Farmers in distress dig deeper for water
Andhra Pradesh is heading for an acute water crisis owing to ground water depletion. The latest data compiled by the ground water department reveals that water levels across all districts in the state have fallen critically.
The study was carried out between November 2010 and November 2011, in which all the 23 districts were surveyed. While the water table in the state as a whole has dropped by an average of 2.53 metre, it has dropped by 3.88 metre in Hyderabad city. Prakasam tops the list of districts where water levels have declined steeply. Water level has dropped by 5.32 metre below the earlier levels in this district. Ranga Reddy ranks second in the list with a drop of 5.28 metre in its water table. Among the three regions in the state, Telangana has been worst hit, followed by coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.
50,000 new bore wells a year
According to K Venu Gopal, joint director of state ground water department, the main reason for the depletion of water table is scanty rainfall this year. The state government had recently declared more than three-fourth of its administrative blocks (mandals)—876 out of 1,128—drought-hit. These areas face a rainfall deficit of 20 per cent (see tables). Anantapur, Nalgonda, Karimnagar, Medak, Mahbubnagar, Khammam, Kurnool, Kadapa, Chittoor, Krishna, Guntur, Srikakulam and Visakhapatnam are the other districts where ground water levels have fallen substantially over the past one year due to drought.
“Along with shortage in rainfall, exploitation of ground water for irrigation, drinking and other purposes are steadily increasing,” says Gopal. The state has more than 2.9 million borewells, and on an average 50,000 new borewells are being installed every year in the state.
While in November 2010, in Hyderabad city, ground water was available at a depth of 5.2 metre, the water table dipped to 8.90 metre in November 2011. Though shortage in rainfall could be partly blamed for this, the increasing concrete cover in the city and the silt formation in the water bodies are also reducing the efficiency with which ground water is recharged, says Gopal. Almost all of the tanks and lakes in the city are laden with silt and other debris.
The water crisis will have a very serious impact on the farm sector. One of the main reasons for farm suicides in the state is inadequate irrigation facilities and failure of borewells. As per Agriculture Census 2010-11, 1.85 million hectare (ha) of land is irrigated by borewells and 616,000 ha by other wells.
“When there are no appropriate irrigation facilities and prospects of tank irrigation is limited by silting of water bodies, what can farmers do other than dig borewells?” asks S Malla Reddy, state president of CPI(M)-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha. With more wells being dug, water level is fast depleting. This, in turn, means more deep digging because water can now only be struck much deeper down. With deeper digging, the costs of borewells increase.
“When borewells fail, farmers go on digging new ones,” points out Reddy. There are many farmers who have dug as many as 100 borewells. Finally, they get caught in debt traps and commit suicide. In 2010, as per the National Crimes Records Bureau figures, 2,525 farmers committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh.