Telengana's water grouse

Regional disparity in allocation of Krishna water in Andhra Pradesh is both because of politics and topography, finds Bharat Lal Seth

By Bharat Lal Seth
Published: Wednesday 29 February 2012

For the past four decades Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have been jostling for a share of the Krishna river waters. A tribunal formed to set  the legal limit on how much water each state can use, submitted its provisional award in December 2010, which is presently being contested by all three states. Each is seeking to enhance its allocated share. But the dispute is not just between these states. The fight for a share of the Krishna waters can be witnessed within Andhra Pradesh, too.

Half the water allocation from the Krishna is to areas outside the river basin, admit officials in the Andhra Pradesh irrigation department. This iniquitous distribution has led to protests from the pro-Telengana supporters and those within the river basin whose land is a collection and run-off point for the Krishna. Political parties were formed to pursue separate statehood for Telengana region in 1969, the same year the first Krishna water dispute tribunal was formed. Almost 69 per cent of the Krishna river's catchment in Andhra Pradesh lies in the Telengana region. Yet, the region at best gets a fifth of the Krishna waters.

Delta farmers get preference

Parties fighting for separate statehood argue they are getting the short-shrift because they are living in a larger state with entrenched political interests. “For instance, in the first week of June, water is released for delta farmers. It is in the same agro-climatic region (as Telangana), but see the blatant preference. The delta people, outside the basin, get water at the right time. Many of us in the Telengana region get water in August,” says K R Parcha, a farmer. “Paddy's physiological cycle is in sync with the season. So if paddy is transplanted in July, you get five to seven tonnes per hectare. If this is done in August, you cannot get more than four tonnes. It is clear that we are on the wrong side of the political spectrum,” he adds. The preferential treatment helps delta farmers cultivate two to three crops each year. No wonder, it is known as the granary of Andhra Pradesh, remarks Parcha, who has been farming for the past 30 years.  Telengana region

Farmers in the coastal areas, outside the river basin, have been using the waters of the Krishna for more than a century. The water is supplied through an extensive network of canals planned by Sir Arthur Cotton and other British engineers in the 19th century. The irrigated area in the Krishna delta grew leaps and bounds in the 20th century. The first tribunal which gave its award in 1976, allocated 51.2 million cubic metre (mcm) water to the Krishna delta, but the utilisation is well above this (see table: 'Over-utlisation of waters in the Krishna delta').

Over utilisation of waters in the Krishna delta
Year Kharif
Rabi Acres Total in Acres *Water utilized in TMC
1941-1942  9,87,690    3,884 10,26,574 161.91
1967-1968 11,83,463 4,83,950 16,67,413 285.00
1968-1969 11,87,194 4,90,468 16,77,662 275.00
2006-2007 13,60,000 4,30,000 17,90,000 295.00
* One acre equals 0.4 ha * 1 tmc equals 0.283 mcm
Source: Irrigation department

On the other hand, the irrigation systems in Telengana have been suffering for want of of adequate flows, says Vidyasagar Rao, former chief engineer of the Central Water Commission. According to Rao, the tanks irrigated 453,248 hectares (ha) in 1955-56, which has dwindled to less than a third—151,874 ha. The total loss of wealth of Telengana after formation of Andhra Pradesh works out to Rs 3,24,000 crore, says Rao. He explains that each thousand million cubic feet (tmc) or 0.28 mcm water can irrigate 2,428 ha of paddy. Therefore, each 0.28 mcm of wa Telengana region ter will, on an average, produce 240,000 bags of paddy or Rs 30 crore per 0.28 mcm a year.

Water lift schemes in disuse
The higher elevation in some basins means such areas cannot be supplied water through gravity flows. In the case of the Krishna, the Srisailam and Nagarjuna Sagar dams serve the command areas restricted to lower levels within the basin. Development in the delta took place earlier, be it the Nile or the Ganga, since initially development was oriented strongly in favour of gravity flow canals, due to the economic considerations and the cost of pumping, says Hanumantha Rao, former engineer-in-chief of the Andhra Pradesh irrigation department.

“Therefore, topography is the culprit for regional disparity, although I'm not denying that politics has a role in it. To set it right, pumping schemes from lower to higher levels have been initiated in the post-Independence era in the Krishna basin. Their long-term viability is questionable, though. “The operations and maintenance per crop is approximately Rs 35,000 per acre (0.4 ha). This is a liability for farmers/government to bear, and they easily fall into disuse,” says Hanumantha Rao. According to the Irrigation Development Corporation of Andhra Pradesh, around 45 per cent of small lift irrigation schemes (<2000 ha command area) are in a state of disuse.

Had Telengana been a separate state before the constitution of the first tribunal (Bachawat Tribunal), it is argued that 68.5 per cent of the water allocated to Andhra would have been given to Telengana. The first tribunal allocated a mere 34.5 per cent (half its rightful share as per catchment contribution) from Krishna, says Rao. A further allocation was made available subsequently during the post Bachawat award period; Telengana region is allocated 83.16 mcm of the Krishna waters.

Promises not kept

“Today, more than 1.7 million farmers in the Telengana region depend on groundwater for agriculture, and have invested Rs 25,000 crore of their own money in motors and pump sets. The burden of heavy expenditure on this account is leading to high number of farm suicides in Telengana,” says Rao. Telengana, a major part of the erstwhile Hyderabad State, had irrigation facility for a minimum of 736,528 ha through major medium and minor irrigation projects. After the merger in November 1956, Andhra at the time had 835,676 ha under irrigation. Andhra leaders promised Telengana people that they would be brought at par, but after more than five decades, irrigation potential remains around the same, while Andhra region has increased its irrigation potential three times to around 2.8 million ha, says Rao.

Officials in the irrigation department disagree. “There is no truth to this; everyone is being treated equally,” says N K Satyanarayan, officer on special duty. Topography has historically been a a decisive factor, he adds.

It is believed by pro-Telengana commentators that the British subjugated coastal areas and wanted to extend benefits to the coastal communities. The lower riparian rights of people in the delta were supported, advocated and protected by the British. At that time there was unhindered flow. But greater demand led to conflict and politics did not allow for river basin integrity. The arrangement continued after Independence as the water-endowed farmers became the producers of wealth and the delta rice millers funded political parties, says Parcha.

The proposal to divert the Krishna waters to the Pennar valley to the South, was mooted during the British rule by Sir Arthur Cotton and Colonel Ellis. A canal network was built to provide irrigation to areas in the Pennar basin. The canal is perhaps the first inter-basin transfer of water in India, and serves 18,211 ha within the Krishna basin and 94,292 ha in Pennar valley. “The fact that in-basin use should be given priority is a good argument from a riparian point of view. I agree that Telengana should be given first priority over Pennar basin. But this is easier said than done, with a complex interplay of techno-economic feasibility and politics,” says Hanumantha Rao.

Helsinki Rules
  The relevant factors which are to be considered include, but are not limited to:
  • The geography of the basin, including in particular the extent of the drainage area in the territory of each basin state;
  • The hydrology of the basin, including in particular the contribution of water by each basin state;
  • Climate affecting the basin;
  • Past utilisation of the waters of the basin, including in particular existing utilisation
  • Economic and social needs of each basin state
  • The population dependent on the waters of the basin in each basin state
  • The comparative costs of alternative means of satisfying the economic and social needs of each basin state
  • Availability of other resources
  • Avoidance of unnecessary waste in the utilization of waters of the basin
  • Practicability of compensation to one or more of the co-basin States as a means of adjusting conflicts among uses
  • The degree to which the needs of a basin state may be satisfied, without causing substantial injury to a co-basin state
Tribunal's dilemma

The present tribunal, led by Brijesh Kumar, a retired Supreme Court judge, put its foot down on diversions outside the basin. The provisional award categorically emphasised that in-basin needs need to be prioritised over out-of-basin requirements. The tribunal used the principle of equitable apportionment, but there is no fixed formula for this. The Helsinki Rules on the uses of the waters of international rivers, an international guideline adopted by the International Law Association, sets guidelines in usage of a river basin waters (see 'Helsinki Rules'). The Bachawat tribunal mentioned that the weight to be given to a factor, as given in the Helsinki Rules, is a matter of judgment and that no hard and fast rule can be laid down.  

The Berlin Rules on Water Resources, adopted by the International Law Association in 2004, superseded the Helsinki Rules to include those river basins shared amongst states within a nation. It mandated that the first consideration in weighing needs must satisfy the requirements of human beings for water to sustain life. Regardless of the location of water, and whether or not a water resource is shared, the Berlin Rules asserted the right of every individual to equally access water to sustain life without discrimination.

In Andhra Pradesh, it was assured that farms spread over 1.1 million ha within the Krishna basin would get access to irrigation water. Approximately 3.8 million ha within the basin still does not have irrigation facility, of which 25 per cent is proposed to be included in the present tribunal, according to government sources. Under the first tribunal, nearly one million ha for assured irrigation was included outside the basin, and 1.3 million ha is proposed for irrigation with Krishna water, again more than that proposed for those living within the river basin.

According to the irrigation department, the entire area in the river basin and the areas outside the basin that need to be served with Krishna water are either arid or semi-arid and therefore, providing irrigation facilities is necessary for sustaining agriculture. These areas receive low rainfall and the availability of groundwater is not adequate and in some areas it is also not fit for drinking purposes, being brackish, saline or contaminated with fluoride, say department officials. According to a 2008 report: “Many farmers, numbering in hundreds have committed suicide, unable to bear the financial losses, as the crops grown by them were successively withering, since the bore wells failed to yield enough water for agriculture.”

“Intra-basin use should take precedence over inter-basin transfers (assuming that these are needed at all), but if the states in a dispute have plans for inter-basin transfers, the right course would be to include them in their submissions to the tribunal, so that the tribunal can take a view on them in making allocations,” says Ramaswamy Iyer, former secretary, ministry of water resources (see table: 'Disparity in utilisation of allocated waters of Krishna river').

Disparity in utilisation of allocated waters of Krishna river
  Rayalseema AP Telengana Total
Allocation 107TMC 43.5 77 227.5
  47.00% 19.10% 33.80%  
% of catchment Use 18.4 13.1 68.5  
  Outside basin Outside basin Within basin  
Region Allocation % Max use Average Use Catchment sq km %
Rayalseema 146 18 155.32 116.15 5,414 18.4
Andhra 369.74 45.6 703.82 511.98 3,860 13.1
Telengana 295.26 36.4 241 198.32 20,167 68.5
Source: Irrigation department (1977-78 to 2007-08)
Karnataka made no submissions for inter-basin transfers. Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh made several project submissions requiring inter-basin transfers, which the Bachawat tribunal permitted. The tribunal however added: “future uses requiring diversion of water outside the basin are relevant, but more weight may be given to uses requiring diversion of water inside the basin”.   

The judges of the tribunal are handicapped; which principle should one use to appropriate water. “To this day, the problem remains,” says Parcha. There will always be conflict since the Constitution remains silent on it. “Political interests are well entrenched, and nobody at any cost will loosen their grip on water,” he adds. “River basin boundaries are sacrosanct and basin rights are absolute, above the country's Constitution and laws. The moment we recognise, accept and respect this, all present and future inter-basin and intra-basin problems can be solved or completely avoided,” adds Parcha.



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