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Irrigation is multi-faceted subject, that requires indepth enquiry and understanding. Area development, interlinked with irrigation, has been the subject of world-wide discussion, research and application. In Telangana, as a region in combined State of Andhra Pradesh, irrigation has always been a dream to be achieved. Among the priorities of different governments, irrigation-linked development programmes took a backseat. It is one of the primary reasons cited by separate Telangana agitation.
Interestingly, first government of Telangana State is reviving and reformulating rather aggressively the same pattern and similar strategies. However, current government’s approach as before has lot of glaring gaps, needs questioning on various dimensions.
Transparency and accountability is a major concern. Godavari project reports, in the past and currently, are not available for public scrutiny and discussions. Pranahitha – Chevella Detailed Project Report, containing six volumes, prepared in 2010, is not in the public domain. In 2016, government of Telangana has not shared detailed reports, despite on and off news stories in the media, about the current designs of the same projects, and/or newly contemplated projects. Under Right to Information Act, Government of Telangana is duty-bound to reveal and release these reports, pro-actively.
Even though, government has boldly declared an allocation of Rs.25,000 crores, in Plan allocations of State for the Financial Year 2016-17, State legislature has not discussed this important aspect, not even for minute, leave alone hours or days. Chief Minister’s in his presentation in the Assembly, on 31st March, 2016, refers to fallacies and foibles of the past government. However, past mistakes and failures are no justification for current gaps. With more than Rs.70,000 crores debts on the State Exchequer, a young State has taken a bold decision to commit such a huge amount to a single sector, with a promise of overall development. However, much of the current allocations pertain to projects with a benefit accrual to five districts only, out of 10 districts. There is a huge inequity built into this planning. Such inequity was questioned, in the past, and was a major justification for separate Telangana agitation. Priority for these projects, and massive allocation, has not been arrived at after consultations and does not have wider approval. A single person’s obsession, in a democracy, is being fobbed off as a historical necessity, even while institutions and procedures established to act as checks and balances, to prevent abuse and misuse of power, have gone to a toss.
There is a huge concern on Rs.9,000 crores expenditure, in the past five years, on Pranahitha-Chevella project, with regard to the integrity of such huge investment and how the infrastructure created would go waste. Government of Telangana should have released details of such expenditure, and how the assets created will be utilized, if not for this purpose. Dug canals and excavated tunnels are now reportedly being abandoned.
There should be more debate and discussion on Godavari projects, with specific objective of generating informed public opinion, that leads to efficient utilization of resources and ensures grounding of a sustainable, comprehensive project. All documents related to the projects on Godavari should be placed in the public domain.
Government also needs to develop alternatives, and weigh benefits and challenges of each such proposal, in relation to the per acre cost on the small farmers, who are ultimately are the beneficiaries of irrigation projects on River Godavari. No longer the discussion and information should be centred on design and technical aspects, but has to include ultimate costs on agricultural sector, impact of such costs on food production, cropping pattern, incomes of farmers and wealth distribution effects. For long, water distribution from large irrigation projects has not only been a matter of contention between competing uses, such as domestic drinking water, agriculture, industrial, urban needs and other purposes, but has also come under the scrutiny of advocates for equity and socio-economic change. On an average, direct distribution to agriculture ranges from 50 to 90 percent, with waters being utilized for other purposes, especially when water storage is not full. Participatory Irrigation Management has become a concept that answers issues of inequitous and inefficient distribution in the command area, for agricultural use. However, no other model or concept has come up for ensuring prioritized usage among competing needs. On paper, National Water Policy 2012 prioritises drinking water over other needs, and has recommended a hierarchy. But, often, experience shows that the principle of ‘might is right’ continues to be applied and no transparent process that ensures the emergence of a negotiated settlement has been delineated in India.
It is no wonder government of Telangana has not given much thought to this issue, in its irrigation planning, apart from the promise of larger benefits. Benefit analysis should precede project design, and not the other way round. Depending on the benefits and interplay between various options, especially from the standpoint of environmental, financial and social impacts, project design has to be finalized. Public discussions on design alone does not help, and would confuse non-technical persons, whose numbers easily outmatch technical expertise, and whose involvement is a must given that they are either losers or beneficiaries, of the whole conundrum.
Participation of farmers in irrigation projects, from planning stage upto realization of benefits from such projects, helps in building ownership, reduces inefficient processes and diffidence, and can help in reducing wasteful water usages on improper crops. Government of Telangana does not seem to prioritise aspirations, opinions and status of farmers in irrigation project planning. Rough and wild estimates arrive at a cost, in the range of Rs.1 lakh to Rs.5 lakhs per acre. Irrigation planning has to take this into account, and has to begin here and work backwards. Higher the burden on the farmer, who for decades was dependent on rainfall alone, cropping pattern would undergo drastic changes. It will also impact on land ownership, with small farmers abandoning their lands, possibly leading to land consolidation. Thus, a project which is supposed to prevent out migration, ensure employment and provide water for agriculture, is likely to destabilize existing natural resources ownership and has the potential to change the local social dynamics and can easily disempower the poorest and economically backward sections in the command area.
Environmental and ecological concerns, coupled with displacement, needs to be discussed. Assessment of such impacts should precede any project activity, and cannot be pushed down under. Unfortunately, most irrigation projects in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh and currently Telangana have not passed through a critical environmental scrutiny. Government of Telangana which has committed itself to mammoth plantation exercise, through Harithaharam project, cannot ignore its responsibility towards environment, ecology and biodiversity.
Telangana civil society needs to generate innovative and motivating ideas that amalgamate administrative, policy, political, environmental, economical and technical aspects of water management.
India is reeling under heat. Unprecedented atmospheric temperatures and ambient temperatures are taking a heavy toll on the most visible form of life – human beings. We also know people are dying and farm animals are dying. We do not know about wildlife and life which is not even in our radar, including bacteria, insects, plants and trees. With groundwater levels depleting beyond the reach of tree roots and deep borewells, soil moisture is completely absent. Grass blades are rarity, having left to fend for themselves. Farm animals do not have fodder and water. Owners of farm animals themselves do not have water and food. Is it a drought or a mere heat wave? Or, the preliminary steps in desertification? Desertification possibly means things may not be normal, once rainfall happens. Water will roll off the dry patches of land, with nothing to hold on, gathering speed and whatever can float, washing off modicum of soil. There is no opportunity for water to sink and no system that can enable it to the fullest extent possible.
Across the world, many countries have also witnessed and are already dealing with rise in temperatures. Britain, Yugoslavia seem to have their own plans. WHO has also issued some plans. In India, Gujarat and Maharashtra had their plans two years back. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh developed their heat wave action plans, this year, that too after Court ordered them to do so. However, deaths due to sun stroke have increased in both these States enormously, in the last two years. Yet, administration and elected leaders in these States continue to ignore this problem. Media confines to mere reporting of deaths. Much of the news reports focus only on water shortages, and not much on drought and heat strokes.
In Andhra Pradesh, contrary to normative thinking, deaths have been reported maximum in Vishakhapatnam and other coastal districts, and not Rayalaseema. Similarly, in Telangana, Mahbubnagar reported the maximum. Also, though the number of hot days were maximum in 2010, in united AP, deaths increased 10 times more in 2014 and 2015. Even this year, both the States have been reporting deaths due to sun-stroke, or heat waves.
Heat wave, or temperature rise, impact is disproportionate and is definitely linked to more number of factors than fathomed. Vulnerability studies are required to assess why and what circumstances these deaths are happening, and who are these persons. Unlike any disaster, this disaster if one can call that, has different characteristics, than say floods or drought. Historicity of the causative factors seems to have measure of impact. Geographical area linked vulnerabilities do also play their role on the impacts.
Heat Wave Action plans to date seem to be dependent on temperature fluctuations, as recorded by the Meteoreology department, and alerts are issued based on these variations. However, field observations and data shows that this may not be sufficient. It has to be fortified with socio-economic and importantly bio-indicators. Epidemiological studies of heat wave impacts can also help in establishing early warning indicators at the local level.
Heat wave alerts can at best galvanise administration, but people have to be activated through prior knowledge and development of local mechanisms. Current heat Wave Action Plans fall far short of expectations and imagination. Despite a overemphasis on issuance of heat wave alerts, these action plans do not lay out who can play what role and how. A alert should have certain administrative framework of action, which is lacking.
Local indigenous knowledge, food consumption pattern and access to such foods and liquids should also be part of these heat wave action plans. Distribution of ORS packets can be at best be symptomatic relief and cannot be a solution for all situations. Access to water continues to be a major issue. Even if its available at home, it is not available during travel and at work. With rural incomes dipping dangerously, purchasing power has nosedived, creating a problem of access to nutritious and energising food.
Panchayats have to be made basic units of these Plans. Budgets and administrative processes have to be developed. Unfortunately, we are in the midst of worst heat wave conditions, and the Action Plans are on paper. Manual labour, hotel cooks, brick kiln workers, construction workers and many other people involved in various professions need relief in terms of timings and work schedules. Age and gender fallibility to heat stroke is a known factor: children, women, old and infirm are at greater risk. Exhaustion from heat, inaccessibility to water, food and rest, can cause rapid dehydration and can be fatal. Labour laws have to be changed. Old pensioners, women and disabled persons, dependent on state doles, queue up before ‘welfare’ departments in hot conditions, merely because government employees chose to attend their duties between 11 am to 4 pm, assured as they are by fans and air conditioners. Welfare departments have to change their work schedules as well. A heat wave alert should trigger such changes.
Heat Wave Action Plans of both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh need lot of improvement and imaginative procedures and mechanisms. Consultation mechanisms have to be built in. Non-governmental players have to be involved at different levels, and not just in distribution of ORS packets. Social consciousness should lead to conscientious efforts and resource sharing. Ownership of natural resources has to be forgotten in stressed times, giving way to sharing, equity and justice. Only then, deaths of such unfortunate children as below can be avoided.
Protests are brewing over the proposal to cut down trees in KBR national park in Hyderabad, located amidst upscale residential areas of Jubilee Hills. In the last 30 years, for the first time I have seen some protest shaping on protection of natural resources from this section of citizens. It is probably because of younger generation who are little more aware, or it could be the consciousness they would lose the lung space available for them to meet, interact, discuss and relax. It is always good to see citizen action from wherever, in whatever form to protect their interests, especially when they are intertwined with protection of ecology and environment.
Strategic Road Development Project (SRDP) appears to be the brainchild of a thinking that believes that wide roads, flyovers, swank cars and concrete structures continue to be the symbols of development, prosperity and show pieces. The tingle in the eyes of many, wows in their mouths, when they see such development as indicators of modernity and a matter of pride. Juxtapose this image, this dream, with the other picture, in the same area – no water, tankers plying in and out of swank apartments, no sewerage system, floods on the roads after the slightest drizzle and automobile pollution. In this summer, with temperature touching 44 degrees centigrade in April, people with airconditioners at homes and in cars still feel the hear, even while they pay their way to comforts. Even they would need open space to come out of their claustrophobic big homes. With climate change increasing the heat, drought leading to water shortages, people are becoming aware that environment and ecology needs to be protected.
But would saving 3,100 trees from being cut in KBR park is enough to protect ecology and environment in Hyderabad? No. SRDP is a project of mammoth proportions, involving investment of some Rs.20 to 25,000 crores, construction of multiple flyovers, widening roads, building transport corridors. Earlier the same Lee Associates has done Comprehensive Transport Study on Hyderabad, with an ask list totalling Rs.1,75,000 crores to improve only transport infrastructure. It means mostly roads, flyovers and related constructions. SRDP is supposedly an offshoot of these recommendations. Ofcourse, citizens of Hyderabad were not given much time to comment on the study. Now, neither this study nor SRDP has been discussed or tabled for discussed in either Telangana State Assembly or Council of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. SRDP is a mere media information. There is no document either for people to access and comment. Government has not developed any alternative options, and asked citizens to choose between them. SRDP, in a democratic setup, is being given as a fait accompli. Citizens are being fed with the news that there is no choice. Is it so?
There are 12 Universities and many scientific institutions in Hyderabad. There is a large scientific and academic pool of resources. Yet, so far, none of the scientists have warned publicly about the perils of destroying KBR Park. KBR Park is destined for destruction. It is no longer a question of number of trees. KBR Park is located on a ridge, and has been functioning as carbon and water sink. Rainwater from this park flows into two basins of major water reservoirs including Hussainsagar. Destruction of KBR Park will have a cascading effect on Hyderabad in general, and Jubilee Hills in particular. As it is air pollution, in the form of sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides and particulate matter, is on par with any congesting areas such as Charminar or Dilsukhnagar, despite a KBR Park. With obliteration of KBR Park, it will be impossible for super sensitive people in costly homes in the vicinity to stay here. If and when the SRDP is completed, and during construction of flyovers, dust levels and particulate matter in the air is likely to multiply, with increase in automobile traffic.
Be that as it may, who will bear the cost of SRDP, whole of Rs.25,000 crores, as per initial estimates? Will it be the road users, tax payers of Hyderabad, or Telangana population? And, who will benefit? With environmental, ecological and economical costs being distributed on the hapless people, who may not see these roads and junctions (like ORR these roads will be reserved for high-end automobiles), one would wonder in whose interest the SRDP is being implemented.
Protesters of KBR Park to get wider support have to widen their objective. Their agitation should go beyond protection of some trees in the buffer zone of KBR Park. It should encompass:
- saving KBR Park as a unit, and not just a few trees.
- protesting against commercial constructions and public infrastructure development together, in KBR Park
- question SRDP as a project and fait accompli, and ask for alternative options
- ask for open space policy in Hyderabad city and
- build advocacy campaign for decentralised, regional development.
Citizens should argue against Hyderabad-centric public investments. With a larger agenda, protesters against tree cutting in KBR Park would have larger support from citizens across Hyderabad and a long term action that ensures justice, fairness, equity and sustainability in relation to usage and protection of natural resources in and around Hyderabad.
Economic Survey 2016, Union Budget 2016-17 and very recent speeches of Prime Minister of Narendra Modi at Gangtok, Bargarh and Barielli should clarify that agriculture is on top priority, and is under the lens of policy makers. No one can claim that they do not know, or agriculture is their least priority.
However, therein lies the problem. The question is why a government which is focussed on liberalisation, fiscal consolidation and economic reforms is showing so much interest in agriculture. Does it mean government has become conscious of large number of farmer suicides, or oncoming global economic slowdown has forced it to look at the fundamentals of Indian economy? It is increasingly apparent, not before this week, that this concern is probably a realisation that reforms cannot happen without a fundamental transformation in Indian economy, turning it upside down. One cannot confuse this revolution and the epistemology behind the word revolution. It is not about overthrowing the super structure, but it is probably to cut the roots.
Chief Economic Adviser, Arvind Subramaniam, in his Economic Survey 2016-17 declares this approach boldly and in many places in the document. I quote one, “It is equally true that economic dynamism and long-run growth requires small firms becoming big and efficient (page 46, Vol I)”. There are many such aphorisms that give us an insight into the direction of policy makers thinking. The document goes on to say, boldy, “India’s WTO obligations could predominantly be based on this domestic shift away from border protection to domestic support.” Would this mean, India would see a lowering of import duties? Revenue to the government from import duties is increasing despite a drop in oil prices, indicating more and more dependence on imports.
Finance Minister also tried to convey forcefully convey a message of transformation and the commitment of government to change the economy. In the budget, allocations show a shift from the previous budgets. Interest subsidy for short term loans to farmers was not in Ministry of Agriculture budget before. This year it has been included. Out of a total budget of Rs.35,983 crores, interest subsidy has Rs.15,000 crores, crop insurance Rs.5,500 crores, Rastriya Krishi Vikas Yojana Rs.5,400 crores and Krishi Unnati Yojana Rs.6,949 crores. These four scheme total Rs.32,850 crores. Thus, the number of schemes have been reduced. As Economic Survey says in agriculture the priority of the government seems to bring out ‘more results from less allocations’.
Prime Minister has also been talking of decentralisation and has been exhorting States to take more role in agriculture. This is not to be confused with devolution of powers. It is probably a move to shift the burden of agriculture. Even while GST is being rolled, which reduces elbow room for States, this kind of burden shift would only mean ‘kicking’ focus lights away.
There is a method and strategy behind the recent focus on agriculture is apparent. Other steps such as increasing attention of the government towards genetically-modified crops with a fallacious argument that it will increase productivity, establishment of Unified National Agricultural Market and banking reforms do give a strong indication of a strategy, which would like to cut Indian agriculture at its roots. In his budget speech, Arun Jaitley says, “To increase the incomes of farmers, it is imperative that we create a National agricultural market, which will have the incidental benefit of moderating price rises.” This statement clarifies that the focus of the government is more on ‘moderating price rises’, than enabling ‘remunerative prices’ through NAM. Per drop more crop, investments in rural infrastructure, more yields from less land and other such schemes are essentially geared to bring about structural changes. It could mean change in ownership, operations and scale.
All the three principal policymakers, with the recent addition of NITI Ayog, have brought ‘solutions’ to imaginary problems and do not address core reasons behind agricultural crisis. Corruption, governance failure, inadequate knowledge in the extension system, non-regulation of agricultural input suppliers, water scarcity, multiple impacts of natural phenomenons and a myriad other problems have not been referred and addressed by Economic Survey 2016, Union Budget 2016-17 and Prime Minister’s speeches.
With a higher than expected contribution to GDP by the agriculture sector, government allocations did not rise more than 2 percent of total government expenditure. The inability of the government to spend these miserly allocations has been slammed time and again by the Parliamentary Standing Committee. The ball of blame is kicked among different agencies, with no agency being made accountable.
This government has not responded to drought, drought related impacts on rural populace, farmers suicides, malnutrition, climate change, repetitive natural calamities, declining rural and farm incomes and serious migration from homes, livelihoods and regions. This budget is being dubbed by a few business media as pro-farmer, pro-poor and pro-rural, probably taking cue from Prime Minister. However, a comprehensive view and a defragmented budget allocations do not give scope for such a conclusion. Proponents of such labelling need to develop arguments. It may not be like searching a needle in the haystack, but it would be more passing of a rose garland as that of jasmine.