land cracked for lack of rain, tanks and small irrigation sources dried up, emaciated cattle were drive to Hyderabad’s slaughter houses and mass exodus of people began. Newspapers reported that in Mallepally village in the drought-hit Deverakonda Assembly constituency of the district, Mallaiah, a marginal farmer of Peddadisarlapally village was taking home an emaciated cow along with its calf which he bought for a throwaway price of Rs 1800. In normal times this pair would have cost Rs 3600. Many farmers, unable to grow fodder, sold away their bulls and buffaloes for a paltry Rs 1500 or Rs 2000. With even dry crops like bajra, jowar and groundnut not sown, there was no possibility of farmers being left with fodder for their cattle. Local farmers said most of the cattle were being sold to contractors of various slaughter houses in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad. Although this was a regular phenomenon, the sale of cattle for slaughter was more pronounced due to drought this year. The district’s cattle population is 15 lakh but the fodder stock was sufficient for only three lakh heads of cattle.
In 24 out of the 59 mandals in the district, the rainfall was less than 60 per cent in 30 mandals, it was 26 per cent to 30 per cent less in five mandals and 5 per cent less in five mandals. There are 549 small irrigation sources in the district, out of which only 124 tanks received water for irrigation. In the rainfed areas, crops on 7.35 lakh acres are sown in normal years in the district, but only four lakh acres were sown in 1997 due to inadequate rains. With fields drying up in 21 out of 59 mandals there was a drastic fall in paddy cultivation in 1997. Paddy was transplanted in 28,660 hectares of land as against the normal cultivation of 1.39 lakh hectares. Only 19 per cent transplantation could be completed. In the rainfed area, 57 per cent transplantation was completed but with long spells of drought the yield is expected to be low. The Nalgonda district agricultural authorities have estimated that the loss of crop production due to the drought is about 1.23 lakh tonnes valued at Rs 7,333 lakh. .
Dry crops under rain-fed area were planted in only 1.83 lakh hectares as. against the normal cultivation of 2.92 lakh hectares.
Out of 36 mandals in the district as many as 31 have been declared drought hit. Severe drought combined with irregular and low quality power supply saw the farmers of this district attack electricity sub stations and the staff. They were frustrated that due to lack of power they were unable to use whatever water there was in their borewells to save their crops. There has been only 40 per cent of the normal rainfall in the district resulting in the drying up of 1600-odd minor irrigation tanks in the district. The medium irrigation projects like Ramadugu and Pocharam were nearly dry. The command area crops have been affected as the Nizamsagar dam level reached its lowest level in several years.
This district was the only “fortunate” one in Telangana which was visited by the Chief Minister to study the drought situation in mid-September when the drought was clear to everyone. For the first time since Sriramsagar Dam was constructed in 1970 it dried up in August leaving no water even for fish which died in hundreds and thousands. According to government officials, fish worth Rs one lakh died for lack of water. The dam had dried up in 1987 but that was in summer. For the first time it dried up during monsoon.
The State government took its own time to come out with a realistic plan of action to tackle the serious drought situation and the drying up of the Sriramsagar reservoir which threatened paddy crop over severallakh hectares. Although the drought conditions were obvious in late July itself as rains had totally failed, the government waited until September 13 to declare formally the district as “drought hit.” 25 out of 56 mandals were declared as “drought-hit.”
Revenue minister T Devender Goud has gone on record saying in August end that 274 mandals had been identified as having abysmally low rainfall, but he did not dec1!’ire them as “drought-hit”. Relief measures continued to elude these regions reeling under drought. Once a district is declared drought-affected, the government has to waive interest on all agriculture loans and reschedule their recovery, give 25 per cent subsidy on seeds and fertilizers and take up on war-footing relief measures such as digging of bore wells, provision of drinking water and supply of fodder for the cattle.
As many as 37 out of 46 revenue mandals experienced drought in Khammam while major and minor irrigation tanks got minimal inflows. The crop area fell by about 50 per cent in as many as nine of the 46 mandals in the district where the scarcity conditions are acute. The agriculture under the minor irrigation sources, which could not receive sufficient water so far this year, has been affected. About 40,000 hectares of agriculture land lay barren in the absence of sufficient rains. Minor and lift irrigation schemes irrigate an ayacut of about two lakh hectare in the district. There are 382 such schemes, which come under the minor irrigation department. Besides, 300 small tanks irrigate a considerable area. Tanks irrigation an area of 70,000 hectares, canals 65,000 hectares, bore wells 5000 hectares and lift irrigation schemes irrigate 3000 hectares. As many as 43 of the total 46 mandals received low rainfall, of which 29 mandals registered less than 50 per cent of the normal rainfall. Ten mandals got rainfall ranging from 30 per cent to 50 per cent and two mandals as low as 20 per cent to 30 per cent during the current Kharif season. Wazed, Venkatapuram, Charla, Dummugudem, Aswaraopet, Vemsoor, Kallur, Mudigonaa Pinapaka, Manugur, Kunavaram and Konijerla are the worst affected mandals.
Relief Programmes Delayed
Although agricultural operations did not begin and migration had started in full earnest by August end, the government failed to instruct the districts to launch drought relief measures. Official figures of rainfall told the tragic tale: 30 per cent deficit in rainfall all over the state (as on August 31); the situation was worse in
Telangana, with 45 per cent deficit in rainfall until then. The Agriculture Department had submitted a detailed report on the agricultural situation but no action was taken as the Chief Minister was busy with other things. Similarly, the Revenue Department did not react to reports from the various drought-affected districts with the result that no planned, coordinated, substantial drought relief measures were undertaken till the middle of September. By then a large number of cattle were led to slaughterhouses and villages emptied of peop1e as they migrated to urban areas looking for a livelihood. A major problem in Telangana during drought is the scarcity of fodder. Several districts have a huge cattle population which is difficult to sustain in such times. Till August end the government had released only Rs 34.40 lakh to supply the fodder as against the Animal Husbandry department recomm_ndation for the release of Rs 5.37 crore for one month which itself is an underestimated figure. At this rate each drought hit mandal would get barely a lorry load of fodder a day.
As a result of the failure of the monsoon in Telangana, a very small fraction of land sown during normal monsoons could be cultivated. Out of a normal sowr area of 26 lakh acres under dry crop in the region, only 5.3 lakh acres were sown; ‘and as against 3.5 lakh acres under agricultural pump sets, a mere 58,000 acres were brough_ uhder (tultivation. That is, about 80 per cent of the normal sown area under dry crpps and 85 per cent of area under pump sets could not be cultivated in Telangana.
Inflow into the Sriramsagar (SRSP) Project across the Godavari river were the lowest in its history (Table 5). In the absence of water releases into SRSP canals, paddy crop in seven lakh acres in four districts, including five lakh acres in Karimnagar district alone, was endangered. The catchment areas of Godavari were receiving rain but the water was being impounded by the Jaikwadi dam, upstream of SRSP. While the state government made a big row about the construction of Almatti dam in Karnataka and every now and then makes issue over low levels ofwater released from Tungabhadra and other project ,upstream on Krishna river in Kamataka, it has not raised the Jaikwadi issue with the government of Maharashtra It could not persuade Maharashtra to release 20 tmc ft of water from Jaikwadi project on upstream Godavari into SRSP which could have saved the crops. Acconding to estimates, farmers had invested at least Rs 2000 an acre for preparing the fields and for transplanting paddy. The estimated loss of paddy crop, at the rate of 20 quintals an acre, would be nearly Rs 500 crores.
The Major Irrigation Minister explained that Maharashtra had not agreed to the proposal since Maharashtra too was facing acute water shortage due to failure of rains. There was only 35 tmc water in the project as against its full capacity of 120 tmc. He said even if the Maharashtra counterpart released 10 tmc water, it would take more than 20 days to traverse 320 km to reach the Sriramsagar project in Andhra Pradesh. Besides evaporation and transmission losses, more than three tmc water wquld get stagnated at the barrages en route. The government explored no alternative(s; if a similar situation arose in either Coastal Andhra or Rayalaseema, it would have been under great pressure to act, to pay compensation and reduce distress of the people.
Drought Manual Revised
The Anjdhra Pradesh Government has replaced the old Drought Manual of 1981, which, was based on the outdated Famine Code of 1950, with a new one prepared by fl, committee headed by Mr. A V S Reddy, a senior IAS officer. The new manual based on the principle of relativity and therefore, is fair, scientific and objective. It has removed all the discretionary powers of the District Collectors in assessing the drought situation and instead made certain physical parameters, such as rainfall, mandatory for declaring ail area as drought-hit.
The new manual says, deficit rainfall in any two of the three other conditions sown area to be less than 50 per cent, crop yield less than 40 per cent, and continued dry spell-were compulsory for declaring a mandai drought-hit which would pave the way for state intervention to save the situation by automatically postponing collection of arrears of land revenue, loans, drainage cess, special land tax, rescheduling of agricultural loans and granting of fresh crop loans.
While the old manual merely stated “significant deficiency in normal rainfall as the criterion, the new one scientifically categories the mandals into three, categories; those receiving an annual rainfall of less than 750 mm, those received 750 mm to 1000 mm, and those with more than 1000 mm rainfall. The manual stipulates that the 15 per cent deficiency will suffice to declare the first category mandal as drought-hit, because “a little deficiency in them will have more, pronounced effect”.
For the second category the deficit recommended is 20 per cent, and the third 25 per cent. Without assigning relative significance of the rainfall received in different areas depending on the type of soils, the old manual described “rainy day” as one giving 2.5 mm of rainfall.
The new manual, on the other hand, fixed 2.5 mm for black cotton soils as these types of land have more retentivity-absorbing capacity and 5 mm for red soils which allow run-off instead of absorbing. If any mandal receives lees than the specified quantum during the season, the day will be treated as forming part of dry spell.
For declaring a mandal as drought-hit, compression in cropped area by 50 per cent and above for all principal crops including paddy is being observed as the norm. The area is to be declared “affected” if it reports reduction in crop yields of 50 per cent and above in respect of major crops, and 40 per cent for high input oriented crops, groundnut, Bengal gram, hybrid sunflower.
The A V S Reddy Committee stipulates that the government should use any part of the Calamity Relief Fund for permanent works as this particular fund was constituted to deal with emergency and extraordinary situations. It also permits flow from the fund to the dove-tailed programme.
It also stipulates that one-third of a landholding should be earmarked for growing fodder and for this legislation should be enacted. The committee also recommends use of techniques available with the National Remote Sensing Agency and the Andhra Pradesh satellite research application center. Their “vegetative index” can be guidance to an impending drought.
It is estimated that the season of monsoon activity in the state will have 50 to 75 days. The state is served by both the south-west monsoon active during June to September, and the north-east monsoon active in October-December. The state receives an average rainfall 600 mm during the south-west monsoon, and 200 mm out of the north-east monsoon.
In 1997 while the state was to receive 441 mm of normal rainfall by August end, it could get only 275 mm. Kharif operations have been limited to 50.34 lakh hectares compared to the normal area of 81.67 lakh hectares. The situation in Mahabubnagar and Prakasam districts was alarming with migration of agriculture labour, lack of fodder resulting in the distress sale of cattle and general fall in the purchasing power of the people.
If we were to consider the governmental concern, generosity and the protness that attends on any calamity in a region other than in Telangana, the case of Telangana would be obvious. For instance, in the summer of 1997 widespread shortage 01 power and low voltage in Telangana burnt out hundreds motors of agricultural pump sets and crops withered away. Unable to bear the losses caused by crops least a couple of farmers committed suicide. Farmers became violent, attacked AP State Electricity Board staff, and even raided neighboring villages to get their share of power. All that the government did in the face of this tragedy was to say that the farmers were being instigated by naxalites. And yet when farmers in East Godavari protesting against increased water and power tariffs were caned by the police and one died, there was such a political uproar that not only the Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu apologized for the police action but gave a huge compensation to the farmers who suffered at the hands of the police.
Similarly, in the name of mitigating cyclones and the havoc wreaked by them, hundreds of crores of rupees have been spent in the coastal areas; international funding agencies help was taken, the Central government funds used and voluntary agencies encouraged to work in the area. While admittedly severe cyclone devastates huge pockets, the damage wreaked by drought, the suffering caused to the people the dislocation suffered by them, and the setback they face is no less than the victims of cyclones. The tragedy of the drought victims is even more horrifying because they are the poorest of the poor; the nature’s vagary makes them poorer. Yet neither the government, nor any NGO, nor the generosity of an international donor has reached them with help other than token help. In fact, an allegation that has gained widespread currency and credibility, given the history of in jus tic I meted out to Telangana, is that the government has held back drought relief programmes for mitigating the people’s suffering because it wanted to conserve the funds under the centrally-funded Calamity Relief fund to meet emergency needs should a cyclone hit the coastal areas during the north-east monsoon from October to December.
It is high time that the government gave serious thought to fight the drought conditions in Telangana. Long-term measures need to be taken to create irrigation potential, improve the region’s ecology, and harness the scanty rainfall. The drought of Telangana is as much a handiwork of nature as of the government’s callous. neglect for over four decades. Nature has been generous to Telangana, endowing it with two major rivers, many lakes and rich groundwater resources. Not so the succession of governments headed by politicians from coastal Andhra, and run by bureaucrats from coastal Andhra. For them, Telangana has become a colony – to be used, exploited, and kept under-developed to serve their needs.