By Gali Nagaraja
Polavaram in Andhra Pradesh and Kaleswaram in Telangana, both seeing rapid development on the Godavari River, are likely to become the trump cards for the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Telangana Rashtriya Samithi (TRS) respectively in the 2019 elections.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s poor show in rural Gujarat, which was marked by electoral losses in 14 seats in the recently concluded polls, is expected to serve as a warning for ruling regional parties in pursuit of electioneering in 2019.
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP fared badly in rural AP in the 2014 elections, ceding ground to the YSR Congress (YSRC). His promise of waiving off farm loans was what helped Naidu scrape through.
It is against this background that the AP government is burning the midnight oil in a bid to showcase the Polavaram project before the next election. It aims to irrigate 7.27 lakh acres in East and West Godavari districts, besides a transfer of 80tmcft of water into the Krishna River. The transfer of Godavari water gives Naidu the leeway to divert the same proportion of water from the Krishna River through the Srisailam reservoir upstream for irrigation in the water-starved Rayalaseema region. In his three-year rule, which saw Amaravati-centric development, sowed the seeds of discontent in Rayalaseema, with signals of regional imbalances in growth.
Polavaram is what binds Naidu to the Centre, allowing him to swallow certain discomforts as part of the endeavour to complete the project, ensuring the flow of adequate funds from the Centre, with the alliance as an investment. The Krishna delta with an ayacut of 13 lakh acres – spread over the coastal districts of Krishna, Guntur, parts of Prakasam and West Godavari districts, fed by the Krishna River – is facing a threat as it fails to receive inflows after the construction of dams like Almatti in the upper reaches of Karnataka. The Polavaram project will provide the much-needed elixir to the Krishna delta.
The small flow of funds from the Centre and the tardy progress of the project may make it for the project to achieve its deadline of 2018-19.
Polavaram was declared a national project in the AP Reorganisation Act, 2014, which obligated the Centre to realize it with its own funds. The project escalated to Rs 58,000 crore, which includes Rs 34,000 crore for the rehabilitation and resettlement package for the project victims, according to the estimates of the AP government. It was originally estimated at Rs 10,500 crore at the time of its inception in 2005.
When the TDP government, after coming to power in 2014, spent around Rs 8,500 crore, the Centre is due to reimburse Rs 4,500 crore. The TDP-BJP bonhomie sits precariously on the progress of Polavaram.
The K Chandrasekhar Rao government in Telangana, as part of its flagship programme of jal, jungle and zameen, has initiated the Kaleswaram project with Rs 80,500 crore as a joint venture with Maharastra government. It intends to irrigate 18.24 lakh acres by diverting 225tmcft from the river through a chain of reservoirs.
The terrains of Telangana are not favourable for cultivation by the harnessing the river waters, unlike in the deltaic regions in its sibling state of AP. As a result, cultivation is risky and depends completely on rains, leading to droughts and crop failures. Telangana earned notoriety for seeing highest rate of farmer suicides in 2014, as per National Crime Records Bureau data. The unfortunate streak has continued in subsequent years too. Farmer suicides are attributed to the fact that river waters have not been exploited properly for irrigation, among other factors.
At the end of December last year, the KCR government declared that farmers would get free electricity in a bid to check suicides – although this was implemented in AP in 2004 itself, despite all odds.
Rural distress in Telangana is linked to the Maoist insurgency. Telangana remained backward and not conducive for industrial growth because of the Maoist-sponsored violence. Maoists retreated from the region after the formation of separate a state under the leadership of KCR. Separate statehood raised the hopes for development and equity in land distribution, and it is incumbent upon KCR to realize these people’s aspirations.
The Polavaram and Kaleswaram projects sparked inter-state disputes between the two sibling states. The TRS has been at its best to stall the Polavaram project, raising the bogey of equity in water distribution. Andhra Pradesh raised objections over the Kaleswaram project, saying Telangana is executing it without approvals from the Central Water Commission. Incidentally, the TRS government secured hydrology clearance from the CWC and Stage-1 forest clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests in October last year.
Naidu in AP is facing a formidable challenge from the YSRC, while the TRS is facing stiff opposition from the Congress in Telangana. And the electoral fortunes of the ruling regional parties in the two states will revolve around the fate of these major irrigation projects.
*Views expressed are author’s own.