The Telugu-speaking people are under great stress for the imminent parting .There is anguish among different categories of people, each clinching a particular problem, be it irrigation water, jobs, security of employment, family, real estate in Hyderabad or simply the pain of emotional longing for a cultural identity.
As I was born in the united Visakhapatnam district, (northern part named as Srikakulam in 1950), I am obliged to express at least anxiety over the impending outcome.
I had the opportunity to traverse the entire region and know something about the origin and unique characters of our river systems. The peninsular rivers originate either in the East and confluence the Arabian Sea or begin in the West and join the Bay of Bengal. But the rivers in North Andhra originate in the Eastern Ghats and join the Bay of Bengal on the East. This is exceptional and the Sabari River that joins Godavari at Kunavaram not only brings water but also contributes to its title. The tributaries of Sabari, Sileru (silaeru) and Machkund (fish mound in Oriya) originate in Vizianagaram and Srikakulam border and were responsible for the huge run-off at the downstream Polavaram. The data provided by various agencies, including the CWC (not party), amply demonstrate this. W. Francis, in his Visakhapatnam Gazetteer (1907), mentioned that the water supplied to the second crop in Godavari delta originates in North Andhra.
The Polavaram, aka Ramapadasagar Project (of Sonti Ramamurthy of Vizag), was conceived and projected as a boon to the farmers of the region during Tanguturi Prakasam regime. American expert Dunne estimated the cost at Rs 100 crores which was considered prohibitive for a State budget with a few hundred crores. However, farmers and people of the region longed for it as they believed that it was their legitimate right to claim over 644tmc surplus in the Godavari.
Rajasekhara Reddy took a bold decision to take up the project and it is still a victim of legal, economic and political squabbles to reach the logical end. The political aftermath of the present situation might result in a package including Polavaram as a national project. It is here one can reason out the share of North Andhra not only in the contribution of its run-off but also its share in the proposed distribution through the left canal (it should go up to Bahuda).
The geography of Krishna and Godavari delta is precarious as the region lies at the river’s mouth (tail end) with little contributions to the run-off due to its location. We know the fate of Kolleru. Therefore, farmers are very sensitive as they recollect how the out-migration in times of famines took place while the unharnessed rivers merged in the Bay of Bengal before Cotton.
They had also experienced the pinch when there was scarcity in the major source in recent years. Arthur Cotton took irrigation works as a challenge to prove that transport through canals was cheaper than railways and proposed linking of Karachi to Kolkata and barrages on the Krishna and the Godavari. Telugus of coastal Andhra were benefitted. He did not anticipate the consequences.
There seems to be a flaw in the enterprise as the irrigation needs of the riparian regions of the Godavari have not been considered nor the farmers told about the restrictions. Was it due to the limitations of sovereign powers of Cotton as some parts of the present State were under another dispensation?
Nonetheless, North Andhra was very much part of the Madras Presidency and had rights on the Godavari waters. Why did he neglect this aspect? Or was it due to the persuasive skills and manoeuvres of the then ruling classes which overpowered him to limit his vision to a very limited area, is a subject of academic study. Yet, there seems to be some weakness (colonial mindset to maximise return and not equity) in the whole design of agricultural development based on subsidised water without any legitimately dependable source?
North Andhra had limited experience of continuous droughts as the rainfall here is found to be above State average according to Jagannadha Sarma, a hydro geologist. The design of irrigation water was also based on small tanks with low investment and linking the geddas, rivulets to some large storage tanks.
North Andhra was a region of small zamindars and from non-traditional castes, unlike the Nizam or someone in other parts who could afford huge projects. However, the economic status of the region was comparable to that of advanced districts of coastal Andhra like West Godavari as late as in 1961 when the per capita income in North Andhra was Rs 1250 against State average of Rs 1184.
Now the region suffers low income and high poverty while the waters of its rivers either join the sea or are diverted for others leaving limited prospects for agriculture development. There is distress migration. It is estimated that GHMC alone has about 2 million construction workers, petty jobs-holders, etc, from North Andhra (lost 3 MLA seats). They live like nomads without a cover to conceal their bodies. Is it due to lack of resources in the region? Uttarandhra has teeming natural resources to emerge as Kashmir (along with Araku valley) of South India with beautiful coast being the pride of Telugu people. It was undermined and exploited over a period of time after 1956. One important reason for its backwardness appears to be sidelining of irrigation needs of the region. CRM Patnaik, the Cotton of North Andhra, designed projects keeping the aspirations of the region, which were later diverted to industrial use for Visakhapatnam city. Farmers agitated without any effect. The rare Yeleru canal scam is part of this diversion process. New projects are being diverted for industrial use.
It is difficult to know how the water requirements of a region were evaluated beyond their legitimate share. Were the needs of farmers and the people of North Andhra who have riparian rights over the run-off considered in diverting 80 TMC water from the proposed Polavaram? Why is it the left canal is not extended beyond Visakhapatnam city to sparsely irrigated areas in Chidikada, Devarapalli, Narsipatnam in Vizag district and the most backward parts of Vizianagaram and Srikakulam?
If gravity is an issue, are they not pumping for others? Has the leadership of the region ever brought the issues before the administration or are they overpowered by migrants (mis/un) representing the demands of local people?