Demand For Telangana Entirely Justified: HRF Submission To Srikrishna Commission

The Justice B N Srikrishna Committee
New Delhi

Respected members of the Committee,

The Human Rights Forum (HRF) is a citizens’ forum established with the objective of working for the protection of constitutionally guaranteed/internationally recognised rights of the people, and for the right of the people to propose and strive for new rights not yet recognised in national or international law. The right to a wholesome and dignified life is the touchstone for the rights that may be aspired for. HRF is a self-financed organisation whose members for the most part are from the professions of teaching, journalism and the law.

HRF is of the view that the demand for a separate State of Telangana is entirely justified. We will place before you the reasons why we feel so and we hope our views will find place in your report to the Government. These observations are based on our involvement and experience in the human rights movement in the State over the past 30 years.

 At the outset we wish to state clearly that the struggle for Telangana is not merely the struggle of a ‘backward’ region fighting for development. It is frequently shown that way since the urge to overcome backwardness and ‘develop’ is seen as a legitimate desire. It is true that Telangana has remained backward in terms of many of the usual indicators of development. And it is true that it need not be so since it is rich in resources of all kinds: river waters, coal, forests and good soil. The grievance that it has been kept backward by neglect is therefore widespread. While other aspects of backwardness can arguably be corrected within a united Andhra Pradesh, Telangana will never get its fair share of river waters – of the Godavari and the Krishna – so long as the State is one. One need not endorse all the conspiracy theories popular with the Telangana movement (as with any identity movement) to accept this basic fact. Thus, there is quite a rational, unsentimental case for Telangana, for those who don’t like mixing politics with sentiments. This is not to say that neglect and discrimination resulting in disparities in the area of employment and education nor dispossession of other resources are any less important but the strong aspiration for a just share in river waters does remain central.

But Telangana is also a distinct social-historical entity around which an identity has got built over the years. Telugu spoken in Telangana is distinct and recognisable before one sentence is completed. The cultural idiom too has a distinction of its own. From the time of the formation of the State of Andhra Pradesh in 1956 by merging the Telugu speaking areas of the old Madras State with the Telugu speaking areas of the erstwhile Hyderabad State, there has been a sizable public opinion in Telangana that has viewed the notion of one-ness of the Telugu people with skepticism. To this day the common people of Telangana routinely refer to the coastal areas as ‘Andhra’, an appellation used outside the State to refer to the entire State. Socio-cultural domination by those from the “coastal districts” combined with economic exploitation is a rallying cry. It is pertinent that the ongoing movement for a separate State of Telangana is often articulated not merely as a battle for territory but in terms of a struggle to preserve a language, a culture. There is truth therefore, in the argument of those seeking a separate State that Telangana is not merely a geographical entity but a society with a distinct socio-historical foundation around which a manifest identity has been built.  

The demand for separate Statehood to Telangana is not a new one and the history leading up to it is by now well known but some aspects may be touched upon briefly. The Mulki movement of the 1890s which sought to protect jobs for locals rather than those from north India gave oxygen to the desire to safeguard Telangana’s identity and this consolidated over a period of time. The Mulki movement was not just about safeguarding jobs but a reaction to the contempt and looking down of the local culture and Urdu language by those who had come from Lucknow. There were struggles seeking implementation of the Mulki norms as well. There were also efforts by organisations like the Telangana Andhra Janasabha and Telangana Andhra Mahasabha to safeguard the Telugu language and culture during the dictatorial Nizam rule.

For all these historical reasons there was a strong feeling post-independence that a united State would be a hindrance to Telangana aspirations. The States Reorganisation Commission set up by the government, which took into account the apprehensions of the people of Telangana, was also not in favour of merging Telangana with the then Andhra State.

It is worth quoting from the report of the SRC:

“… It will be in the interest of Andhra as well as Telangana if, for the present, the Telangana area is constituted into a separate State which may be known as the Hyderabad State, with provision for its unification with Andhra after the general elections likely to be held in or about 1961, if by two-thirds majority the legislature of the residuary Hyderabad State expresses itself in favour of such unification”. …“Andhra and Telangana have common interests and we hope these interests will tend to bring the people closer to each other. If, however, our hopes for the development of the environment and conditions congenial to the unification of the areas do not materialize and if public sentiment in Telangana crystallizes itself against the unification of the two States, Telangana will have to continue as a separate unit”.  “One of the principal causes of opposition to Visalandhra also seems to be the apprehensions felt by the educationally backward people of Telangana that they may be swamped and exploited by the more advanced people of the Coastal areas…The real fear of the people of Telangana is that if they join Andhra they will be unequally placed in relation to the people of Andhra and in this partnership the major partner will derive all the advantages  immediately while Telangana itself may be converted into a colony by the enterprising Andhras”.

The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was also not in favour of merging Telangana with Andhra and was quoted at the time as having said that the demand for Visalandhra “is an idea bearing a tint of expansionist imperialism”.

However, the merger took place and the State of Andhra Pradesh was formed on 1st November 1956. The people of Telangana never tire of pointing out that this merger was not unconditional. It was premised and facilitated by a number of promises, not once but several times and all of them very solemn, as well as constitutional safeguards for the people of Telangana. Fair play was invoked in the form of the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1956, but post-merger not a single assurance was honoured.  Because of this plain duplicity, in due course, the domination of Telangana by the developed districts of coastal AP got well entrenched. Not a single safeguard for Telangana within an integrated State of Andhra Pradesh was honoured.

There was a deliberately callous and systematic decimation of the Gentlemen’s Agreement that might have held together all the Telugu-speaking people in one State had it been honoured. To be blind to historical reality and oblivious of a thoroughly just demand by continuing to talk of a united State would amount to legitimising the hegemony of a developed region over an underdeveloped one.

It is true that there are extremely backward areas in all other parts of the State that have been victims of neglect. But it has to be kept in mind that Telangana has had a diversion of resources that legitimately belong to it for the development of other regions. Diversion of river waters is a telling example. As stated above, there is a very strong feeling that justice can never be done within a united State in the matter of a rightful share in river waters for Telangana. This is not a rhetorical conclusion. Examples of the Pulichinthala and Polavaram projects, on the Krishna and Godavari rivers respectively will help throw light on the contention.

Telangana as well as Rayalaseema have among the lowest rainfall figures in the entire country, unlike coastal and north Andhra Pradesh which has more than average rainfall. However, much of the Krishna river water used by Andhra Pradesh goes to the coastal districts of Krishna, Guntur and Prakasam.

There is of course an unequal historical advantage. The Krishna was dammed by the British in mid-nineteenth century, at a time when there was neither a legal nor a political compulsion to inquire about the needs and views of upstream people (whether of Karnataka, Telangana or Rayalaseema). Thus began the unequal distribution of the Krishna waters in favour of the coast and to the detriment of the needs of the interior. As the areas which received irrigation first developed faster and acquired further capacity to get more irrigation, the disparity had a natural tendency to widen. The rational core of the seemingly ‘emotional’ demand for a separate State of Telangana is often an effort for a fair distribution of river waters.

Pulichintala is symptomatic of the attitude that the separate Telangana movement has been complaining about over the decades. The issue involved is not merely that much more than half of the submergence will be in Nalgonda district (in Telangana) whereas the benefit will go to Krishna district (Coastal district). That is bad enough, considering the economic disparity between the two districts. But the real issue is the brazenness with which the meager allocable water left in the Krishna river is being harnessed for the benefit of an area that has already benefited disproportionately from that river.

Andhra Pradesh was allotted 800 tmc. ft of water from the Krishna river by the Bachawat Tribunal, as against 695 to Karnataka and 565 to Maharashtra. Of this 800 tmc.ft, projects located in Coastal Andhra were reserved 377.44 tmc.ft of water, those in Telangana 266.86 tmc.ft and those in Rayalaseema 122.70 tmc.ft. The disproportionate quota that Andhra Pradesh got was in fact due to the disproportionate quota that the Coastal districts of the State got. And yet it is that area which has the highest rainfall precipitation and best groundwater levels in the entire basin of the river Krishna, from its origin in the Western Ghats to its delta abutting the Bay of Bengal.

Small wonder then that not only the States of Karnataka and Maharashtra but the people of Telangana and Rayalaseema as well have always nursed a fully justified grievance about the distribution of the Krishna river waters. And even though there is no allocable water left in the Krishna river in terms of the Bachawat award, proposals aimed at watering the parched lands of Nalgonda, Mahbubnagar (in Telangana), Kurnool, Cuddapah and Anantapur (in Rayalaseema) districts have been put forward in abundance. And the State government too, at various points of time – if only at election time in most cases – has promised execution of each of these proposals. Not counting the minor proposals, the major ones alone would need about 200 tmc.ft of water: 40 each for the Srisailam Left Bank Canal (Nalgonda district), Bheema, Nettempadu, Kalwakurthi and other lift irrigation schemes (Mahbubnagar district), Galeru-Nagari and Handri-Neeva (for the four Rayalaseema districts), and Veligonda (the uplands of Markapuram division of Prakasam district). The profusion of the demands reflects the stark reality of heart-breaking drought in these areas.

While not one cubic foot of water has been allotted to any of these schemes, though foundation stones have been profusely laid for each of them, often more than once, as Chief Ministers come and go, work is going ahead with the Pulichintala project, despite protests emanating from Telangana. Brazen is the only word one can think of for describing this attitude.

According to a note circulated by the Irrigation department in the year 1998, the Pulichintala project is slated to use 982 million cubic meters of water from the Krishna river, which comes to about 13 tmc.ft. One tmc.ft of water is sufficient to irrigate 6,000 to 10,000 acres, depending on whether it is used for wet cultivation or `irrigated dry’ cultivation. Taking the latter, these 13 tmc.ft of water would irrigate 1.3 lakh acres of land. One need only imagine how happy would any of the above districts from Nalgonda to Anantapur be to get at least this much irrigation water, though it is nothing compared to the 20 lakh acres that would be irrigated by all the projects all of them taken together have been dreaming of for decades now!

And what use is the Pulichintala project going to be put to? Not even to irrigate 1.3 lakh acres of as yet unirrigated land in Krishna district, but to ensure that transplantation of paddy in the Krishna delta under the old canal system takes place in June-July. Almatti in Karnataka and increased ayacut under Nagarjunasagar in upland Guntur and Nalgonda districts are said to have slowed down the arrival of water into the Prakasam barrage in the early monsoon weeks, thereby rendering transplantation of paddy in the months of June and July uncertain, and therefore 13 tmc.ft of water will be stored in the balancing reservoir at Pulichintala to be sent down to the Prakasam barrage at the appointed time so that the schedule of transplantation that the delta farmers are accustomed to is not upset! To then speak of the “great oneness of the Telugu people” in the face of such plain duplicity is adding insult to injustice. And injustice in the matter of such a basic life-requirement as water does lead to and has led to intense discontent and anger in Telangana.

So also with Polavaram on the Godavari river. There are any number of reasons to reject this huge project which like all big dams around the country, is a national folly. The country has heard a lot about the Sardar Sarovar dam because of the tenacious agitation of the adivasis and other marginalised communities who are displaced by that monstrous project. It is yet to hear much about Polavaram because the agitation against it is for the moment splintered and weak. But in fact the project will be a massive displacer of people – about half of them adivasis – and is even less justified than the Sardar Sarovar because that project at least has the argument in its justification that it is intended to water drought-prone areas. Polavaram has no such defence. It is intended to water the middle-lands (not even the uplands) of Krishna, West Godavari and East Godavari districts, which no one would within reason describe as water-starved areas, and to provide drinking water to far away Visakhapatnam, which has its own untapped local water sources.

As a matter of fact, there is a very strong suspicion that Polavaram is not meant for watering fields at all, but for the water requirements of a ‘coastal corridor’ running along the State’s entire coast as well as many other water-guzzling “developmental projects” including bauxite refining and multi-product special economic zones.

It is true that Polavaram too purportedly has its beneficent object: 80 tmcft of water is supposed to be diverted to the Krishna basin to irrigate the drought-prone areas of Telangana and Rayalaseema. Though the former Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy was fond of mentioning only Rayalaseema in this context, if at all any water is diverted from the Godavari basin to the Krishna basin, it will have to be shared by the Krishna basin districts of both Telangana and Rayalaseema. But firstly, this 80 tmcft is hardly one-fourth of the 335 tmcft destined to be utilised through Polavaram. Secondly, under the Bachawat award, in any diversion of water from the Godavari basin to the Krishna basin by Andhra Pradesh, the upper riparian States of Karnataka and Maharashtra are entitled to stake claim for a share of the diverted water. Of the 80 tmcft to be diverted through Polavaram, they will take 35 tmcft and Andhra Pradesh will get only 45 tmcft. This is hardly one-eighth of the water to be utilised through Polavaram. That cannot by any logic justify the huge dam and the massive devastation it will cause to the adivasis and other poor who inhabit the area of submergence, once again most of it in Telangana.

The devastation that the project will entail is by no means small. Villages to be submerged (government figures say the displaced population is going to be about 2,69,000 living in 286 villages (a few of them in Chhattisgarh and Orissa but overwhelmingly in A.P) are located in nine mandals, seven of which are in Khammam district in Telangana. All of them are located in the Scheduled area. Why should people in such large numbers, that too principally adivasis and dalits, be subjected to huge deprivation for the greater development of developed areas? Or uninterrupted supply of water to Special Economic Zones & Industrial Corridors?

Significantly, Polavaram does great injustice to Telangana also because it diverts substantial quantities of water away from the Godavari basin districts of the region. Medak, Nizamabad, Adilabad, Karimnagar, Warangal and Khammam are the six North Telangana districts located in the Godavari basin. These districts posses substantial rain-scarce areas which can only be served by water from the Godavari river. Devadula, Ichampalli, Yellampalli, Dummugudem and Sriramsagar Flood Flow Project are the main projects proposed on the Godavari river to serve this area.

But if 335 tmcft of water is taken away through Polavaram and 120 tmcft more is diverted to the Krishna basin through the Dummugudem project, the Godavari basin areas of Telangana would have only about 225 to 250 tmcft for all the above projects. The proper course of action would be to allocate necessary quantities of water to these projects before thinking of any other use.

The proper course as far as the Godavari river water is concerned would be to allocate sufficient quantities of water to the projects meant to serve the Godavari basin Telangana districts, decide how much should fairly be diverted to the Krishna basin and arrange for that by lift schemes, devise lift irrigation schemes to irrigate the lands of the Scheduled tribes of East Godavari, West Godavari and Khammam districts living on either side of the river (the very lands which are to be inundated by the Polavaram Project), and let the rest go into the sea to complete the hydrological cycle.  But a “united Andhra” is hell-bent on going ahead with the project in its present disastrous form riding roughshod over objections from democratic public opinion both within Telangana and outside.

These are but a few instances of the profoundly undemocratic manner in which Telangana is being served in a “united State”. The ongoing movement seeking separate Statehood for Telangana is a struggle against discrimination, against exploitation, against injustice. It is a battle to reclaim what rightfully belongs to the people of the region. Whatever their occasional positions on the Statehood issue, clearly dictated by political expediency whose hallmark has been a total lack of principle, political parties across the spectrum acknowledge that the movement for a separate Telangana State is a genuinely broad-based and popular upsurge.

Human Rights Forum is of the firm view that both for compelling rational reasons – in particular a fair share of river waters – and the desire not to let the Telangana identity get submerged in a hegemonic Telugu-ness, the demand for a separate State is fully justified.


(S Jeevan Kumar – HRF State president)
VS Krishna – HRF State general secretary)


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