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From headwaters to sea, a river basin was to be considered as one dynamic and organic system. This concept offered a new opportunity to co-ordinate the efforts of engineering science, technology, economics and finance in a unified development of the whole area for its population’ – United Nations, 1955.

By 1950s, across the world, development of river basin as a unit became an inherent part of any river water resource planning. In our country, the need to treat each river basin as a hydrological unit for national development of all its sub-basins is well-recognised, but the efforts in this direction, after the initial Damodar Valley Project, have not been adequate. Parliament enacted River Boards Act, 1956 to promote integrated and optimum development of the waters of inter-state rivers and river valleys. In fact, no river boards, even of advisory kind, has been set up under this Act.

In the Krishna river basin area, from 1947 to 1956, a lot of political activity and corresponding changes in the boundaries of the states occurred. Mysore (Karnataka State) emerged as the largest constituent in Krishna River basin. Telangana region which was the major constituent of erstwhile Hyderabad State, which was supposed to continue as Hyderabad State, had been merged with Andhra State to become a mere region within Andhra Pradesh State in 1956.

Though the Andhra State was carved out from Madras State on 1st October, 1953, Andhra elite thought they could utilise the Krishna river basin waters for their benefit, though it is outside the basin only if “independent political jurisdiction, namely, that of Telangana, can be eliminated.” (SRC Report para 372). Hence, Andhra elite allegedly aimed at disintegration of Hyderabad State. Telangana region pleaded before the SRC that it “does not wish to lose its present independent rights in relation to the utilisation of the waters of the Krishna and the Godavari” (SRC Report para 377).

Telangana region was merged into Andhra State, against the will of Telangana people as per the recommendations of the States Reorganisation Commission, in 1955. Andhra Pradesh state formed in 1956 became the second largest constituent of the Krishna basin. In Andhra Pradesh, Telangana region area was 70% and Andhra region 30%. As feared by Telangana people, Andhra elite relegated in-basin Telangana projects and promoted Andhra Projects serving outside the basin. In a democracy, numerical majority’s will prevails and, of course, Andhra population was two-thirds of Andhra Pradesh.

Telangana projects already proposed to utilise 174.3 tmc ft of Krishna waters at the time of merger, wholly within Krishna basin to irrigate Mahabubnagar district, were not pursued with the Central government nor were they presented properly before Bachawat Tribunal by Andhra Pradesh, to get them protected. Further, the waters meant for Bhima project (erstwhile gravity scheme) were utilised under the extended irrigation of Nagarjunasagar project right bank canal in out-basin areas of Andhra.

Similarly, Srisailam Left Bank Canal, with 150 tmc ft water, to irrigate 8 lakh acres within Krishna basin areas of Nalgonda, Khammam and Warangal districts, put forth before Bachawat Tribunal for allocation of dependable waters, at the height of separate Telangana State movement, in 1969, was relegated to surplus waters that too with least priority by 1973. As a result, all these gravity projects were not taken up and did not get any allocations. Presently, Telangana State is left with formulating and executing huge cost-intensive lift irrigation schemes only.  

A preposition was put before Bachawat Tribunal by Karnataka that, “it is not permissible for any basin State to divert waters of a river beyond the basin when the needs of a basin are in excess of the waters of a river.” It is a fact that, in Krishna Basin, reasonable demands of in-basin needs were much more than available dependable waters of 2,060 tmc ft. It means Krishna Basin was basically a deficit basin.

Then, intellectuals wondered how a deficit basin can divert Krishna river waters to outside the basin while the in-basin areas are suffering?  It became possible only because erstwhile Andhra Pradesh had given more weight to out-basin projects of Andhra than in-basin Telangana projects. Examples are: Prakasam Barrage, Nagarjunasagar Right Canal, Tungabhadra Canals and KC Canal. 

Also, unreasonably high demands of water than actually needed had been put forth, formulated on the basis of fictitious figures. For instance, during the present Brijesh Kumar Tribunal proceedings, a few days ago, Telangana had successfully exposed the actual requirements of the Krishna Delta System i.e, Prakasam Barrage, is only about 90 tmcft. But it got protection of 181.2 tmcft. In fact, 55 years out of 64 years, Prakasam barrage utilisation was more than 181 tmcft per year, many times up to 300 tmcft. Telangana submitted to reallocate excess waters in this project and such other projects to Telangana projects serving in-basin areas.

To make their outside basin demands legal, the Andhra Pradesh government submitted a dubious definition of river basin to suit its pleadings. It defined a river basin includes all the areas served or proposed to be served by the river. Hence, they argued, areas served by Krishna waters outside the basin, in Gundlakamma, Pennar basins etc, also, are part of Krishna Basin.

Bachawat Tribunal categorically denied that definition, and noted that te expression ‘Krishna Basin’ means the area drained by the Krishna River and its tributaries. It is bounded by the watershed of divide which separates it from other adjacent basins. However, erstwhile Andhra Pradesh could get those allocations by ‘vehemently’ ‘urging’ before the Tribunals for the allocation to the projects serving outside the basin in Andhra areas.

There was another dimension of wrong portrayal of demands by AP to the disadvantage of Telangana. Under major projects’ demands 78% belonged to Andhra Area, and only 22% belonged to Telangana. Out of these Andhra area demands at 77% are to serve out-basin areas only. Under medium and minor irrigation projects’ demands, 15% belonged to Andhra area and 85% to Telangana area. Flows to minor and medium irrigation projects depend on rainfall within the in-basin areas and not connected to flows in the mainstream of Krishna river or major tributaries like Bhima and Tungabhadra.

Hence, as the rainfall is scanty in Telangana areas, success rate of minor and medium projects is abysmally low. In the case of major irrigation projects, due to the more dependable rainfall in the western ghats etc in Karnataka and Maharashtra, there is more than enough water available. In effect, the Telangana demands are left to the unreliable monsoon flows in the in-basin areas of Mahbubnagar district etc. Andhra area demands were largely met by out-basin areas which depend on more reliable rainfall in the upper riparian states.

However, ‘the allocations of water to the three States’ made by Bachawat are ‘en bloc’ and “were not tied to any specific project or projects.”  It does mean that the allocated quantity of 811 tmcft of water to erstwhile Andhra Pradesh can be used anywhere and in ‘any manner it thinks proper.’ On the basis of these basic tenets of Bachawat Award, Telangana government wanted that the ayacut under the major projects of Telangana, Kalwakurthy Lift Irrigation Scheme, Nettempadu Lift Irrigation scheme, Palamuru-Rangareddy Lift Irrigation Scheme, SLBC and Dindi Lift Irrigation Scheme etc be given priority in allocation of dependable water due to the fact that their location is within the river basin. 

By: Salla Vijaya Kumar
(Writer is Secretary, Telangana Engineers JAC)