Andhra Pradesh, Telangana fight over Godavari, Krishna waters, but who will save the rivers?

GS Radhakrishna

Quiet flow the Godavari and Krishna rivers, the largest and longest waterways south of the Vindhyas in India, unmindful of political feuds, social and economic disparities that dominate the livelihood of people in their basins and hinterlands.

Both rivers are the lifeline of the entire region spread across Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh predominantly and also partially for Odisha.

In modern India, political regimes of Telangana and Andhra have fought tooth and nail for the monopoly of the water source of both rivers. Over 350 petitions and litigation are pending before various courts and the tribunals on sharing of waters of these two rivers over the past three decades. This has also meant that the two rivers are fast becoming the most exploited in the country and this is worrying environmentalists as various state governments build massive water projects.

Environmentalists say that environmental concerns, routine auditing, cost overruns and other sensitive issues are thrown to the wind as both governments have made the construction of both prestigious projects an election issue for 2019. "It is sad that the BJP-led NDA government is also playing to the gallery and blind to concerns raised by environmentalists and intellectuals on the safety, forest denudation, destroying tribal livelihood and cost-effectiveness of these projects," said another environmentalist T Shivaji Rao, honorary director for the Centre for Environmental Studies, Visakhapatnam.

In early 2006-07 World Wildlife Forum had also conducted media tours of the Polavaram forest terrain from Bhadrachalam up to Rajahmundry to showcase the rich fauna and flora and tribal habitats that would be destroyed by the Polavaram project. The Adivasi Konda Reddi Sangham secretary Murla Ramesh says that round 7,445 Konda Reddi tribal people belonging to a total of 2,446 households in as many as 83 habitations including 20 hilltop habitations in Kunavaram, Chintur, VR Puram, Velerupadu, Aswaraopet and Dammapeta mandals in the Bhadrachalam Agency were affected.

Government agencies say about 98,000 tribals in 150 tribal villages have to be rehabilitated and the package is estimated at Rs 32,000 crore. APCC president N Raghuveera Reddy says that the delay in Polavaram project during the Congress regime was both on the issue of tribal relocation and the huge cost it involved. "It is the Congress government which has completed 90 percent of the canal works and only the barrage work was left out due to environmental issues," he said.

Last month both the Ministry of Water Resources and the Andhra Pradesh government were at loggerheads over contractor Transstroy. Naidu wanted to change him and bring the same contractor who built the Pattiseema project - MEIL (Mega Engineering Industries Ltd) but Nitin Gadkari rejected it, following which Naidu threatened to wash his hands of the project and let the Centre handle it completely. The Naidu government favoured the MEIL bid for Pattiseema for 21.5 percent higher than government estimates and also gave the company a bonus after completion of the project in flat 14 months.

"We are observing restraint only because we are allies. I am unable to understand why so many problems are being created for Polavaram. If the Centre plays tough I am ready to hand over the project to Centre completely," Naidu had thundered after a cabinet meeting in Amaravati.

Andhra invited bids early in November for selecting a new contractor and hoped to complete the process by 15 December as it felt that Transstroy was unable to execute the works at the desired pace. The state's plan, however, hit a roadblock two days ago when the Union Water Resources Department secretary wrote a letter to the chief secretary directing that the tender process was stalled.

"For decades, the project works did not progress at the desired pace but once I took over as chief minister in June 2014, I streamlined everything and things are now moving ahead and poised to be completed by 2018 or 2019 at the most. A sum of Rs 12,000 crore was so far spent while another Rs 42,000 crore is required to complete it," the chief minister said.

That is the major concern for which Naidu said he continued the alliance with the BJP-led Centre. Finally, a truce was worked out two weeks ago with Naidu and Gadkari meeting after the Gujarat polls and MEIL being given subcontracts for some components of the project like spillways.

>What is left in the Godavari river?

Environmentalists and water engineers say that water source in Godavari and Krishna is fast deteriorating in view of the concretisation of the catchment areas, denuding of forests and greenery in upstream regions. The internal reports of the tribunals on both rivers and the Central Water Commission indicate a gradual reduction of water resource of 3-8 percent over the past decade.

The second longest river in India after the Ganga, originating at Triambakeshwar, Maharashtra, the Godavari flows east for 1,465 kilometres across Maharashtra (48.6 percent), Telangana (18.8 percent), Andhra Pradesh (4.5 percent), Chhattisgarh (10.9 percent), Madhya Pradesh (10.0 percent), Odisha (5.7 percent), Karnataka (1.4 percent) and Puducherry, finally emptying into the Bay of Bengal through its extensive network of tributaries. Rightly tagged as the Dakshin Ganga, it forms one of the largest river basins in peninsular India.

The Godavari enters into Telangana in Nizamabad district at Kandakurthy and its Andhra Pradesh entry is by its minor tributary of Kinnerasani. Except for the Sriramsagar ayacut in Nizamabad district, the Godavari flows idly across Telangana over to Andhra Pradesh. In view of the larger width of the river and the alleged Maoist menace, no infrastructure has been developed all these years. The attempts by former Congress chief minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy with his Devadula project and Chevella-Pranahita projects were short-lived and forgotten after his untimely death.

As per the projections of National Water Development Agency, at 50 percent availability, the water sources in the Godavari is at 2060 TMC and 2191 TMC in the Krishna basin. Though there are over six to eight minor river basins in both the states crisscrossing and joining the Godavari or Krishna, the prime activities of farming, and drinking water sourcing is mainly from the Krishna and Godavari.

Ironically in Andhra Pradesh, it has the lowest coverage and no catchment areas either but has maximum utilisation through Godavari delta canals and irrigation infrastructure developed by Sir Arthur Cotton across Dhawaleswaram barrage, just before it discharges into the sea. Its full utilisation is in the East and West Godavari districts with several tributaries and before entering the Bay of Bengal it creates a Konaseema €" a fertile rice granary where tobacco, sugarcane, and coconut plantations are also in abundance.

Telangana special chief secretary Shailendra Kumar Joshi had alleged injustice to the state in sharing Godavari water at a meeting in February 2017 with AK Bajaj, chairman of the Central Water Commission. Telangana was entitled to use 954 TMC water from the Godavari out of 1480 TMC to undivided Andhra Pradesh by the Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal. The Telangana government would utilise its water allocation of 1300 TMC in both rivers wherever it initiated its series of projects at a total outlay of Rs 2.3 lakh crore. The Andhra Pradesh government raised objections over Kaleswaram and over projects on the Krishna river alleging that Telangana was diverting Godavari water without approval from the CWC.

Godavari-river-listicle_AFP

Similar is the stand taken by Andhra Pradesh government to utilise its water allocations in the Godavari but the catch is its diversion of Godavari water to Krishna basin of 80 TMC, which is again contested by Telangana.

Environmentalists also accuse the Andhra Pradesh government of its lopsided environment assessment and R&R package. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project says 276 villages with 1,77,275 people will be affected. The Polavaram Project Environmental Impact Appraisal Report of 1985 expected 1,50,697 people to be displaced in 226 villages. But researchers estimate the number of affected population at 4,00,000.

>River wars

Telugu Desam Party supremo Nara Chandrababu Naidu raised a public furore over Karnataka raising the dam height on the Krishna river at Almatti in 1996 and threatened to withdraw support to the then United Front government at the Centre led by HD Deve Gowda. He also took out demonstrations against Maharashtra for building barrages and gates at Babli, on the river Godavari in July 2010, courted arrest and spent time in Aurangabad jail refusing bail. But none of these impacted the upstream states which in spite of political demonstrations did not much bother.

Since the formation of Telangana in 2014, massive construction activity in the basins of both rivers has once again become the point of discord between Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are bitterly at loggerheads over water resources in the Godavari river by each other.

Past rulers of united Andhra Pradesh, Congress and TDP ignored Telangana's needs and focused only on promoting irrigation potential of the Godavari to Seemandhra, according to the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti(TRS). "What audacity do they have that they named two districts as East and West Godavari, as if the river is their own, though it flowed only few hundred kilometres in their region?" the late R Vidyasagar Rao, a retired irrigation engineer, and adviser to Telangana government had told this journalist before his demise.

The Polavaram project by Andhra and Kaleswaram project by Telangana on the Godavari basin expected to be completed by 2019 at a huge cost to derive political advantage ahead of the 2019 general elections. Both have filed petitions against each other in the respective tribunals and courts. In pursuit of their political agenda, they also opposed each other's projects on Godavari basin and are at each other's throats with a spate of allegations and accusations.

What is worse is that the Centre has given the green signal and environmental clearances for both projects and the NDA has declared Polavaram as a national project (as part of the deal in the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act, 2014) and is funding it. Though the government of India is responsible for funding the entire project costing over Rs 60,000 crore, it has left the responsibility of supervision and construction activity to the whims and fancies of the Chandrababu Naidu government.

Environmentalist and former energy secretary EAS Sarma alleges that the Polavaram project is illegal and has been demanding a CBI probe. "The expenditure on the project was open-ended and highly suspect and even the contractor Transtroy figures among the top few wilful defaulters to the banks," he said.

Likewise perhaps worried over the acidic attack of the TRS supremo and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, the Centre has granted all environmental clearances to the Kaleswaram project in Telangana upstream of Polavaram with a project cost of Rs 80,499.71 crore to utilise 225 TMC of Godavari water which is expected to inundate 37,000 hectares.

It involves the construction of three barrages, construction of 1,832 km of canals, 81 km of the tunnel. The Kaleswaram project is unique for its longest tunnel to carry water in Asia between the Yellampally barrage and the Mallannasagar reservoir and using 139 MW, the highest in the country to lift 180 TMC of Godavari water annually.

As the wars and the projects, continue in full swing, the question that is becoming most crucial is this €" who will save the Godavari and the Krishna? View More