While several states are reeling under severe drinking water crisis, Telangana presents a picture of contrast. Despite delayed monsoon and a prolonged dry spell, there is no major water crisis in the state.
This is particularly heartening for a region that was always in the news for protests over water scarcity, farmers’ suicides, prolonged power cuts and poor irrigation facilities.
The twin schemes—‘Mission Bhagiratha” and ‘Mission Kakatiya”—have been largely successful in tackling the water problem in Telangana, the youngest state in the country.
Unlike many government schemes that are generally bogged down by delays, shoddy work and elusive deadlines, these flagship programmes of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government have been quite impactful on the ground.
‘Mission Bhagiratha’, launched in August 2016, is an ambitious ₹43,700 crore project for piped supply of drinking water to 25,000 villages and 64 towns across the state.
‘Mission Kakatiya’ was launched in 2015, a year after the formation of the state. The aim is to desilt and renovate thousands of village tanks that had gone defunct over years. Though appearing simplistic on the face of it, the scheme has been quite transformative in its overall impact.
Several studies have concluded that the programme has resulted in increased groundwater recharge across the state. Some of these defunct tanks were centuries old. Their rejuvenation on a mission mode has dramatically altered the situation in rural Telangana.
These two schemes, coupled with vast improvement in power supply, have clearly made a positive impact and were among the factors that contributed to the electoral success of the TRS and its return to power for a second term.
Water and power were the two key planks around which the Telangana statehood movement, spearheaded by TRS supremo K Chandrasekhar Rao, was built. After coming to power and forming the first government in the new state in 2014, he quickly realised that the performance and delivery on these issues would determine the longevity of his government. As a result, plans were readied on a mission mode to address them. Irrigation and power became the top priority areas of his government over the last five years, receiving a major chunk of the budgetary allocations.
Bhagiratha, a boon
No doubt, there was scepticism and even allegations of corruption surrounding ‘Mission Bhagiratha’ when it was unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Aug 7, 2016 at Komatibanda village in Gajwel, KCR’s home constituency. However, the execution of works has been largely glitch-free and complied with the deadlines.
“The potable water supply through the ‘Mission Bhagiratha’ taps has now reached 22,276 habitations across the state now. All the targeted 23,968 rural habitations and 114 urban local bodies are covered with bulk water supply,” the project’s director and engineer-in-chief G Krupakar Reddy told The Federal.
Unlike other southern states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh which are grappling with acute water scarcity, Telangana is largely problem-free despite the scorching heat drying up wells and tanks, the official says.
The water is sourced from Krishna and Godavari rivers and the existing reservoirs and tanks; and is supplied through a vast network of pipelines running through a whopping 50,000 km.
The construction works on all the 19 intake structures has also been completed. “Over 44 lakh households have taps fitted and are getting piped water supply. Another 10 lakh households will be covered in the next few weeks,” the chief engineer said.
As many as 50 water treatment plants, 50,000 km long transmission pipeline and 1,272 major structures form part of the mega project.
“A survey on the impact of the scheme revealed how the supply of safe drinking water has improved the living standards of the SCs, STs and other communities. The supply of safe drinking water has led to change in eating habits and contributed to the prevention of diseases and malnutrition,” a top official of the social welfare department said.
The project is designed to draw about 59.94 TMC of water and supply treated drinking water to every household at their doorstep at the rate of 100 LPCD (litre per capita per day) in rural areas, 135 LPCD in municipalities and nagar panchayats and 150 LPCD in municipal corporations. About 10 per cent of total water is earmarked to meet the industrial needs.
“Barring some 14 villages under the Singur project that went dry this summer, water supply under ‘Mission Bhagiratha’ has been bang on target in the state. The supply to villages under the dam is taken care of by drawing water from local sources and engaging tankers. It is a unique and most comprehensive project,” Reddy said.
In sharp contrast, the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh is reeling under drought conditions. As many as 257 mandals have been declared drought-hit.
Ponds come alive
A report, prepared by NITI Aayog in association with the support of TERI School of Advanced Studies, New Delhi, has recognised the restoration and revival of minor irrigation tanks under ‘Mission Kakatiya’ as one of the best practices in irrigation water management and called for its replication in other states.
“The public participation in such initiatives will lead to ownership and help in long-term sustainability of the interventions. The restoration and maintenance of water resources should be a continual process and locals should be trained to manage their resources,” the report said.
Under the programme, renovation of 46,300 village tanks has been taken up. It involves desilting, repairing the bunds, clearing the catchment area and feeder channels of encroachments, repairing the damaged sluices and laying canals to take the waters to the fields.
A year-long study of the project by a research team from the University of Michigan, United States, concluded that it has helped in increasing crop yield and reducing the use of fertilizers as the silt dug up from ponds is being used as fertilizer for the farm fields.
“The silt reduced the use of fertilizers by 36 per cent and increased the crop yield by nearly 50 percent. The most striking finding is that it reduces greenhouse emissions from less fertilizer use by 50 to 90 per cent,” said the study conducted by the University’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.
The ponds, some of them built in the region around the 13th century, store rainwater from the monsoon season and form an intricate part of farming in the area. Over time, silt has been filling the ponds, reducing their capacity. Most of the desilting of the ponds happens during the summer months when the tanks are dry. With a mix of manual and mechanical means, the silt is dug out and then transported on tractors to the nearby fields.