On Wednesday, in a meeting organised in Ongole, the headquarters of Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh, leaders from opposition political parties and intellectuals strongly condemned Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy’s indifference towards Irrigation development and meagre allocations made for it in the 2023-2024 budget. The budget was tabled on March 16.
State Finance Minister Buggana Rajendranath tabled the budget with an outlay of Rs 2,79,279 crore. With assembly elections just 10 months away, the government has laid extra emphasis on welfare schemes. A large amount of Rs 54,228 crore has been allocated for the cash-transfer welfare schemes.
This seems to have forced the government to downsize the allocation for irrigation to just Rs 11,908 crore (4.26 per cent). Of this, Rs 5,042 crore has gone to Polavaram, a national project. In a state where irrigation expenditure does not go beyond 30 per cent, one can easily imagine the fate of the ongoing projects with these paltry allocations.
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This has triggered an uproar all across the state. The Ongole meeting is just one among many planned in the state. The meeting, organized by Forum for Andhra Pradesh Development Studies on the Status of Irrigation Projects with special reference to a project called Veligonda, expressed dismay that never in the past had welfare schemes been taken up at the cost of irrigation projects that pave the path for the overall development of the state.
The speakers, representing Congress, Telugu Desam party (TDP), Janasena, Lok Satta, New Democracy, CPI, CPI(M), and rights organisations, narrated how the construction works of ongoing projects were either scrapped or made to go slow in all regions of the state by denying budgetary support.
Round tables have been organized in all districts over how Jagan’s government is allowing all sectors to suffer by diverting funds to welfare schemes named after the chief minister himself or his father YS Rajasekhar Reddy, chief minister of the united Andhra Pradesh between 2004-2009.
CM Jagan’s entire governance revolves around 32 schemes such as YSR Pelli Kanuka, YSR Amma Vodi, YSR Pensions, YSR Aarogyasri, YSR PedalandarikiI lllu, YSR Navodayam, Jagananna Chedodu, Jagananna Vidya Deevena-Jagananna Vasati Deevena, Jagananna YSR Badugu Vikasam, YSR Nethanna Nestham, YSR Vahana Mitra, YSR Kapu Nestam, etc.
CM Jagan’s plans
Pressing of button by Chief Minister Jagan that immediately transfers the money into the accounts of lakhs of beneficiaries is the major state event in Andhra Pradesh.
“CM Jagan’s single most priority is winning the next election. He is under the notion that pumping more money into cash transfer schemes is a sure bet to win the election. So he has diverted funds from the irrigation sector to welfare schemes,” said state Congress vice president Dr N Tulasi Reddy.
In the CM’s view, Dr Reddy said, the long-gestation irrigation projects are waste because they need huge funds for construction and rehabilitation which offer no guarantee of votes. “This is the reason he wants to delay many irrigation projects,” Dr Reddy said.
Citing the example of Veligonda, a crucial project for the undivided Prakasam district, Forum’s secretary Vallampalli Lakshman Reddy wondered at the meagre amount, Rs 101.47 crore earmarked for it. Stating that this was the lowest-ever allocation in a decade, Lakshman Reddy lamented that it clearly tells that the government had no intention to complete the project envisaged for irrigation of about 3.5 lakh acres.
Projects in limbo
Veteran commentator on matters of irrigation, V Sankaraiah, said at the rate of funds allocated in the 2023-24 budget, projects of Rayalaseema, North Andhra, and other regions would never be completed. These paltry sums were not adequate even to cover cost escalations, he added.
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“Take the case of the Handri-Neeva Sujala Sravanti Lift project. The government approved a Rs 6,182-crore plan to enhance the water-carrying capacity of the canals in 2021. But a paltry sum of Rs 123 crore has been allocated in the budget. At this rate, how long the project would take to complete?” he asked.
Bojja Dasaratha Ramireddy, President of Rayalaseema Saguneeti Sadhana Samiti (RSSS), sees clear anti-agriculture tendencies in CM Jagan’s approach. “This government wants to kill all major projects in the state, especially in the Rayalaseema region. The killer instinct is visible in two aspects: one, cancelling the works approved by the previous TDP government; and, two, allowing the projects to languish in lack of funds,” he said.
Elaborating on the fate of the Galeru-Nagari Project in Rayalaseema, Dasaratha Ramireddy said, “the second phase works of this project had been cancelled two years back and fresh tenders had not been invited so far. On the other side, low priority is plaguing the projects.”
With regard to North Andhra, a provision of Rs 141.79 crore has been made in the budget for Uttarandhra Sujala Sravanti, whose project cost is Rs 17,000 crore. Many wonder, how a government that claims to make North Andhra’s Vizag the capital of the state to develop the region, lacks vision for early completion of a project that is a lifeline to the region.
Golden era of irrigation
In the 1990s, TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu used to argue that in the age of computers, agriculture had no future. Accordingly, the sector had been given short shrift.
In the year 1990, expenditure for irrigation development was 24 per cent (Rs 36,176 lakh) of the total budget outlay. Gradually it declined to 17.8 percent in 2002. It showed the diminishing status of agriculture in Andhra Pradesh. Consequently, the gross area under irrigation declined from 57.82 lakh hectares in 1996 to 45.36 lakh hectares in 2002, and accordingly, area under principal crops too declined.
This led to a crisis in the agricultural sector and frequent droughts complicated the situation. Farmers’ suicides increased because of crop failures. This was successfully converted into a political advantage by Congress leader YS Rajasekhara Reddy, who stormed to power in 2004 with a promise to make farming ‘a festival.’
From 1994 to 2004, Rs 10,394 crore was invested in the combined state of Andhra Pradesh and an irrigation potential (IP) of 10.60 lakh acres was created — Rs 98,057 per acre of IP, according to official sources.
During the Congress regime between 2004-2014, a huge investment of Rs 95,539 crore was made and the IP created was 23.49 lakh acres. The cost of investment on projects during 2004-2014 per acre of IP created works out to Rs 4,06,772, four times higher than the corresponding cost during 1994-2004.
According to Ponnala Lakshmaiah, who was YS Rajasekhar Reddy’s Irrigation minister, the spending on irrigation was unprecedented during YSR’s period (2004-2009).
“Our core ideology was to make agriculture a carnival. To make it possible a scheme called Jalayagnam was designed by YSR and spending on these projects was unprecedented not only in Andhra but also in the entire country. In 2004-05, the government allocated Rs 4,246 crore and the amount spent was Rs 3,331 crore (78 per cent). In 2005-06, budget allocation was Rs 6,374 crore and the amount spent was Rs 6,569 (103 per cent). While an amount of Rs 10,042 crore was earmarked in the 2006-07 budget, the expenditure was Rs 9,190 crore (91.70 per cent). And in 2007-08 as much as 92 per cent (Rs 12,038 crore) was spent from the budgeted amount of Rs 13,014 crore. In 2008-09, a budget provision for irrigation was 14,000 crore and Rs 10,002 crore (71.44%) was spent. In 2009-10, budget allocation was Rs 17,813 crore and the amount spent was Rs 7,679 crore (43.21 per cent). This was due to the sudden death of YSR in September 2009 in a helicopter crash,” Ponnala told The Federal.
Change in tactics
After the bifurcation of the state in 2014 to create Telangana, winning the next election became a top priority which pushed the development to the back-burner in favour of cash transfer welfare schemes.
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TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu, as chief minister during 2014-2019, preoccupied himself with building a world-class capital city Amaravati at the cost of other sectors, while Jagan, unable to realise the dream of spiking Amaravati and creating his own capital, is banking heavily on freebies in the name of welfare.
Ignoring irrigation had begun during Naidu’s previous stint and has reached a peak now in Jagan’s regime. While Naidu faced a rout at the ballot box in 2019, it would be interesting to speculate on the fate that awaits Jagan in 2024.