As Andhra readies for a new project on the Krishna river, why has KCR decided to give it only a token resistance?
Water is a convenient tool for Telugu politicians to promote their agendas. The subject has immense potential to make them relevant in public life.
The modern history of Telugu politics is nothing but the rise and fall of water issues of the regions. Both sides, the ruling and the opposition, exploit water woes to ignite passions among the people.
Not a day passes by in the Telugu states without a political party deriding the ruling party for not doing enough to resolve the water scarcity of a particular region or the ruling party immortalising the release of water from a project. At the drop of a hat, water reaches boiling point.
On Wednesday despite the lockdown, the Telangana Congress organised deekshas across the state protesting Andhra Pradesh's plan to construct a lift irrigation project on the river Krishna in Kurnool district, which the party said would deny the water to Telangana if completed.
Leading the campaign TPCC president Uttam Kumar Reddy demanded the resignation of chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) if Andhra Pradesh were to commence work on the project.
A week ago Telangana chief minister KCR summoned an emergency meeting of cabinet ministers and senior official as wells as a retinue of advisors to discuss the fallout of the GO issued by AP a week ago (GO No 203 of the Irrigation department dated May 05, 2020).
In the meeting, KCR is said to have warned Andhra Pradesh not to go ahead on the project as it is “illegal” and has no approvals from Krishna River Management Board (KRMB).
He made it clear that he would challenge the project in the Supreme Court and get it stalled.
Stating that the proposed project would rob Telangana of its share of water from Krishna, the CM asked officials to get ready for a legal battle.
Though KCR had opposed the project, the Congress alleged, the response was too delayed and his statement lacked his signature punch. The opposition party also finds an absence of the wave of protests from the ruling TRS (Telangana Rashtra Samiti) as they normally tend to do against any provocation from Andhra Pradesh.
Dr Vamsi Chand Reddy, former MLA, and Congress leader said the proposed Andhra projects are designed to draw as much as 8 TMC to 10 TMC water from Krishna in the name of floodwater. Dr Reddy hails from the erstwhile Mahabubnagar district that relies on Krishna waters. So he took an active part in opposing the AP GO and sat on deeksha at Gandhi Bhavan, Hyderabad.
"Once the projects are commissioned, where is the guarantee that they would pump water only during flood season?" Vamsi asked.
Talking to The Lede, Vamsi alleged that KCR seems to have indulged in match-fixing with his Andhra counterpart, YS Jaganmohan Reddy.
He has given three reasons to buttress his match-fixing charge:
1. KCR has responded leisurely after a week and after so much prodding from Congress against the Andhra GO
2. He washed off his hands by issuing a press note which is against his normal style of addressing a press conference and employing caustic language
3. All the TRS leaders including people's representatives have been silent on the issue
The Congress accuses KCR of having had prior knowledge of Jagan's plans of the lift irrigation project and hence KCR's ostensible angry statement was not covered prominently in TRS' mouthpiece, Namaste Telangana.
There is talk among political circles that vociferous opposition to the Andhra Project by KCR would inflame anti-Andhra sentiment among the public which would dampen the celebratory mood in many areas of Telangana generated by the arrival of Godavari water from Kaleshwaram this summer.
The pictures of children jumping into the canals full of water, and the ministers performing pujas at reservoirs are widely circulated by the TRS. Milk bath to KCR’s portrait is ubiquitous.
Addressing the public on April 24, upon the release of Godavari water into Ranganaiksagar in the outskirts of Siddipet town, IT minister KT Ramarao said the people of Siddipet are lucky enough to have a chief minister like KCR , who achieved this great feat of bringing water to the district.
TRS wants this festive mood to linger for some time. The Congress, however, unexpectedly found a weapon in the AP GO to attack KCR and his alleged inability to stall AP’s Krishna projects.
"If AP draws 8 TMC Krishna water to a day, what would be left in the reservoir for south Telangana districts? On the one hand, KCR is not expeditiously completing the projects of this area, on the other, he is allowing AP to take up new projects on Krishna," Dr Nagam Janardhan Reddy, a former minister also from Mahabubnagar district, alleged.
Dr Reddy released a letter in which he had warned KCR of Jagan's plan to have a project on the Krishna way back in January 2020 itself.
"KCR had ignored my letter and allowed Jagan to go ahead with his plans to draw more Krishna water,” Reddy told mediapersons on Wednesday.
The GO issued by Andhra Pradesh on May 05, has accorded administrative clearance to two contentious works:
1. Rayalaseema pumping system, to draw 3 TMC water from Krishna to be released into Pothireddypadu Head Regulator (PHR)
2. Upgradation of Pothireddypadu Head Regulator and BCR Complex to draw 80,000 cusecs of water from foreshore of Srisailam Reservoir
While the GO touched a raw nerve in Telangana, it rallied all political parties behind Jagan at a time when he faces a series of setbacks in High Court and criticism about his handling of the LG gas leakage at Vizag.
BJP, CPI, and Congress urged Jagan not to rollback his plan to construct the project, meant to supply Krishna waters to drought-prone Rayalaseema and Nellore districts, and drinking water to Chennai.
Rayalaseema Sagu Neeti Sadhana Samiti (RSNSS) a non-political organisation, is jubilant with Jagan's GO. RSNSS has been fighting for the creation of additional projects and reservoirs in the region to utilise the Krishna water legally allocated to the region by the Bachawat Tribunal.
Talking to The Lede, RSNSS convenor, Bojja Dasaratharamiddy rubbished Telangana's apprehension that the two works mentioned in the GO would rob the Telangana projects of their share of water.
"The storage capacity of Srisailam Reservoir has got reduced by 92 TMC from 308 TMC to 215 TMC due to silting. Due to insufficient storage, as much as 420 TMC of Krishna water is being let into the sea from Srisailam Reservoir through Nagarjuna Sagar, Prakasam Barrage for years. Since the commissioning of PHR 23 years ago (1997), the AP could draw just 68 TMC annually on average. Following the widening of PHR six years ago, the average annual utilisation of Krishna water has increased to 85 TMC, which is well below the allocated quota of 131 TMC," he said adding that new work would improve the situation to some extent.
Contradicting Telangana’s contention that proposed projects had no approvals, Makireddy Purushottama Reddy, a noted water expert from Rayalaseema, said none of the Telangana projects under construction on Krishna had approvals.
"Telangana has initiated the construction of Palamur and Dindi Lift Irrigation projects after AP state bifurcation without any sanction of KRMB or approval of Apex Council," he recalled.
If Telangana challenges the proposed projects in the Supreme Court, Andhra will be forced to counter it with the illegal projects the state has taken up recently including Kaleshwaram, he added.
Exactly four years ago, on 17 May 2016, YS Jaganmohan Reddy sat on a three-day Jala Deeksha at Kurnool against the projects being built by the KCR government on the Krishna and Godavari.
Jagan dubbed KCR as 'Hitler' and deplored the latter's indifference towards the water needs of Rayalaseema region. Jagan, as Opposition leader, launched a virulent attack on chief minister Chandrababu Naidu as well for not resisting enough the Telangana projects.
He chose Kurnool as the venue since the people were unhappy with Naidu as he had ignored the region's demand to make Kurnool as the capital of residuary Andhra Pradesh.
Jagan had tried to exploit the opportunity provided by KCR's Palamuru-Ranga Reddy, and Dindi projects to move closer to the Rayalaseema people who rejected him in 2014 elections.
Jagan thought the Telangana projects would become a useful a tool for him to become relevant in state politics even after his defeat in the election. After some time Jagan jettisoned the issue and chose to ignore them altogether after he assumed office as chief minister in May 2019.
Having joined hands against Naidu, KCR and Jagan realised that vehement opposition to each others’ projects is not good for their politics. So Jagan conveniently forgot the past, and KCR has reciprocated this with not-so-serious opposition to the new projects in Rayalaseema.
Another water issues expert from Rayalaseema, V Sankaraiah has a different interpretation of the whole issue. Drawing attention to KCR's charge that Rayalaseema was trying to steal water from Krishna, Sankariah recalled how KCR repeatedly talked of the need to harness Godavari water as the inflows in the Krishna had fallen hopelessly over the years.
“When you said there is no water in Krishna, how would AP steal the non-existent water from Krishna?" Sankaraiah asked.
He is of the opinion that both KCR and Jagan are fomenting water disputes to deflect people's attention from their failures in providing able leadership.
"Srisailam project hasn't had assured water for seven years in the past ten years. Instead of improving the existing SRBC’s water carrying capacity to 44,000 cusecs and repairing the PHR, Jagan is unnecessarily leading the state into an interstate dispute by taking up new projects. By this controversy, Jagan, for the time being, can project himself as Rayalaseema champion, but in the long run, the interstate dispute would harm the interests of Rayalaseema," he told The Lede.