Specials

Telangana: Heat and dust

KV KURMANATH Recently in Mominpet | Updated on January 27, 2018 Published on May 05, 2016

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An acute drought has compounded the State’s agrarian crisis and triggered large-scale migration

The oppressive 43° C heat of an early summer afternoon has Mominpet, in Ranga Reddy district, firmly in its grip. At the panchayat building premises, about 50 farmers from the village are clustered beneath the only tree that offers a modicum of shade and respite from the hot Deccan winds that blow.

They have gathered at the panchayat office for the annual Rythu Chaitanya Yatra meet organised by the Telangana Agriculture Department officials to offer advice to and prepare farmers for the upcoming kharif season.

Hot though the day is, the farmers have a bigger concern on their minds as they listen to Mandal Agriculture Officer K Neeraja with rapt attention as she briefs them on the strategy they should follow for the agricultural season.

What acutely bothers the farmers is the scarcity of water resources for the third year running. Borewells have dried up, and the South-West and North-East monsoons have been deficient.

This has left the farmers saddled with a dilemma: should they continue with cotton cultivation, which is hugely input-intensive and has left them in big debt?

Or should they go in for soya or maize cultivation, as is being suggested by the State government? And how can they continue to feed their cattle, given that feed stocks are drying up?

Agrarian crisis

The farmers’ plight has been compounded by an agrarian crisis in the State, and particularly in the cotton sector: about 1,500 farmers have committed suicide since the Telangana State was formed in June 2014. Over two-thirds of them were cotton farmers, which could be one reason why the State government is encouraging them to diversify away from cotton to other crops.

Lack of access to institutional finance is the biggest challenge that farmers face, and it is this that drives them to secure loans from private lenders at usurious rates.

The State government has waived about half of the ₹17,000 crore loans, and is expected to release about ₹4,250 crore this year and an equal amount next year.

As soon as Neeraja finishes reading out the message from Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao to farmers on the State’s plan for this year’s kharif and various schemes that the government has introduced, the farmers begin to pepper her with questions on the alternatives, their viability and the availability of seeds.

The same questions resonate along the 85-km road to Mominpet, with villagers wondering as to how the drought situation will play out.

Leaving nothing to chance, the farmers have kept their fields tilled and ready for the first showers, should they come.

Tanker trade thrives

Chandraiah, the Sarpanch of Mominpet, additionally faces the challenge of having to provide drinking water to the 13,000 villagers.

The severe drought that has engulfed the mostly rain-fed Telangana, drying up tanks and groundwater sources, is impacting life in the State, particularly the rural areas. Big tankers ply on the roads, ferrying water to the villages from borewells near the dried-up tanks.

“It is very big business now. Everybody wants water. But the problem is there are only a limited number of tankers,” Narsimhulu, a villager, said.

The situation is much the same in other villages.

“Some farmers are lucky that their borewells still provide some water, but a majority of us are not that lucky. There’s a shortfall of at least 40 per cent in groundwater resources,” A Ravi, a small-time farmer, says. This year, summer came quite early, its arrival heralded by unprecedented heat waves across the State. A sudden spurt in temperatures forced the government to wind down the academic year two weeks early.

Private schools that violated the closure guidance were warned of stringent action.

The failure of three successive crop seasons has led to a scarcity of pulses, driving up their prices. Black gram and red gram prices have risen past ₹200 a kilogram.

Prof M Kodandaram, Convenor of the Telangana-Joint Action Committee (T-JAC), points out that farmers have spent heavily on borewells and on digging wells.

No fallbacks for farmers

“For want of water and fodder, they are selling their cattle. But there has been a fall in cattle prices because of the increased availability. The income from cattle used to serve as a buffer in times of crisis. Now they are left with no fallbacks,” he said.

The T-JAC deputed a team to nine of the 10 districts in Telangana to assess the situation and prepared a report on the drought. The report noted that the drought situation was very grave, and recorded villagers as having said that they had not seen one so bad in 50 years.

Large-scale migration

The drought has induced large-scale migration of people within and from the State. Unable to find livelihood and water, people are moving to urban areas in the thousands.

Mahboobnagar, from where the most number of people migrate to cities, is witnessing acute drought.

“Earlier, people used to migrate with the help of organised cliques. Now, they leave the villages on their own, hoping to find some livelihood in Hyderabad or Mumbai,” says Raghavachari, a retired teacher who has been studying the phenomenon for the past year 30 years.

“You can see them in groups at streetcorners in Hyderabad in the mornings looking for construction work. The drought is so acute that parents are taking their kids too with them to far-off places in search of work,” he said.

The government, however, is not fully sensitive to the gravity of the situation.

Agriculture and Cooperation Minister Pocharam Srinivas Reddy appeared to evade an answer to a question on the State government’s contingency plan for farmers in the drought-hit areas.

Traditional indices to estimate the extent of the drought are inadequate, notes Raghavachari.

“They track specific parameters like rainfall. But the impact of the drought is felt well beyond agriculture. You must factor in the effects on the socio-economic fronts too to assess the actual impact,” he feels.

Some of the villagers, for instance, are migrating to Mumbai along with their kids, resulting in large-scale dropouts from schools, he adds.

Overall, the situation in drought-hit Telangana borders on the grim, with no early respite in sight.

Published on May 05, 2016
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