One of the major grievances of the people of Telangana has all along been the raw deal meted out to them regarding allocation and utilization of river waters. The grievance is neither new nor unexpected. In 1955, the first States Reorganisation Commission (SRC) eloquently articulated Telangana’s fears:
‘When plans for future development are taken into account, Telangana fears that the claims of this area may not receive adequate consideration in Vishalandhra.
The Nandikonda and Kushtapuram (Godavari) projects are, for example, among the most important which Telangana has undertaken.
Irrigation in the coastal deltas of these two great rivers is also being planned. Telangana, therefore, does not wish to lose its present independent rights in relation to the utilization of the Krishna and Godavari waters.’
These warning signals were ignored. The fears of the people of Telangana, after their territory’s forced merger with Andhra, were set aside.
The ‘Gentlemen’ who presided over the merger assured justice and fair play on multiple fronts. But over time, each one of their assurances was belied.
As feared, Telangana became a helpless victim of broken promises. Around half a dozen major and medium irrigation projects planned by the erstwhile Hyderabad government were abandoned; more than a dozen were truncated and mutilated.
And as many projects inherited from the past were willfully neglected. Eventually, these irrigation projects have either dried up or are moving towards extinction. To appreciate this unprecedented phenomenon, a river valley wise and category wise analysis would be in order.
Telangana is bound by two major rivers, the Krishna and the Godavari. Their natural water grid of innumerable tributaries is such that more than two-thirds of catchment area of these major rivers falls in Telangana.
If only these waters flowing within its territory were harnessed, each acre of Telangana can be irrigated and each village provided with drinking water. But the reality is frightening. Out of two-thirds of the Krishna catchment, only a third has been allotted to Telangana projects.
And in terms of the actual utilization, Telangana’s share is far less. In figures, of the nearly 35 lakh acres being irrigated by the projects built on the river Krishna, hardly 5 lakh acres are in Telangana.
The story of the Godavari valley is no different. With a gross irrigation of around 25 lakh acres, Telangana accounts for only 5 lakh acres. Successive rulers made promises to harness this water for Telangana. However, the waters continue to flow down the Godavari, disgorging billions of tmc ft of water into the sea annually.
The collective impact of the discrimination suffered by Telangana in both river basins is horrendous. The second half of 20th century yielded only an 18% share to Telangana. Did someone say justice and fair play?
Tank irrigation is another area of willful neglect. Tank irrigation in Telangana is millennium old. The Kakatiya rulers created at least one tank in every village.
Over the years, big landlords and zamindaars constructed their own private tanks. It was the focal point of the agrarian economy as well as rural society.
No wonder, people prayed to Goddess Maisamma to ensure water aplenty. The deity Katta Maisamma is an inseparable part of Telangana folklore.
With such attention from rulers with a concern for public welfare, a vast network of tanks, developed over a millennium, were irrigating 12 lakh acres in 1955.
After the formation of Andhra Pradesh, successive rulers spent billions of rupees on developing tanks. Tank irrigation should have gone up substantially but it dwindled to just 4-5 lakh acres today.
Huge sums of money have failed to create fresh irrigation potential. However, a different kind of potential appears to have been created ‘ elsewhere.
As water bodies shrunk, Telangana farmers left their occupation and a new class of entrepreneurs took their place. Lands were developed by migrant settlers. Film City, Hi-Tec City and East City are the fruits harvested by new kind of ‘farmers’.
Jalayagnam has proved to be a mega fraud on the state exchequer as well as a cruel joke on the poor farmers of Telangana. To start with, 26 projects costing `46,000 crore were planned to be completed in five years to bring 65 lakh acres under irrigation.
At the end of five years, `50,000 crore were spent but no project has been completed. To compound the tragedy, the government had recently planned to complete 82 projects to bring 1 crore acres under irrigation at a cost of `1.76 lakh crore. Project costs have multiplied, but the promised land under irrigation is not visible anywhere.
Objective reality notwithstanding, the rulers claim that around 1.4 lakh acres of land has in fact been brought under irrigation. Even in this world of fantasy, Telangana benefited by less than 11%.
Whatever the rulers have done since 1956 has not yielded more than a paltry share to Telangana. Denied water, its vast landscape has assumed the character of desert-like geography.
To highlight this daylight robbery, two projects need special mention. One is Polavaram and the other Pothireddypadu. The former was sanctioned in just 17 days.
The latter took a little longer, some three weeks. Work was done at jet speed, 24×7. Search lights were switched on to facilitate work at night and round-the-clock police protection was given to ensure hindrance-free progress. This sort of a scenario is only witnessed when two countries are at war.
The new state will have to address these demands and develop a time-bound strategy. The contours of this should be as follows:
In all, Telangana has 119 Assembly segments. Twenty-five of these are urban, and therefore, would not need irrigation waters.
Excluding yet another 22 that are canal-irrigated, water should reach the remaining by taking up at least one lakh acres of canal irrigation per constituency.
All ongoing projects like Yelurupadu and Devadula lift irrigation, Kalvakurthy, Nettampadu and Bhima should be completed in three years. The Pranhitha-Chevella project shall be executed as a national project and completed in five years.
The Telangana government should fight for a rightful share of the Godavari and Krishna river waters. The Jurala -Pakhala link canal should be taken up.
Desiltation of one tank in each village should be taken up and completed in five years.
TASKS FOR TELANGANA
1. Give adequate priority to tank irrigation
2. Secure national status for Pranahita-Chevella
3. Interlink rural tanks
4. Harvest rainwater everywhere
5. Speed up ongoing irrigation projects
Tank irrigation shrank from 12 lakh acres to 4 acres during the composite state
Polavaram was sanctioned in 17 days and Pothireddypadu in three weeks
Only 18% of irrigation potential was created in Telangana
FOCUS ISSUE: Fight for every drop of water due to Telangana from the Krishna and Godavari emboldened by its tributaries like the Pranahita, Indravati and Shabri.