Environment in elections: Andhra’s Rayalaseema battling drought conditions for 4 years, but ignored in poll manifestos

87 Mandals in four districts classified as 'severely affected' areas with less than 50% Kharif and 20% Rabi operations seen since 2020
Ananthapuramu is the district most affected by drought and has 83.67% of its cultivated area relying on rainfed agriculture. File photo: CSE
Ananthapuramu is the district most affected by drought and has 83.67% of its cultivated area relying on rainfed agriculture. File photo: CSE

Rayalaseema, a region in Andhra Pradesh, has been gripped by severe drought for the past four years, with little attention from political parties or government bodies. Major political parties’ election manifestos include references to the environment and water resource management as sub-topics. However, there is no major shift or proposal for drought relief via permanent water resource creation and management, or augmented irrigation water projects.

The four districts of Ananthapuramu, Chittoor, YSR and Kurnool are among the most affected, with 87 mandals or subdistricts classified as ‘severely affected’ due to significantly reduced Kharif and Rabi production since 2020. The state is scheduled for elections on May 13, 2024. 

The Congress Party manifesto promises to prioritise water access and democratic sharing of water resources, with the goal of improving storage in dams and water bodies, replenishing groundwater, and involving state governments, civil society organisations, farmers, panchayats, Gram Sabhas and municipalities in a large-scale participatory water management programme. 

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto highlighted the creation of a 2.55 million hectare irrigation capacity under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana and promised to implement technology-enabled irrigation initiatives for efficient water management.

However, neither party’s manifesto provided a concrete plan for addressing the root causes of the drought or proposed significant measures for drought relief through permanent water resource creation and management or expanded irrigation projects. 

Critics argue that national-level manifestos should address state-specific issues with thorough research, but this level of detail is missing.

Hanumanth Raju, a farmer leader in Ananthapuramu, points out that over 1.1 million hectares of fertile black alluvial soil in the Rayalaseema region have been affected, with groundnut crops — the region’s primary agricultural product — seeing a significant decline in cultivation. 

“Due to failed monsoons over the last four years, 30-50 per cent of crops have wilted, causing significant losses to farmers,” said Raju.

Krishna Reddy, a farmer in YSR, lamented that despite hopes for political action, no major commitments have been made to address the drought’s impact. “We have left 50 per cent of the land fallow and we were hopeful that political parties would address this in their manifestos, but our hopes have been dashed,” he said.

BJP and Prime Minister Modi had previously promised to implement the recommendations of the Dr MS Swaminathan Committee, but there’s little evidence that this has happened. Andhra Pradesh government, led by Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party and Chief Minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy, has also been criticised for not taking significant steps to support the region’s farmers, alleged Rayalaseema Raithu Sangha activists. 

According to a report by the Andhra Pradesh Space Applications Centre, the total rainfed area of Rayalaseema in dryland agriculture constitutes approximately 74.20 per cent of its cultivated area, said a senior faculty member at Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University in Andhra Pradesh. 

The faculty cited a study from 2023, which pointed out that Ananthapuramu, the district most affected by drought, has 83.67 per cent of its cultivated area relying on rainfed agriculture. Chittoor has the least — 52.79 per cent — amount of dryland agriculture in proportion to total cultivated area. Kurnool district follows Ananthapuramu in terms of dryland agriculture area, with 79.2 per cent , followed by YSR district at 60.93 per cent.

The agricultural economy in the Rayalaseema region is at a critical juncture. Although 75 per cent of the area was rainfed, only 25 per cent was irrigated within the study area. 

Wells, particularly borewells, are the primary source of irrigation in the region. However, about 82 per cent of cultivators and all agricultural labourers are under pressure due to stagnation in the sector. Moreover, the study revealed that a significant proportion of small and marginal farmers have already fallen below the poverty line.

The rural employment programme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), has not helped much either. There has been a noticeable increase in migrations by small farmers and farm labourers from areas such as Adoni, Kalyanadurgam, Madakasira, and Kadiri to Bengaluru, despite district collectors actively providing MGNREGS work.

Special Chief Secretary (Disaster Management) of the Revenue Department Ajay Jain recently  issued orders declaring 63 mandals as severe and 24 as moderately drought-affected. The declarations were based on reports submitted by respective deputy commissioners. Of the mandals, the most (31) were in Prakasam, followed by 18 in Kurnool, 14 in Ananthapuramu, 13 in Nandyal, 10 in Nellore and one in Sri Sathya Sai district.

Last November, 103 Andhra mandals were declared drought-hit, with the majority of these mandals located in the Rayalaseema region.

In addition to groundnuts, crops such as paddy and chilli, as well as horticultural orchards, have been severely impacted by unfavourable weather conditions and insufficient water supply via the irrigation canals of the Tungabhadra and Handri Neeva projects. 

K Ramakrishna, Communist Party of India (CPI) state secretary, has urged the government to assist farmers suffering from drought in the region, emphasising that simply declaring the mandals as drought-affected would be insufficient. He emphasised that additional steps are urgently required.

Raithu Bandhu and Raithu Sangha activists in Chittoor, Ananthapur and YSR welcomed the special Chief Secretary’s actions.  

Jain also directed deputy commissioners to notify the drought-hit mandals so that farmers can access credit facilities and undertake relief operations. According to officials, relief operations include creating more workdays under MGNREGS and providing basic amenities for those engaged to work under the employment scheme.

However, this is not all. According to a report by the Panchayat Raj of Andhra Pradesh state, at least 17 of the 25 districts in the state are likely to face a severe drought-like situation in the coming days, as per reports submitted by the district collectors to the Department of Panchayat Raj and Rural Development. Top priority has been given to augmenting water supply through tankers in 388 mandals declared as ‘drought-hit’.

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