South India’s Drought Part 9: Rayachoty one of the worst-hit in Rayalaseema; govts play down water scarcity

Editor's note: Firstpost is covering various aspects of the near-calamitous drought situation in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. This is the final article from a nine-part series of ground reports on the ongoing water crisis in south India. In this piece, the author writes about Rayachoty in Rayalaseema, Andhra Pradesh which is worst-hit by drought and heatwave.

In April, Rayachoty municipality in the desert-like Kadapa district, worked out a unique drill on how to ration drinking and utility water to its less than one lakh residents. There is no additional supply line for the searing summer. The municipality issues water cards, providing 5 to 10 litres of potable water per family in the summer months – from April to June.

Rayachoty is one of the 23 acutely drought-hit locations in the arid Rayalaseema district where groundwater levels are very deep – about 2,000 feet. “I have been living here for the last 35 years and water cards have been a routine exercise during summer months. Conditions are worse this year as Krishna water was released early for Krishna Pushkaram and now there is no water in the basin,” said M Nagendra of Rayachoty, a kirana merchant who has made a small fortune by transporting water bottles and sachets from distant Kadapa and selling them for a premium.

As the mercury soared to unprecedented heights in the summer of 2017, the majority of Rayalaseema’s towns and villages have borne the brunt. The drought is despite the mighty Telugu Ganga canal flowing across Rayalaseema, and the rivers of Penna, Tungabhadra, Galru, Nagari, Handri Neeva watering the region. Water is a scarce commodity in Rayalaseema, costlier than gold, especially in Anantapur, Kadapa and parts of Kurnool.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Next to Rayachoty in Kadapa, Badwel, Jammalamadugu, Prodattur, Kalyanadurg, Uravakonda, Nagari, Vepanjeri, Punganur, Atmakur, Nandyal, Alair and Adoni also face acute drinking water crisis. But most of them had rivulets and reservoirs around them. It is only Rayachoty which did not have any water sources within 30 kilometres and mobile water supply is the only way out. “Though during YSR's (YS Rajashekhar Reddy, former Congress chief minister) time, water works were sped up under the Jalayagnam programme, subsequent governments de-prioritised them and acute water shortage is still a nightmarish condition of Rayachoty and other towns of Kadapa district,” said G Srikant Reddy, local MLA.

Satellite-based weather forecasting agencies have predicted temperatures up to 42 or 43 degrees Celsius in many parts of Rayalaseema. The soaring temperatures have prompted animal lovers to urge residents to keep water tubs for stray dogs and other animals and birdwatchers have also joined the campaign with colony residents to keep bowls of water in their balconies for the avian friends.

Religious organisations have set up water stations (chali vendram) in many places to offer cold water to the destitute and auto drivers and bus operators. Tender coconut and soft drink vendors are doing roaring business and the poor man’s cool alternative – buttermilk – is in great demand this season.

The Met Department recently issued an advisory of 2-4 percent increase in average day temperature of 43 degrees until the end of April in Telangana and Rayalaseema districts. Mercury has already touched 46 degrees at Vijayawada — a jump of 3 degrees Celsius in Krishna district in nearly 135 of the 670 mandals of Andhra Pradesh. “Last year, the temperatures recorded were one degree above normal. But this year, it is 2-4 degrees above normal in Rayalaseema, in view of the huge sand and mineral extractions done by unscrupulous mafia operators,” said veteran environmentalist and social worker of Kurnool, Vijayabharati.

Director of Cyclone Warning Centre at Visakhapatnam, K Ramachandra Rao, said the temperature was slightly above normal in Rayalaseema and that heatwave conditions will continue into May and June this year, with Rayalaseema set to record a maximum of 48 degrees Celsius.

Environmentalists say that heavy denudation of greenery due to irrigation works – Handi-Neeva, Galeru-Nagari, HLC works on Tungabhadra and KC canal, Pothireddipadu and Velugodu works and cement carpeting of vast areas in Kurnool, Kadapa and Anantapur (for market areas, roads and reservoirs) had led to low groundwater levels. Since augmenting groundwater sources is a Herculean task, the government has resorted to supply of water by mobile tankers to even semi-urban and rural areas.

Abdul Khader, engineer of Rural Water Supply (RWS) department at Rayachoty in YSR Kadapa district, says that the department has launched a programme of supplying drinking water via tankers in the entire Rayachoty mandal comprising 187 villages. “We are also rationing water village-wise and advised them to keep livestock together in one compound to save water and also avoid wastage,” he said.

Heatwave conditions apart, the governments of both Telugu states — Telangana and Andhra Pradesh — are playing down drought and drinking water scarcity in view of their development and investment attraction agenda. “Both the governments spending huge amounts on irrigation, water works and welfare budget, would be embarrassed to record heatwave deaths and farmer suicides, and are hence downplaying drought conditions,” charged K Lakshman, BJP floor leader in the Telangana Assembly.

Religion vs Basic Needs

In the summer of 2016, Krishna water was not released to Pothireddipadu, the water junction for Rayalaseema for the sake of Krishna Pushkaralu, a religious festival held in June-July. This government action has denied drinking water to thousands of villages and led to heatwave deaths of people and livestock. “The Chandrababu Naidu government is accused of denying water to Rayalaseema for personal glorification during the Krishna Pushkaralu for the people of coastal Andhra,” said Kurnool-based political analyst Radhakrishna Rao.

Rayalaseema’s water crisis was supposed to have been resolved through the Telugu Ganga, Galeru-Nagari and Handri-Neeva projects which were executed by successive Telugu Desam Party and Congress governments without sanction from the Central Water Commission. A whopping Rs 12,000 crores has been spent on the projects which have no allocation of assured Krishna water. They are all built on surplus water sources of the river Krishna.

The Centre has, therefore, postponed the issue of allocation of surplus Krishna water in view of the vicious battle between Telangana and AP after bifurcation of the state. Despite this, Andhra Pradesh has gone ahead with these projects and as of now none of these projects can hope to get any funding from the Centre or international funding agencies. “Thus both political parties and their governments have been bluffing to the poor people of Rayalaseema. Without gravity flow and lack of a canal system with lift irrigation pumps, the future of irrigation and drinking water sources in Rayalaseema districts, standing on a rocky plateau of minerals – barytes, laterite, uranium, and lignite – is very bleak,” said R Jagadiswara Rao, former chief engineer and environmentalist.

In 2017, though 80 tmc-feet of Godavari water was diverted to the Krishna river basin through the Pattiseema project, Rayalaseema has hardly got any share. “Much of the Godavari water of Pattiseema has been retained at Prakasam Barrage for use in the construction works of Amaravati and also a second crop for the Krishna delta region of Krishna and Guntur district,” said Ramakrishna Reddy, YSR Congress legislator of Mangalagiri who campaigned against TDP on the issue of Pattiseema waters.

So what will Rayalaseema and Rayachoty do now for water? It is going to be a long haul ahead as the sun blazes down on this forgotten region.

Part 1: Five states face severe water crisis made worse by the onset of summer
Part 2: Chennai slum dwellers forced to beg for water, authorities remain helpless
Part 3: Parched lands in Nagapattinam lead to distress migration
Part 4: Water crisis in Tamil Nadu is a manifestation of climate change, say experts
Part 5: As Karnataka reels under severe water crisis, residents brace unofficial rationing
Part 6: Parched rural Karnataka sees mass migration but officials stay in denial
Part 7: Kerala's efforts to revive water bodies bear fruit at grassroot level
Part 8: Telangana, Andhra Pradesh reel under heatwave, but petty politics takes centrestage

Updated Date: May 02, 2017 15:25 PM

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