The people’s movements in Telangana that for six decades drove the demand that their region should be separated from the state of Andhra Pradesh were not just raising political and cultural concerns: one among the major motivations was claim that people in the Andhra region were receiving a disproportionate share of river water.
When the Telangana Rashtra Samithi came to power when the state was created it in 2014, it decided to offer free power to the agriculture sector round the clock. On the face of it, it seems like it would benefit farmers.
But the long-term environmental consequences will prove disastrous: ground-water aquifers are being depleted rapidly. Besides, the policy has also increased carbon emissions from the increased use of electricity. Unless the state changes course quickly, its policies will hurt the medium, small and marginal farmers who make up 85% of its agricultural sector.
Already, the effects of the free power can be seen on the ground. With the advance of new drilling techniques, the density of wells has witnessed increased from five wells per square km in 1985-’86) to 18 to 20 wells per sq km in 2016-‘17. In 2017, the Telangana State Ground Water Department reported that wells up to a depth of 100 metres were drying up and new bores were only likely to strike water below that level.
The period since 2014 has also seen more than 4,300 farmer’s suicides. One of the major reason for the suicides is debt, of which the loans for drilling more borewells form a significant component. A study conducted in 2019 by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Rythu Swarajya Vedika a farmer’s organisation, in 33 districts found that 60% of farmers suicides in Nalagonda, Medak, Warangal and Mahaboobnagar districts “were due to failure of bore wells and debt associated to it”, said Kondal Reddy, who was involved in the research.
He added: “It’s the small and micro level farmers who are effected due to this policy and these farmers belong to the vulnerable and deprived communities”
Since January 2018, Telangana has been providing 24-hour power supply to around 23 lakh agriculture pump sets.
The power generation capacity available to Telangana increased from 6,573 MW in 2014 to 14,913 MW in 2018. Telangana has not only managed to get access to uninterrupted power to the agricultural and manufacturing sectors but also recorded the highest per capita consumption in India. In 2018, the per-person consumption was 1,727 units while it was 1084 units in 2013-2014.
The environmental impact is significant. Of the state’s 14,913 MW of generation capacity, the state has a total of 6,682.5 MW of thermal power generation in 2017-2018. Given the total carbon emissions as a result of this, it would take 25,84794.5 hectares of forest to offset their effect. This would amount to 23% of total state land mass. The state’s forest cover already stands at 24%. But if the carbon emissions of transportation, infrastructure and sources in the state are to be neutralised, this would require almost the entire landmass of the state.
Rainfall and ground water
When planning scenarios for the state’s farmers, changing weather patterns must also be considered. As the uninterrupted power supply causes ground water resources to be depleted, the recharge of the water table depends on the amount of rainfall. Telangana has a total of 436 TMC (or thousand million cubic feet), of which 284.5 TMC of groundwater is extracted every year, according to the Telangana Ground water Department. Of this, 250.5 TMC of this is used for irrigation purposes.
Telangana receives most of its water from the South West monsoon, with mean rainfall of 923 mm a year. But with the rise in global temperatures and change in the Indian Ocean dipolar climate phenomenon reflecting temperature differences in that water body, the pattern of the South West monsoon has been altered.
“The number of heavy rainfall days is increasing because of climate change, which was making predictions more difficult,” said Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, the director-general of the India Meteorological Department.
It is becoming difficult even for predicting agencies to predict the rainfall accurately. This year’s monsoon has witnessed deficit rains in the first quarter and the predictions were pointing to drought-like conditions. But, by the last quarter, excess rains in a short period of time resulted in flash floods and crops being drowned.
As the water table falls, the proportion of chloride and fluoride in Telangana’s groundwater have become higher than the standard limits, according to the report of the Telangana State Ground Water Department. These salts degrade the health of the soil, reducing crop yields.
Soil health is also affected by extreme weather conditions. As the number of extreme heat and excess rainfall days have been increasing, the possibility of soil erosion is increased.
This is already visible from the Indian Space Research Organisation’s desertification map, which shows that the new land in the central Telangana has become degraded. It also points out that a total of 31.34 % of Telangana’s landmass is under desertification and 24.85% of the state’s land is suffering from soil erosion.
In a paper titled “Identification of areas vulnerable to soil erosion risk in India using GIS methods” in a journal called Solid Earth, researchers identified the old Adilabad, Warangal, and Khammam districts aas the worst hit by soil erosion.
As a state with 80% of agriculture is based on groundwater, the people in charge should reconsider policies urgently.
Serupally Rajesh is a Smitu Kothari Fellow 2019.