A couple of years before Uttarakhand was created, Chandi Prasad Bhatt, a leader of the Chipko movement, was asked by journalists in Chennai what he thought of the idea of a separate State for the hill districts of Uttar Pradesh. He said he supported the idea of the hill communities having a greater political say over their natural resources.

It was a natural statement for the elderly Gandhian who, along with Sunderlal Bahuguna, had led the people’s movement for access to forest rights in the Garhwal Himalayas in the 1970s. Greater access to natural resources and greater support from the government was the promise offered by the idea of a smaller state.

A dozen years since the creation of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh in November 2000, the process has begun for Telangana to be carved out of Andhra Pradesh. At one level, the driving reasons are more or less the same for the creation of the four states. It is a response to the demand for political autonomy sought by people in a region that felt neglected by their erstwhile state capitals.

Own identity

Ecologically, each of these states has an individual identity. While the mountains characterise Uttarakhand, the forest- and mineral-rich hills bind Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

Much of Telangana is semi-arid, with predominantly rain-fed agriculture. The India Meteorological Department’s district-wise annual rainfall data for 2012 shows that the districts of Telangana are not the driest in the State. For instance, though Mahbubnagar, Nalgonda, Hyderabad and Rangareddy districts received low rainfall — between 630 and 790 mm —, they were not the driest areas. That distinction goes to Anantapur (536 mm) and Kadapa (558.2 mm) districts in Seemandhra.

Even if the annual rainfall for the 10 Telangana districts is averaged out against the 13 Seemandhra districts, the difference is marginal. On average, rainfall in a Telengana district was 948.8 mm, and in a Seemandhra district, 1068.1 mm. Nature has not been partial to either.

A comparison of district-wise irrigation statistics for 2011-12 from the Andhra Pradesh government portal (www.apgov.in) does not show that the Telangana region is deprived in terms of gross irrigated area. This is the area under irrigation from multiple sources (tanks, canals, tubewells, dugwells and others) multiplied by the number of crops possible due to this support (see table).

Revealing figures

However, when the gross irrigation data is disaggregated according to sources, and the area covered by canal irrigation is compared, that’s when the picture changes. At 0.34 m.ha, Guntur district in Seemandhra has the highest coverage through canal irrigation while Rangareddy district in Telangana has the lowest coverage — a mere 765 ha. The averaged out district in Telangana has canal irrigation coverage of 32,532 ha while the averaged out district in Seemandhra has canal irrigation coverage of 1,14,811 ha.

A study by the Reserve Bank of India — ‘Pricing of paddy: A case study of Andhra Pradesh’ by R.V.V. Murthy and R. Mishra (2012) — states this clearly. In Telangana, 15 per cent of irrigation is from canals and 85 per cent from wells and tanks.

The situation is different in Seemandhra’s constitutent regions, Coastal Andhra (57.1 per cent from canals and 43 per cent from wells and tanks) and Rayalaseema (25 per cent from canals and 75 per cent from wells and tanks).

This is the critical factor for farmers in Telangana: they cannot depend on canal irrigated agriculture the way their counterparts in Seemandhra can , especially those in the coastal districts irrigated by large schemes.

Large-scale canal irrigation is government-funded. However, irrigation from tubewells and dugwells are mostly private funded. And the wells tend to dry out in summer. So Telangana farmers have been paying from their private funds to create irrigation infrastructure that could run dry when most needed.

Also, since the benefits of the Green Revolution are more pronounced in canal-irrigated areas, the rain-fed tracts in Telangana did not get the same early benefits as the coastal districts. The RBI study notes that there were three phases in the history of rice cultivation.

The first phase was when the Green Revolution introduced high-yielding varieties (HYVs) in the Godavari-Krishna delta areas in 1971-81.

The second phase was during 1982-92 with the increase of canal irrigation.

The third phase – in which Telangana benefited – was from 1993 to 2011 when the area irrigated by borewells increased. This also coincided with the introduction of HYVs in the Telangana region. However, this increase was marred by frequent monsoon failures.

The logic of a smaller State with a homogenous terrain is that the decision makers will understand the issues of the people better and ensure that the administration reaches the grassroots quicker and with less leakage. This was the hope of the farming families in Garhwal before Uttarakhand was created, or those in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Perhaps this is what Chandi Prasad Bhatt meant when he said he supported the idea of Uttarakhand.

At one level this belief is correct. Planning Commission figures show that the gross State Domestic Product almost doubled in Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand between 2004 and 2012.

Other development indicators also record growth. A 2009 study by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development titled ‘Gendering human development indices’ notes that between 1996 and 2006 the human development index (HDI) and gender-related development index (GDI) improved for Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

However, Bhatt added a rustic caveat at the Chennai meeting: “If a big stone is broken into smaller ones the essential character will remain that of a stone. For the smaller stones to be better than the larger one, there is need for a change in its character.”

The devastation that the June 2013 flood caused in Uttarakhand proved Bhatt’s fear that the character of the smaller stone was in many ways same as that of the larger one. In fact, with decision making having moved to Dehradun from Lucknow, the response time for taking wrong decisions was quicker.

The idea of Telangana may soon become reality. The demand for the State was not so much because it lacked natural resources but because there was inadequate infrastructure to support growth. A good administration can rectify the situation.

Whether Telangana remains a stone or becomes a diamond will depend on how appropriate the state’s policies and actions will be to meet its special needs.

(The author is Regional Environment Manager, Panos South Asia. The views are personal.)