The demand for the extension of the Guntur channel of the Krishna River is gathering momentum with farmers from 50 villages of Guntur and Parchuru in Prakasam district holding protests.
A 42-km long channel provides water for agricultural and domestic purposes to the Tadepalli municipality, Mangalagiri municipality and Guntur Municipal Corporation, and also irrigates 34 villages in the region. With a drawing capacity of more than 400 cusecs, the channel is a lifeline for more than 47,000 acres of farmland.
Farmers belonging to Prathipadu, Pedanandipadu, Kakumanu and Vatticherukuru mandals in Guntur district and Parchuru mandal in Prakasam district have been agitating to extend the Guntur channel by 30km.
But there has been no development so far, despite walkathons conducted by the villagers and meetings with government authorities. There have also been relay hunger strikes at Pedanandipadu, which is at the centre of the four mandals.
"Though all the governments claim that they are there for the welfare of farmers, it is not proven in their actions," said Radha Krishna, an activist and a member of the All-India Kisan Sabha.
Radha Krishna says that the demand for the extension of the channel has existed from pre-Independence times, and, in 1961, the Assembly even passed a resolution in favour of extending the channel.
The farmers in the mandals demanding the extension grow cotton, chickpeas, corn, paddy and chilly.
Earlier, these five mandals got water for drinking and irrigation from the Nagarjuna Sagar Project. However, post the bifurcation of the state and depleting water levels, the mandals stopped getting water.
"Along with an acute irrigation crisis, the groundwater in the area is also a curse to the farmers and the people, as it is saline water. Itâ€™s not useful for farming or for drinking,â€ť said Dr Kolla Raja Mohan Rao, president of the Nallamada Rythu Sangam, a farmers rightsâ€™ collective.
Mohan Rao also said that Water Resources Department Minister Devineni Uma Maheshwar Rao promised them at least five times that the channel would be extended.
"60% of the farmers are tenants. The losses they incurred due to the lack of irrigation facilities has landed them in debt. Many landless labourers are choosing to migrate," Mohan Rao said.
40 farmers staged a day-long hunger strike in Pedanandipadu on Wednesday, and as many as 400 farmers participated in the protest.
"The demand has been prevalent for the last years, ever since they stopped getting water from the Nagarjuna Sagar Project,â€ť said Babu Rao, the Superintending Engineer of the Guntur Irrigation Circle.
"However, we have submitted a proposal of Rs 480 crores for the extension of the Guntur channel. Once the government clears the proposal, we will start work on it," he said.
Meanwhile, the Krishna River Management Board has asked the governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana to use water judiciously until August.
Prior to the meeting, E Paramesan, Member-Secretary of the Board, wrote to both the governments and informed them that only 133.75 tmcft was currently available in both Srisailam and Nagarjuna Sagar reservoirs.