As the state of Telangana reels under drought exacerbated by a brutal heatwave, a village of about 130 families in Adilabad district has a surfeit of water, and it is driving them to despair.
In contrast to the otherwise parched landscape of the district, visitors to Mamada are greeted by the incredible sight of borewells overflowing unceasingly without the help of a motor, roads pockmarked with puddles, and slushy fields.
“Just a little further away, people suffer from drought. Those people come here for the water,” said Prakash, a horticulture officer in Mamada.
Problem of plenty
All this has happened in the past year.
The ground water level in Mamada, a village of agriculturists, is so high that villagers can’t dig pits for toilets, and fields are rapidly becoming unproductive.
“We get water at a depth of three feet,” said Narivelli Chinna Gattu, a 22-year-old farmer. “We cannot even dig a pit to use as a toilet.”
Around 500 acres of fields in the area have registered a drop in yield because of the excessive water.
“Our fields are full of water,” lamented Narivelli Chinna Mallaya, a 30-year-old farmer, pointing to the half-submerged paddy shoots in his field. “Not only have we lost yield, we are also not able to store paddy anywhere because the grains start sprouting even before we can move them.”
Others are concerned about what will happen when the monsoon starts.
“When the rains start, the walls of even the brick houses seem like they are about to crumble with the water seepage,” said Gollochu Lakshmi, a housewife. Families here raise cattle for milk, but their diminishing livelihood means that they often cannot afford to feed the cattle either.
Dam it all
Barely 100 metres away from Mamada village is the Neelwai dam, which was filled with water last year. This is when the ground water level in Mamada and about 10 nearby villages started rising.
In the beginning, villagers were ecstatic. “We thought this would mean an improved yield,” said Mallaya. “But we were sadly mistaken.”
The Neelwai dam is an ambitious project meant to bring water to 15,000 acres of Telangana’s parched Adilabad district from a tributary of the Godavari. It was originally initiated by the YS Rajasekhara Reddy Congress government in 2005 but was finally completed last year after several delays including one caused by the construction contract changing hands in 2011. But though the dam is ready now, its canal system is expected to be operational only by 2017.
Experts said that the problem of increased ground water is common near dam sites. “Eventually this ground water will decrease if the water level in the dam reduces,” said G Badri Narayana, Executive Engineer of Mancherial in Adilabad district, who is overseeing the project. “This type of problem is common after constructing a dam. If we look into all these issues then our cost of construction will increase 10 times.”
Experts add that the geology of the district is partly to blame for Mamada’s excess water problem.
Shakeel Ahmed, chief scientist at the National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad, said that Adilabad district had hard rock underground. “Water flow will be diverted if a rock comes in between, and water leaks from fractures in the earth,” he said, adding that that is why only few villages have reported increased ground water even though they are adjacent to the dam.
Villagers complain that though they contacted the government several times for help, they had received no response. Many fear that they will have to give up their homes and their livelihoods if the government does not step in soon.
“Before they started constructing the Neelwai Dam, we were promised that it would improve our area, and that our yield would improve,” said Gajji Vijay Murthy, a 55-year-old farmer. “But now after the project has come up, our complaints are ignored.”
He added that the government had refused to relocate the farmers since they said the village was not threatened with submersion.
However, executive engineer Narayana told this reporter that the state government was aware of the plight of the residents of Mamada and its surrounding villages. “When the dam was filled in 2015, three houses initially faced this problem,” he said. “Of these, two families were shifted while one family preferred to stay back.”
He added: “Plots were allotted for 93 families and we are now allotting plots for 25 more families. We will see during this rainy season – if the problem persists, we will find some alternatives”
Relocation a solution?
But the villagers are angry.
Farmer Narivelli Chinna Gattu said that his uncle’s death was caused, in part, by the excessive ground water. Gattu said that his uncle was spraying pesticide on his fields when his legs got stuck in the soft soil and he tripped and spilt the pesticide on himself.
Gattu, who owns four acres of land, added that he cannot even use agricultural machinery in his fields anymore, because they get stuck in the soft soil. “The value of our land has decreased drastically,” said Gattu. “And now we cannot grow any crop other than paddy because of the high water content”
Farmer Mallaya said he thought that caste may a reason there has been no political intervention yet. “A majority of the families in the village are Yadavs,” said Mallaya. “Yadavs are not backward enough for the government to pay attention to, neither are we the majority.”
He added that the panchayat heads had also stopped answering calls from the village.
Veniganti Tirupathi Reddy, the village sarpanch’s husband, said that it seemed that the village itself needed to be shifted.
Telangana Irrigation Minister Harish Rao told Scroll.in that he was looking into the issue and that the problem would be addressed soon.