State government should devise plans of long term drought prevention  

Activists of the Human Rights Forum toured 95 villages in 10 districts to assess the drought situation and the efficacy of the remedial measures being adopted by the State government. The following is a brief report.

The areas visited by us are: Nalgonda district ( 21 villages in Devarakonda, Chandampeta, Dindi, Munugodu, Samsthan Narayanapuram, Coutuppal, Ramannapet & Chityalmandals); Warangal district (7 villages in Bachannapet and Cherial mandals); Medak district ( 9 villages in Pedashankarampet, Narayankhed and Manur mandals);  Mahbubnagar district ( 8 villages in Gattu & Dharoor mandals); Adilabad district (14 villages in Jainoor, Sirpur(U), Narnur and Kerimeri mandals); Kurnool district (9 villages in Chippagiri, Maddidkera, Pathikonda and Devanakonda mandals); Cuddapah distrct ( 7 villages in Sambepalli & Lakkireddipalli mandals); Anantapur district (14 villages in Bathalapali mandal); Prakasam district (4 villages in Pedda Araveedu & Dornala mandals); and Visakhapatnam district (2 villages in S.Rayavaram & Buchayyapeta mandals).

The following are our observations pertaining to the main aspects of the drought situation:

I. There are three kinds of assistance that people primarily expect from the government in a period of drought. Work for people, fodder for cattle and drinking water for both people and cattle.  

The State government has failed so dismally in all the three matters during the current drought that one may fairly say that it has done nothing at all.

(i).Barring Anantapur district, out of the 81 villages toured by us in the remaining nine districts, droughty works were taken up by the government in only three villages. In one of the three (Konne, Bachannapet masndal, Warangal district) the road work which was taken up as a drought work was done with the aid of a Proclain and therefore it created no employment for the people. In another (Kadiyalavandlapalli, Sambepalli mandal, Cuddapah district), the contractor who was assigned the drought work brought labour from Rayachoti instead of employing the local labourers, and hence the people of the villages got no employment out of it.

Relatively more of `drought works’ have been taken up in Anantapur district, but all the works were got done by Proclain machines. Works worth Rs 50,000 have been completed in two or three days with the help of machines, creating no work for the people who need work in the time of drought.

The consequence of this is that in all the villages we visited, there has been extensive migration of whole families to far off places in search of work. In many of the villages, the majority of the families migrated. There were coming back one by one during the last week of May. 

The response of officials to this is that `migration is common in summer’. Certain quantum of migration is no doubt common. Even if the kharif and rabi crops give normal yields, there are many who need to migrate for livelihood in summer. But in the 1999-2000 season, in all the drought affected areas of the State, the kharif crop yield was one third to one half of the normal yield, and there was practically no rabi crop. If in such circumstances, if the government does not make it a point to take up drought works and get them executed through the people and not machines, there is bound to be abnormal migration as well as inability of people to find adequate work at the places where they migrate to.

(ii). Regarding fodder, it is noteworthy that until the last week of May no effort at all was made by the government to make provision for cattle fodder in any part of the State. As a consequence, farmers have sold off cattle in large numbers. We were told in many villages that they had sold off milch cattle as well as `all but one pair of bullocks for the plough’. Of the villages toured by us, those in Cuddapah, Adilabad and Prakasam happen to be close to forests and therefore fodder was available to some extent and no major sales of cattle took place, but sales took place in large quantities in the Nalgonda, Warangal, Medak, Mahbubnagar, Kurnool and Anantapur villages visited by us. A pair of bullocks that would cost Rs 10,000 under normal circumstances have been sold for Rs 3000 or 4000, thereby causing severe loss to the farmers.

The government finally woke up for a minute in the last week of May and distributed fodder through trains to some parts of the State. But this fodder reached only a few farmers in five or six in one or two mandals. For instance, fodder that reached Markapur (Prakasam district) for 15 mandals was taken away by people of two or three villages neighbouring Markapur.

(iii) As for drinking water, the less said the better. Of the 95 villages visited by us, there are hardly 7 or 8 where people said that there was satisfactory provision of drinking water. In many villages people are trekking one to five kms for drinking water. In most of the villages that we visited in Nalgonda dt (Devarakonda area), Adilabad dt (the whole of Utnoor division) and Cuddapah dt (Sambepalli mandal), we found that there is no protected drinking water supply at all. Even where such a provision is there, it is not functioning either because the bore has gone dry or current supply is erratic or in many places because the tank has not been connected to a bore or a motor but is merely an ornamental construct. As a consequence there is severe shortage of water in practically all the villages we visited. The people are mostly dependent on hand bores And are making do with what little water the hand bores provide. In the villages visited by us, not a single drinking water scheme has been taken up by the government this summer.

In  the villages of Nalgonda (Samsthan Narayanapuram mandal) and Kurnool (Pathikonda and Maddikera mandals) there is a severe problem of fluoride contamination in the groundwater sources. Drinking such water results in bone deformation and motor disability. `They are old by the time they are thirty’ is the comment people in the affected areas make. Since the water table has gone down substantially in the existing conditions of drought, the problem of `fluoride contamination’ has taken acute form in these villages. It is really criminal that after so many years the State government has not been able to remedy this problem, and has condemned thousands of people to deformation. Fluoride decontamination equipment supplied gratis by the Netherlands government a decade ago is lying unused in the villages of Samsthan Narayanapuram mandal only because the government has not made provision of working expenses to run the equipment.

II.Our Chief Minister has declared in the background of the present drought that he is starting a movement for the conservation of water and water sources. As part of that, the 12th Janmabhoomi was to be conducted with the slogan of Neeru – Meeru (Water and You).

We had assumed that as part of this programme the local officials would have visited villages, discussed the local water sources and methods of augmenting them with the villagers and taken up concrete programmes. We questioned people in all the 95 villages visited by us about this. But to our total surprise we found that there was no discussion or decisions about water sources and their preservation / augmentation during the Janmabhoomi programme in any one of these 95 villages. Some tanks were repaired during this summer pursuant to decisions taken in the past, but we found no trace of the water conservation movement that the ruling party says it has initiated this season under the slogan `Water and You’.

In many places, there was in fact no Janmabhoomi at all. In some places we were told that it took place only in villages on a main road. In the forested mandal of Kerimeri in Adilabad district, Janmabhoomi took place only in the mandal head quarters. There was no Janmabhoomi in any of the tribal hamlets in the forest.

We have been reading in the papers about instances of people themselves taking the initiative in taking measures to protect and conserve local water sources. We did not see even one such instance in the areas we toured. Having read in the papers that at Jainur mandal head quarters in Adilabad district, the people had moved in large numbers to de repair work at the local tank on the day prior to our visit, we inspected that tank. We found that all the silt in the tank was in tact. There were weeds all over the tank. Only in one corner we found that a few weeds had been pulled out and burnt. The local people told us that the MRO had called some people to gather there the previous day and pull weeds, which they did for half an hour and went away after getting photographed.

It is possible that even though we saw no villages in the area we toured wherein people voluntarily set their hand to the task of conservation of local water sources, such efforts trook place elsewhere. We have no wish to denigrate such efforts. But it is necessary to criticise the publicity being drummed up by the government on the basis of half truths.

III. A lot of discussion has taken place in the State about starvation deaths and suicides. Ministers and TDP and BJP leaders have exhibited questionable intelligence in their comments. If we recall that in all the drought affected areas of the State, Kharif output was one third to half the normal yield and rabi was almost totally washed out, we will realise that people were short of work for seven to eight months. Though migration was sought as a way out, this situation has resulted in considerable undernourishment of the people. In such a situation any disease or infection can well prove fatal. It makes no sense to say that it cannot be starvation death because the family has a ration card. The same is true of indebtedness. In the districts of Warangal and Nalgonda where commercial crops are cultivated to some extent, we were told that each farmer is indebted to the extent of 30,000 to 40,000 rupees. There is nothing to excite surprise or derision in the decision of a small farmer indebted to that extent to end his life. We were told by many farmers in Bachannapet mandal of Warangal district that `if the same situation continues next year, there will be many suicides’.       

IV. Finally, it is necessary to comment on the State government’s argument that watershed development schemes constitute the long term solution to the problem of drought. It is without doubt a good idea to increase ground water recharge through watershed development. Water level in wells and bores can be improved if such schemes are undertaken without swindling, and are executed and maintained efficiently. We observed this in two villages which we visited (Gangapur in Adilabad district and Adavikammapalli in Cuddapah district). But what is the basis for the belief that the long term solution for the problem of drought lies in watershed development alone? Why should the government ignore the development of surface water sources? Groundwater gives irrigation through wells and bores. Surface water gives irrigation through tanks, rivers and streams. Permanent solution to drought requires using both sources effectively. It is meaningless on the part of the State government to speak of groundwater augmentation as the only solition.

We may take the severely drought affected mandals of Gattu, Dharoor and Maldakal in Mahbubnagar district as an instance. Since rainfall is scanty here, improvement through watershed development can only come very slowly. But the Krishna river is very close to these areas. If water is given to these mandals from the river through the Nettempadu lift irrigation scheme, the villages can become fertile. The same is true of the Narayankhed area of Medak district. Since there is rock formation under the soil in that area, augmentation of groundwater cannot be done beyond as point. But water of the Manjeera river can be given from the Singoor project.

Therefore we feel that the State government should devise plans of long term drought prevention taking into account all water sources and take up repair of irrigation tanks and construction of canals along with watershed development schemes. It should also take up drought relief works (work, fodder and water) on a rational basis whenever drought occurs.          

(S. Jeevan Kumar)                       (M. Kodandaram)                           (K. Balagopal) 

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