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In July 2023, when northern districts of Telangana were hit by floods, Mulugu, the state’s tribal heartland, was badly ravaged. More than 100 villages were submerged by floodwaters resulting in disruption of connectivity and crop loss for farmers.
One of the most badly hit villages was Kondai, hardly 10km away from Medaram known for Medaram Jatara, a tribal festival held once every two years. Eight people were swept away by rising floodwaters here. But the region isn’t new to floods. Jampanna Vagu, a tributary to the river Godavari, overflows every year during monsoon season devastating farmlands, but this time it was extremely severe and affected houses. Not even a single house was spared.
A bridge over the tributary also collapsed, which made the locality inaccessible. The flood waters left sand deposits in the fields affecting their livelihood and villagers are now compelled to travel out of Kondai. With no proper roads and transport available, commuting is a risky and exhausting endeavour.
But despite months of hardships, the village did not see help forthcoming and residents are desperate because of a sense of abandonment. When Telangana goes to polls on November 30, Kondai may not be voting.
Residents of Kondai panchayat have decided not to cast their votes until they receive an assurance that basic amenities like roads, safe shelter and flood walls would be constructed. They also want to be relocated to higher plains because of frequent floods. “We are determined to question and raise demands with any party that comes to the village seeking votes,” Venkateshwarulu, Sarpanch of Kondai told TNM.
Millions of visitors pour into Medaram village of Tadvai Mandal in Telangana’s Mulugu district once in two years to be part of Medaram Jatara, the second-largest fair of India, after the Kumbh Mela. The Medaram procession passes through Kondai and is attended by thousands of people from border states like Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. The celebration, a commemoration of the fight against injustice by the mother-daughter duo of Sammakka and Saralakka, goddesses of the Koya tribe, lasts four days.
In January this year, Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) MLC K Kavitha, while on a visit to Mulugu had stated that the state government had sanctioned Rs 100 crore for Medaram Jatara, developing the Sammakka barrage and strengthening of banks of Godavari River to avoid inundation of low-lying areas.
Despite the annual flood risk, Kondai was not extended help for flood mitigation or develop roads and other infrastructure that are crucial to their livelihood.
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How floods created havoc in Kondai
Kondai Sarpanch Venkateshwarulu said he had warned people to move to safer locations before the flood. “People were not expecting water to reach their homes since flooding occurs annually. I warned them around 8am but they underestimated the situation, and by 2pm, all houses were flooded,” he said. Eight residents of the village were washed away. For over 20 days, the people of Kondai took shelter in the Eturnagaram tribal guest house. Etunagaram, 20km away, is the closest town for several tribal mandals in the region.
A 35-year-old youth suffered a heart attack soon after he learned of the collapse of his house in Kondai. Munnabi, a 50-year-old resident of the village, lost her son Nazer Khan (27) and husband, Sharif Khan (55) in floods.
“At the time of the evacuation, the water had not yet reached our house. My son directed me to a safer place, where others had gathered. He had assured me that he would come along with his father. However they couldn’t,” she said. The family had planned Nazer Khan’s wedding in January 2024. Kondai residents have several such stories to share.
Lives disrupted by a collapsed bridge
Kondai panchayat, comprising three villages - Dodala, Malyala and Kothuru, has around 350 households. The bridge connecting Kondai with Dodla village collapsed on July 27 this year. It was already in a precarious situation, allegedly due to sand mining in the region. If someone suffers from a health emergency they need to be carried across the river through parts which are shallow enough to wade through,
P Srinivas, a resident of the village, recounted the difficulties his family faced when his mother passed away on November 4, due to absence of the bridge.
“My mother had a heart problem and was admitted to the hospital. We faced a challenging situation when she passed away as we had to bring her body to the house. An alternate route was needed, and the ambulance became stuck on a muddy road. This shows how disconnected the village is,” he said.
Another issue faced by residents is sand left by floodwaters on paddy fields. Because of this villagers are compelled to travel to work in fields located in Eturnagaram and Chinna Boinpally. Because of the lack of connectivity women face commuting problems.
Rehana, a resident of Kondai said, “We carry torches daily. Since we go to work in a group we are not too afraid. However, families back home anxiously await their return, and due to weak phone signals communication is challenging. In the past, auto or tractors could pick us from the village but now we are compelled to cross the waters.”
Another resident Nagalaxmi said villagers have to get everything, including gas cylinders, rice bags, by crossing the stream.
After the floods, the government provided affected families a relief of around Rs 10,000. But the residents are seeking permanent solutions. “We want a permanent resolution to this recurring problem of floods. There is no livelihood or safety here,” said Vinoda, a 40-year-old Dalit woman.
“We don't want money. We want roads, bridges and shelter. Then only we will vote,” she said.
“All the funds allocated to the district are being used for Medaram only. Kondai hardly gets anything,” alleges Sammaiah of the Human Rights Forum (HRF).
Narendra, a Koya tribe member, spoke about how a Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) candidate seeking votes was received coldly by residents. “People questioned why no one had come to Kondal after the floodwaters receded to ask them about their welfare and what they want,” he said.
“To reach Eturnagaram, we have to take an alternate route of approximately 50 kilometres, which is only accessible by two-wheelers or tractors. In cases of an emergency, it becomes a significant challenge,”said Vinod Kursa, the Deputy Sarpanch of Ilapuram, a village located 10 kilometres away from Kondai. Earlier they only had to cover a distance of 25 km to reach Eturnagaram.
There are four to five tribal hamlets each with a little over 100 households in this stretch which have to pass through the same road. They are also facing trouble.