Chirala Bheema Rao, a farmer from Guntur district of coastal Andhra, fears the worst post-statehood for Telangana.
Rao, 60, cultivates paddy and chillies on a nine-acre plot. Kandrika, his village in a semi-arid zone, is dependent on water brought by the Nagarjuna Sagar canal from the river Krishna.
“What if the Telangana government raises the height of the Jurala Project or checks the flow of water when we need it the most?” he asks.
The Indira Priyadarshini Jurala Project is a barrage on river Krishna in Mahbubnagar district of the Telangana region. The river is dammed again at Srisailam in Rayalseema before it reaches the Nagarjuna Sagar.
Rao has a point. Andhra Pradesh farmers suffered after Karnataka raised the height of the Almatty dam, leading to a water war between the two states 10 years ago. Farmers in Guntur worry all the more because the district records low rainfall, though the Rayalseema areas are more parched. Guntur’s average annual rainfall of 853mm is much less than most Telangana districts such as Adilabad (1,157mm) and Khammam (1,124mm).
“Without assured supply of water, we will be forced to cultivate millet and other less remunerative crops,” Rao says.
Lower annual rainfall (603mm) in Mahbubnagar district — where Jurala is —adds to Guntur’s woes. Jurala’s priority is servicing the fields in Mahbubnagar, which translates into scanty water for Guntur farmers if monsoon fails.
Farmers across coastal Andhra up to West and East Godavari districts face a similar situation. They are agitated over the Godavari waters that flow through Telangana onto their lands.
Canals of the rivers Godavari and Krishna irrigate more than 900,000 hectares in Guntur, Krishna, East and West Godavari districts. Now considered India’s rice bowl, these four districts were barren before the rivers Godavari and Krishna were dammed.
Farmers thus dread a return to the bad old days. Adding to their anxiety is chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, who is convinced that creating Telangana would lead to water wars. At a media conference a few days ago, Reddy took a sip while explaining the water issues: “Let me have some water now. Don’t know what the situation would be tomorrow.”
Reddy also said the Srisailam and Nagarjuna Sagar projects were possible because of the united status of Andhra Pradesh. The projects on the river Krishna straddle Telangana and coastal Andhra.
But irrigation experts played down the fears. Officials said river tribunals, especially the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal, decide allocation and settle disputes between Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. For instance, the left canal of the Nagarjuna Sagar serving Telangana and the right serving coastal Andhra are allocated 132 thousand million cubic feet of water each.
“A review would be carried out if necessary. But creating Telangana won’t affect allocation,” an irrigation officer said.
He, however, did not rule out friction in lean rainfall years after the bifurcation. “The upper riparian states, in this case Telangana, will have an edge in low-rainfall years.”
Ponnala Lakshmaiah, a minister from Telangana area who had held the irrigation portfolio, said: “A statutory board with an enforcing authority can address the apprehensions.”
But farmers are not sure if Telangana can be trusted.