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Articles and News on Mahabubnagar's draught, poverty and migration

 

CALAMITY

Drought and delayed relief

Almost a third of Andhra Pradesh is in the grip of a drought as a result of the failure of the monsoon and the failure of the State Government to heed the warning signals.

PARVATHI MENON
in Mahbubnagar

THE tribal hamlet of Gairangadda, home to around 40 Lambada families, in Mahbubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh is a forgotten and cut-off patch of human misery where severe drought conditions have rendered more wretched, if that is at all possible, the conditions under which its men, women and children live and labour. It is not even 100 km from Hyderabad, or "Cyberabad" as Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu calls the city he claims is Andhra Pradesh's portal to prosperity via the infotech route, a ci ty still basking in the afterglow of President Bill Clinton's visit.

Gairangadda, by contrast, is gripped by the classic symptoms of acute drought, which in varying degrees of intensity exist in 612 of the 810 mandals of Andhra Pradesh. The drying up of water sources, both for drinking and agriculture, has led to c rop losses, loss of jobs, increasing levels of indebtedness, distress sale of cattle and other assets, increase in out-migration, a sharp drop in purchasing power, which the recent hike in administered prices has added to, and a growing population of the undernourished and the hungry. It is one of the many villages that Frontline visited which has been entirely bypassed by any major relief effort, though the State government, from its Chief Minister downwards, claims it has reached all drought-af fected villages. Indeed, Gairangadda stands out for having been bypassed by any development effort at all.

The failure of the southwest monsoon in 1999, which has resulted in drought conditions in almost a third of the State (the districts of Chittoor, Cuddapah and Ananthapur being the most affected, followed by several of the Telengana districts such as Mahb ubnagar, Ranga Reddy, Nalgonda, Medak, Warangal, Adilabad and Nizamabad), has had a differential impact on different segments of the population.

The first to feel its force are those who have the fewest livelihood cushions even in 'normal' times. Dalit and tribal populations, socially discriminated against and often spatially removed from the village; and from amongst them women, children, the el derly and the physically challenged bear the brunt of adverse economic changes. They are the first to lose jobs and assets, and their debts increase manifold in comparison with those who are better able to repay debts. The breadwinners from amongst these sections are the first to leave in search of food, water and sustenance elsewhere. Indeed, in drought conditions they are among the first to succumb: the number of cotton farmers, most of them Dalits with marginal holdings, committing suicide by drinkin g pesticides, is slowly rising in the cotton-growing areas of Mahbubnagar district.

"I'll come with you for work," a young woman called after the Frontline team as we walked away from Gangapur village in Mahbubnagar district. "My husband has deserted me as I cannot bear him children and there is no work or food here. Take me with you."

This drought, the worst since 1987-88, crept up on the State over the past year and the government did not heed the warning bells. There were signals aplenty of the impending drought. According to information put out by the State government following its official acknowledgement of drought in large parts of the State, the southwest monsoon had partially failed and 16 districts had received less than the normal quantum of rain, which affected the kharif crop. Out of a normal kharif crop area of 80.16 lak h hectares, only 74.71 lakh ha was sown and there were production shortfalls in groundnut, redgram, sunflower and paddy. Similarly, there was a 34 per cent decrease in the northeast monsoon rainfall and a shortfall of over 10 lakh ha in the area sown bet ween 1998 and 1999. A report submitted by the National Remote Sensing Agency in October 1999 warned of depletion of the area under cultivation.

H. SATISH
A group of women trudging in search of work, near Kalvakurti in Mahbubnagar district.

The State government's drought management plan, which apart from the provision of relief has an active public relations component to it, has been taken over by the Chief Minister himself. The media are inundated with a flood of statistics at regular pres s conferences, and Chandrababu Naidu himself holds a weekly video-conference session with District Collectors that is open to the public and the press to watch. Government handouts list the many 'action plans' that are in the pipeline and have endless li sts of the quantum of money spent under different heads of expenditure on drought relief. The latest government document on drought relief presented to the Assembly on April 1 states that a total sum of Rs.174.97 crores has been released for drought reli ef. It has gone towards the provision of drinking water, seed supplies, input subsidies for farmers who have lost more than 50 per cent of their crop, supply of fodder and employment generation schemes.

NOTHING could be more striking than the wide gap between the claims of the government on paper in respect of the provision of drought relief and the reality on the ground. This correspondent visited two areas in Mahbubnagar and Nalgonda districts, where the drought has been most severe, and one area in Medak district where its intensity is just picking up. In each village, one ran a checklist with a representative cross-section of the residents on whether one or another measure of drought relief has rea ched them. In no village was there evidence of any relief having arrived.

Take Gairangadda hamlet, for example. (Hamlets are generally low on the priority lists of the official drought-delivery system. They are difficult to access and have small, poor and unempowered populations. To get to the nearest shop, primary health cent re, ration shop or bus stop, the residents of Gairangadda must trudge 3.5 km in searing heat along a kutcha road that runs through an arid countryside of sand and rock to the village of Kodugal.

"What do we do? How do we live? Do we all lock our homes and migrate to Hyderabad?" despairs Mudavath Chandi, an articulate woman in her late thirties who met the Frontline team in Kodugal village and insisted we visit her thanda (hamlet). The absence of easy connectivity can have deadly consequences for the people of the thanda. Sita Venkat, a young resident, had lost her baby a day after childbirth as she could not be taken to the nearest health facility on time. The hamlet has j ust one handpump, the only source of water for drinking, washing and for the cattle. Most families here have marginal holdings on which they grew cotton in the hope of quick and high returns. The cotton crop withered owing to a combination of factors - s purious seeds, poor pesticides and lack of water for irrigation - leaving the owners deep in debt. While most of the able-bodied men have gone to Hyderabad in search of work, those who remain eke a living now from collecting tendu leaves for beedi rollin g, but this lasts only a few weeks in the year.

Chandi shows us around the village of ramshackle huts and undernourished inhabitants. There is anger at the increase in the prices of rice and kerosene. Families in the village, which has no electricity, are dependent on kerosene lamps at night.

No relief has come to Gairangadda according to the residents of the village, and there was no evidence of it there. Between the hamlet and Kodugal, the nearest village with a population of 3,000, runs a tributary of the Dindi. Although the river bed is d ry now, it fills up during a good monsoon, and the residents of Gairangadda have to ford the rushing river with water coming up to their shoulders during the three to four days when the monsoons are at their heaviest. "If two or three check dams are buil t across the river, it will irrigate half a dozen villages" said S. Ram Reddy, a resident of Kodugal who owns 7 ha of land.

The poor have been hard hit by the recent increase in the prices of rice and kerosene. The feedback from every village Frontline visited, especially from women, was that the price increase is a heartless blow at a time when the drought has already put them under such pressure. Rice has gone up from Rs.3.50 a kilo to Rs.5.50 a kilo, and kerosene from Rs.3 a litre to Rs.6 a litre.

Mahbubnagar district, once known as Palamur, has a long history of out-migration. Palamur labourers have a reputation for the most physically arduous work, and are believed to be docile and compliant, an even greater virtue as far as labour contractors a re concerned. Contractors from all over the country come to Palamur to engage labourers. This year migration has taken place earlier and in much larger numbers than ususal. The district administration says that six lakh persons have already migrated. Lab ourers leave after the rabi harvest and return soon after the first monsoon rain, spending almost six months in a year elsewhere. Migration levels have been higher this year as farmers have incurred heavy losses owing to the failure of the groundnut, pad dy, castor and cotton crops. "We are famous everywhere for our work, but no one realises how difficult life is in Andhra Pradesh," said Chennakesavalu, a small farmer from Gangapur village in Mahbubnagar district.

Outside the home of G. Shivaiah, the 45-year-old cotton farmer who killed himself by consuming pesticide (see box), an agitated group of women, and a few elderly men gather to speak to the Frontline team. Three farmers burdened by debts committed suicide by consuming pesticide in Gangapur. There has been an across-the-board escalation in debt in the last season. There is only one power-operated pump in the Dalit section of the village in which water comes once in four days. Some road construction and tank-bund building work was initiated near the village under the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS). The contract rates are Rs.650 to complete a stretch of 1,000 ft of road - a job that takes a gang of six to eight men and women three days to complet e."We get very little at the end of it all," said Chennakesavalu. The increase in the price of rice and kerosene has put food further out of the reach of the poor. "Our village is dead. Only god is safe" said Balamma, an elderly woman in the group.

H. SATISH
Children carry water in Mahbubnagar district.

Nalgonda is among the severely drought-affected districts. The district was one of the theatres of the Telengana Uprising of the 1940s and 1950s, a fact recalled by the red flags that festooned the villages the day after May Day.

Chityal Mandal has 16 gram panchayats and eight hamlets falling within it. Toddy-tapping is a major source of livelihood in this area and owing to the scarcity of rain, the toddy yield has been far lower this year than last year.

Kurumatla village is 6 km from the main road. V. Yadagiri Gowd and his six brothers together own 2.4 ha of land on which they had 50 trees which were used for toddy-tapping, of which 15 withered this year. The yield from the remaining trees is much lower than normal. The 140 toddy-tapping families in the village now want the tree tax of Rs.50 a tree - which is collected two times a year - waived as there is a substantial fall in yield. From here too there is regular migration of labourers who specialise in drilling work. "People from all castes migrate. Already some 300 families from our village have gone to Hyderabad, Delhi and Mumbai in search of work," said Yadagiri Gowd. In Kurumatla, some work was contracted under the EGS but the contractor allege dly employed labour from elsewhere and not from the village. "In any case it was only some 30 to 40 persons who got work," Yadagiri Gowd said.

The total failure of the government's delivery system for drought relief was more than evident in the villages of Kurumatla, Vembai and Tallavallam, particularly in respect of providing drinking water and creating employment. Near Vembai, a spanking new overhead tank stands in solitary splendour, a monument to the uncoordinated and unplanned drought policy of the government. The tank was constructed at a cost of at least Rs.5 lakhs without first establishing a source of water. Yet a longstanding demand of the people of Vembai for which they made innumerable representations to government officials, that is, the desilting of the Peddacheruvu tank, has fallen on deaf ears. The tank used to irrigate several villages in the vicinity. The provision of drinki ng water is the most immediate demand of people here. This is an area where water has a high fluoride content, and this rises as water levels fall, as has been happening. Complaints of swelling and pain in the joints are common enough, as is the sight of little children with misshapen knee and elbow joints. "We have to walk 1.5 km for water and I need to bring at least 20 pots a day for my family's use," said P. Yadamma.

THE drought belt of Andhra Pradesh extends into the contiguous districts of Raichur, Gulbarga, Bellary and Chitradurga in Karnataka. In Karnataka, however, the process of assessing the drought situation is still not complete at the official level. The Re venue Department has asked the District Magistrates to send reports on the ground situation. The actual position will only be known in the latter part of May.

Alarmed at the tardiness of drought relief and the leakages that are taking place in a substantial way in whatever little relief work is being undertaken, the Andhra Pradesh unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) announced the opening of gruel ki tchens in six of the worst-affected districts of Mahbubnagar and two in Ananthapur from May 6. The kitchens, to be run initially for 30 days in each village, will cater to 150 to 200 people. Each person will be given two jugs of cereal gruel with jaggery , one to be consumed right there and one to be taken home.

"Marginal hunger is just the beginning," said B.V. Raghavalu, State secretary of the CPI(M). "The situation will only get worse and will soon acquire famine proportions. It is wrong to assume that drought will disappear with the arrival of the rain. Farm ers must have resources when the rains come," he said.

While conditions of drought are expected to intensify over the coming month, its impact on the lives of the people in the drought-affected tracts is dependent upon the seriousness with which the government gets down to the job of delivering immediate rel ief to those areas and the people who most require it.

361 Discussions under Rule 193 (i) Drought situation in various parts of the Country unhappy, that is why a master plan should be prepared to remove their difficulties.

DR. R. MALLU (Nagar Kurnool): Respected Deputy Speaker, Sir, I wish to draw the attention of the House to the drought situation prevailing in the State of Andhra Pradesh. This was mainly due to the late commencement of the monsoon in which only 50 per cent of the area was sown. Nearly 12 districts have been affected by this drought situation, as per the information of the State Government. The first district which was affected is Mahbubagar and the second district which was affected is Nalgonda.

Even during the normal commencement of the monsoon, from the district of Mahbubnagar where Nagar Kurnool, which is my Parliamentary constituency, falls there will be lot of migration of labour or different parts of the State and to the country, in search of their livelihood, leaving their old parents there and without the essential commodities to them to live on. This is all due to lack of rainfall.

Only ten to twenty per cent of the area is sown in Mahbubnagar district and lot of crops are drying up for want of rainfall. Most of the people are migrating to differnt parts of the State and this has been become a chronic habit of the people of this district.

I would also like to bring to your kind notice that in the district of Mahbubnagar, there is neither surface water resources nor there is any ground water resources. Unfortunately, through the Krishna river is passing through this Mahbubnagar district, there is no source of using that water for irrigation in the Mahbubnagar district.

Sir, I, therefore, request through you, the Central Government to find out the chronic drought affected districts of the State and provide amenities to face the drought situation on a permanent basis rather than attending to the drought situation temporarily.

362 Discussions under Rule 193 (i) Drought situation in various parts of the Country

As you know, there is no source of water for irrigation. I, therefore, request the Central Government to find out away to establish some small scale industries in the Mahbubnagar district and to go in for a research and development centre from the Agriculture Ministry, so that they can find out variety of crops, fruit-bearing trees and horticulture etc. which can be established in the district and that way, this drought which is continuously affecting the district, causing lot of problems can be avoided.

Yesterday while speaking on the drought situation of Andhra Pradesh the hon. Member from Telugu Desam Shri Sobhanadreeswara Rao Vadde told that the State Government and the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh are not doing anything on the drought relief measures. In this regard I would like to bring to the notice of the House that as long back as 2nd May of this year the Secretary of Agriculture, all the Departments of Agriculture, with the assistance of the Agriculture University, have drawn up a contingency plan to tackle the drought situation in Andhra Pradesh.

A continuos review is being done under the Secretary Agriculture, Government of Andhra Pradesh. As a matter of fact the Relief Commissioner of Andhra has visited Nagar Kurnool Parliamentary Constituency of Mahbubnagar district. He has also visited a number of drought affected district. The Secretary of Agriculture has visited Nalagonda district which is affected very much. For that matter the Secretary, Agriculture is planning to visit the Mahbunagar district on the 30th.

The State Government has already intimated the drought situation of the State to the Central Government on the 10th of July giving particulars to the Union Agriculture Ministry. But unfortunately a wrong information is given to the House saying that the State Government has not intimated to the Central Government about the situation prevalling in Andhra pradesh. Continuously the Commissioner of Agriculture, the Commissioner of Relief, the Secretary of 363 Discussions under Rule 193 (i) Drought situation in various parts of the Country

Agriculture are monitoring and reviewing the situation. They are touring the districts which are affected. All the affected districts are visited by these three officers of the State Govt.

On 17th of July the Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh called for a review meeting where he reviewed all the Departments, not just Agriculture but all the Departments, and has given instructions to take appropriate steps to tackle the drought situation in Andhra Pradesh. When there was scarcity of water in Andhra Pradesh, the State Government had released Rs. 10 crore to provide drinking water.

As you know, there is Rs. 80 crore provision at the State Government's disposal to spend for giving relief to the people affected by drought and other natural calamities. From that he State Government has been working. My request to the Central Government is to find out the chronic drought affected districts of the State and find out a permanent solution by establishing small scale industries, going in for irrigation facilities which will provide some sort of a permanent solution to the backward and drought prone districts of the State.

Cries of dry earth

MAHABOOBNAGAR (AP), May 7: As searing heat wave sweeps across the sun-burnt fields, the cries of frail-looking naaramma pierce through the mournful silence of the village.

Sitting desolately at the corner of panchayat office in Kappeta village, the 70-year old agriculture labourer mourns the death of hope as her only son has abandoned her and migrated in search of an elusive job.

The warm words of a local official promising to include her in the old age pension scheme (Rs 75 per month) fail to enthuse her as she prefers death to the life filled with misery and desolation. (Read Complete article)

AP faces worst ever Drought

Andhra Pradesh today is under its worst ever drought of the century with over 17,431 villages severely affected by drought.18 out of the 23 Districts of AP have been declared dry districts and what's more out of the 100 million people affected by the ongoing drought in India, 40 million alone are from Andhra Pradesh.

The drought has wreaked havoc on crops, throwing farmers into a debt trap. The specter of pesticide deaths, is once again back to haunt the Andhra farmers. Villagers are commiting suicide by consuming pesticide because  they can't seem to decide whether the little water they have should be used for drinking or to water their crops.37 deaths have been reported from the state  so far .Out of them 19 are from the most backward and drought prone Mahboobnagar district.

 


act250.jpg

With the rapidly worsening drought situation in South Asia, ACT members across the region are gearing up for humanitarian intervention.

India:

ACT members Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) and Lutheran World Service (LWS) * India, are presently assessing the drought situation which has gripped large parts of central and western India and plan to come up with proposals in the next few days. The two members are in consultation with each other to ensure a co-ordinated ACT response.

In the meantime, we would like to share CASA*s most recent sitrep on the drought:

Andhra Pradesh - Forty million people in the state are suffering from the effects of the drought. Conditions in Telengana and Rayalaseema regions, in particular, are reported to be serious. Eighteen of the 23 districts are affected. Most of the villages in Mahbubnagar district do not have potable water facilities as the wells have dried up. Food grain production is lower by nearly 25%.

 

AP seeks Rs 6.4 billion for drought relief

 

                 Syed Amin Jafri in Hyderabad

 

                 Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu has urged Prime Minister Atal

                 Bihari Vajpayee to treat the drought in Andhra Pradesh on par with

                 Rajasthan and Gujarat and announce a similar relief package for this

                 southern state.

 

                 Speaking to the media on Monday evening, Chandrababu Naidu said that

                 he spoke to the prime minister over phone and briefed him on the severe

                 drought situation prevailing in the state.

 

                 "The severity of the situation here is similar to the one in Rajasthan and

                 Gujarat," he said and explained that he sought the same type of relief

                 package that was announced for those two states.

 

                 He said that the state cabinet has decided to make a formal request to the

                 Union government in this regard.

 

                 He said that the agricultural production loss on account of the drought was

                 estimated at over Rs 25 billion.

 

                 Asked about the suicide deaths in parts of Mahbubnagar and other drought

                 affected districts, he evaded a direct reply but remarked that "some suicides

                 may have taken place but there are several factors for these other than

                 drought".

 

                 Naidu has also urged Vajpayee to provide Central assistance of Rs 6.45

                 billion to tackle the severe drought and adverse seasonal conditions

                 prevailing in Andhra Pradesh.

 

                 In a letter addressed to Vajpayee, Chandrababu Naidu said that "the limited

                 allocation under National Calamity Relief Fund is not adequate to meet the

                 requirements as drought relief operations will have to be carried on till the

                 end of July 2000".

 

                 He explained that the state government has already released Rs 2.85 billion

                 for augmentation of drinking water supply, employment generation, input

                 subsidy and fodder supply as against the provision of Rs 1.43 billion under

                 the NCRF.

 

                 The chief minister informed the prime minister that "the drought situation in

                 the state is very severe and the state government has declared 688 mandals

                 out of 1,099 rural mandals (clusters of villages) as drought-hit. These

                 mandals are spread over 18 (out of 23) districts, affecting 50 per cent of the

                 total population of the state."

 

                 People in many areas are facing severe drinking water scarcity. The

                 depletion of ground water is up to 13 metres (40 feet) in some areas. A total

                 of 13,226 borewells dried up and 619 protected water supply schemes

                 have become defunct. Transportation of drinking water is being undertaken

                 to 1,400 villages and the situation is worsening very rapidly.

 

                 "Due to largescale failure of crops, many farmers and agricultural labourers

                 have lost their livelihood and seeking wage employment. In some areas,

                 migration of labour has already started. There is an urgent need to start

                 employment generation works. Fodder scarcity is already felt in many

                 affected villages and dry fodder/ cattle feed has to be supplied immediately,"

                 Chandrababu Naidu pointed out.

 

                 He also recalled that a memorandum seeking Central assistance of Rs 7.2

                 billion for relief operations in view of acute drought during the year was

                 submitted to the Centre.

 

                 A Central team visited the state in October 1999 and extensively toured the

                 affected areas and interacted with political parties, senior officials and the

                 affected persons.

 

An appeal on the drought situation affecting India

The drought which is sweeping across the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh
and Andhra Pradesh in its wake has wrought terrible loss of life and wiped out large number of live stock population. This drought seems to be the worst in the post independent period and it has exposed chinks in the Armour of the independent Indian state, its inability to prevent droughts. The govt which is gloating on its success in conducting nuclear tests should realize that its worth is not measured by building its military might but is  reflected in its ability to provide quality life for its people.

In Rajasthan and Gujarat women trek miles together to fetch a pot of water .The pictures flashed across by the media presents heart-breaking sight of the plight of women going into nearly dry wells by tying ropes around their waist to get water and what disturbed us most at Reachout was the death of a women, a mother of four who died when the rope around her waist was broken.

It is estimated that around 100 million people are affected by this drought. It is time that we break away from the mould of regional mindsets. Let us think truly national, truly Indian. Please do contribute whatever little you can to the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund. Let us all get  together, lets prevent a bigger catastrophe.

Reachout appeals you to contribute to your lesser privileged brethren. Please send your donations

The Prime Minister's National Relief Fund 
The Prime Minister's Office
South Block
New Delhi-110011

The Rediff Special/ George Iype

'When crops perish, farmers have no means but die'

In 1990, farmer Betavati Ratan took a loan of Rs 35,000 from a co-operative bank to sink two borewells on his three-acre plot at Pothur village in Andhra Pradesh's Mahboobnagar district.

The wells provided water for his paddy, maize and cotton fields. But Ratan never managed to earn enough to repay his loan. So last year he borrowed Rs 3,000 from a local moneylender to pay a bank instalment.

The terrible drought this summer crushed his hopes of a good yield. Mired in poverty, Ratan pleaded with the moneylender that he could not pay him back.

The moneylender agreed, but insisted that Ratan sell his wife to him instead.

Humiliated, Ratan committed suicide two weeks ago, reviving memories of 1997, when nearly 300 cotton farmers across Andhra Pradesh took their lives by drinking pesticide.

In 1997, drought followed by unexpected rains in October-November and an attack by pests destroyed much of the cotton crop in the state. And the pesticide Moncrotophos failed to protect the fields from the attack of spodoptera litura [tobacco cutworm] and heliothis armigera [American bollworm].

Today, farmers in Andhra Pradesh are frantic because their crops are drying up.

In the last few months, rain in the state's extensive cotton fields has been erratic, resulting in a severe drought.

The withered crops whisper a dirge for farmers like Ratan. His widow Umli and two daughters and a son live in misery. "We don't know how we will survive now. We have no means of livelihood," Umli weeps.

What adds to her distress is the indifference from local authorities. "Umli is yet to be given any money by the authorities. We are still without water. We walk 20 kilometres to fetch drinking water," says M K Kondaiah, a local farmer.

As Mabhoobnagar reels under the drought, starvation and death stalk its villages. Left high and dry by the state administration of Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, men, women, children and cattle go hungry and thirsty. Villagers fear that if the draught continues, it will force more farmers to take their lives.

More than 300 farmers -- as per the government estimates, 65 -- had committed suicide by drinking pesticides, which instead of protecting standing cotton crops devastated their yields.

"The farmers were sitting ducks for pesticide suppliers two years ago. Today scarcity of water has placed communities on the brink of starvation and death," says Har Gopal, a civil right activist in Mahboobnagar.

Gopal, who is a member of the local voluntary group Committee Against Famine, fears that more suicides will erupt. "Ratan's is not an isolated incidents. Farmers who have been taking loans to dig borewells and build tanks find that there is no water available. So they are forced either to migrate or to commit suicide," he says.

Suicides these days are driven by either lack of work due to absence of water or by mounting debt. M Sailoo, a young villager in Mahboobnagar's Gangapur village committed suicide because he took a loan and invested Rs 10,000 on a borewell which never gave any water. The drought and the threats from the local moneylender added to his misery, forcing him to take his life, leaving his wife and three children.

Officials and social activists point out that Mahboobnagar is the most drought-prone district in Andhra Pradesh. The district is also one of the most backward in the country, as there is not even a single industry there.

"Neither politicians nor the administration have done anything for the district for many years. Mahboobnagar will remain backward for ever," says N Kumara Reddy, a local social activist, who is going around the villages with a "pro-life agenda."

"Don't commit suicide. Let us fight the drought, I tell these villagers," Reddy says.

Reddy claims that in 1997-98 Mahboobnagar saw the maximum number of suicides -- nearly 140 -- because everyone here lives by farming. "When crops perish, the farmers have no means but to die," Reddy adds.

The local group that he heads, the Social Welfare and Advisory Agency, has helped at least 500 farmers to mentally tackle natural calamities, he claims.

Nearly 70 per cent of the cotton fields in Andhra Pradesh is rain-fed. The state produces Suvin, one of the world's finest cotton varieties. But irregular rains always herald the arrival of pests like spodoptera litura and heliothis armigera to the cotton fields.

"We do not use any pesticides these days. We fear pesticides now," says Ashok Raju. "We depend on rains for survival. When it fails and drought hits us, it as if we are perishing."

DROUGHT

Fire in The Soil
A callous administration ignored indicators. Result: India may see one of the worst famines in over a century.

Its only early summers. But by the time it finally gets going, India could well be looking at its worst-ever drought of this century, a very distinct possibility in Rajasthan, which is facing its second consecutive famine in as many years. Just a notch below is neighbouring Gujarat, months into its first drought in recent memory, where police has had to open fire on people rioting for drinking water. In Chandrababu Naidus cyberland - Andhra Pradesh - villagers are committing suicide by consuming pesticide because they cant seem to decide whether the little water they have should be used for drinking or to water their crops. Add to it, the cyclone victims of Orissa, who six months ago were battling water and now cannot find it anywhere. In some Madhya Pradesh districts, the crisis is beginning to rear its head while there are still other provinces where drought and impending famines have simply gone unreported. Why has it happened? Rural irrigation systems have completely broken down, traditional forms of water storage and harvesting have vanished, there is no recharging of ground water, tubewell companies have proliferated and despite enough warnings, the political class - involved with raking up the larger issues of the day - have just looked the other way. For planners and administrators, this is perhaps the biggest challenge of the millennium, which if not tackled deftly could lead to a disaster that the country has not witnessed for a century or more.

Villagers in Jaisalmer get 10-15 litres of water for a fortnight.

Grieving family-members of Betavati Ratan, a villager of Andhras Mahboobnagar who committed suicide: even eyes will run dry
Grieving family-members of Betavati Ratan, a villager of Andhras Mahboobnagar who committed suicide: even eyes will run dry

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Winning a war against the vagaries of nature
Kakanur (Andhra Pradesh), June 1 (Hemendra Singh Bartwal)

This dusty village in the chronically drought-prone and backward district of Mahabubnagar has been undergoing rapid transformation after its residents joined hands four years ago to wage a sustained battle against the vagaries of nature.

Like hundreds of other villages in this district, Kakanur used to witness large-scale migration to urban areas due to difficulties resulting from lack of rain and poor agricultural conditions. However, that is a thing of the past. Today signs of prosperity are evident in the small village which undertook the experiment of watershed development with community participation and aid from non-governmental organisations and official agencies.

Kakanur is a typical example of many villages in Mahabubnagar, one of the most drought-prone districts in the country. It is today widely cited as a model of successful implementation of watershed development scheme under the Centres Drought Prone Areas Programme (DPAP). This is one of the 12 drought-prone districts in the state which suffer from extremely poor ground-water reserves, shallow and infertile soil as well as scanty and erratic rains. With an annual average rainfall of less than 750 mm, a large portion of this second-largest district of Andhra Pradesh is lying fallow.

With Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidus emphasis on developmental activities, the implementation of integrated watershed development programme in these districts is being taken up in a big way by the Andhra Pradesh Government.

According to Mr P.A.V. Uday Bhaskar, Project Director for DPAP in Mahabubnagar, a holistic approach is being undertaken for integrated development of watershed villages, with emphasis on community participation. The concept of self-help is promoted by forming watershed associations, water-users' associations, forest protection committees and womens thrift groups.

Kakanur village sarpanch Ramesh Goud explained that they were faced with a perpetual problem of depleting ground-water level and the consequent low agricultural yield. Water from occasional rains used to drain away and get wasted, also washing away the rich top soil. So the villagers formed a watershed committee which was joined by almost every family, he said. About 500 hectares of agricultural land was selected as watershed area where they went about preserving the rain water.

The wastage of flowing rain water is controlled by making small bunds and check dams in the fields. This collected water percolates down and recharges the underground water reserve. At the same time, the rich top soil is also prevented from being washed away, thereby making the fields more fertile, Mr Goud said. Besides this, the villagers also make water harvesting structures like percolation tanks and small ponds in which the rain water can be preserved from 30 to 45 days for irrigation purposes, he added.

For the purpose of carrying out all these works, a watershed development fund is set up with a nominal contribution from all villagers. The organisation of committees and their training is undertaken under the supervision of the district unit of DPAP. The impact of the watershed approach in our village has been tremendous. Last year, there was a four-fold increase in paddy crop. Cultivable area has also increased. Besides, the water wells that were earlier going dry seasonally are now full all the year round, said the enthusiastic village head.

In the watershed villages, women's thrift groups have also been set up under the Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA) scheme. District Rural Development Agency Director Anita Ramachandran states that in all watershed villages, there were about five to 10 womens thrift groups. These groups are being encouraged to intensify their income-generating activities by giving them certain amount of finance in the form of revolving fund from the watershed project fund. These groups take up activities like fruit-selling, dairy and making of plates from leaves.


Migration

 

 

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Migration is a way of life in Mahabubnagar

By Pushpa Iyengar The Times of India News Service MAHABUBNAGAR: This district, which has seen 18 suicides (unofficial estimate:
140), is not only the most backward one in the state but also among the 20 most backward in the country. Despite the Krishna and Tungabhadra and 12  
other rivulets flowing through here and the Jurala project, it has been   chronically drought-prone. As a result, migration is a way of life for its   people. Hargopal, member of the Committee Against Famine that has studied the   drought situation, says between 10-15 lakh people - the largest migration   anywhere in the world - go out in search of work. This years drought has   sent out another five lakh, which is more than one-third the population.   The suicides here (Gangapur village witnessed five in one month) are driven   by migration for jobs, finding no work and returning to commit suicide. Or   the lack of rain (the 458 mm rainfall received is 45 per cent deficient)   forcing farmers to consume pesticide when they cannot repay the loan taken   to invest in borewells that do not work because the watertable and the power   voltage is low. The migration syndrome has led to old parents becoming destitute and dying   of starvation or illness because they cannot afford medicines. There are   other cases where families reach desperate straits when private moneylenders   refuse loans. But the government denies that the suicides are drought-driven. Asked about   the suicides, CM Chandrababu Naidus advice was: This is a matter we have   to face boldly. Committing suicide is not a solution. Revenue minister   Ashok Gajapathi Raju says: There is a real problem but it is not that   extreme. A group of women in Gangapur, most of whom own an acre of parched   land forcing them to seek work elsewhere, complained: There is no water, no   power and no employment. We walk three km a day for two pots of water.   Their resentment levels have risen because insensitive government officials   have told them we are not God to order rain.   Hargopal says the district   has deliberately been rendered backward by the politicians. Most   Mahbubnagar politicians began life as labour contractors and were involved   in labour export. Unlike in other Telangana districts like Warangal where   the youth spearheaded movements focussing on the peoples problems, here the   migration has led to problems remaining unarticulated. There are few industries. Even those that exist, have not encouraged the   hiring of local labour though labour from Palamur in this district is   reputed for good work and is much sought after in construction work in most   parts of the country, including the north.

 

 

Inspiring Change

By Amarnath Menon
Hyderabad

AS A young lecturer, 20 years back Gollanapalli Veera Venkata Satya Durga Surya Prasad,47 led a group of National Service Scheme volunteers from New Science College, Hyderabad to some villages outside Hyderabad. He didnt know then that it was a trip that would alter his life. Impressed by what he saw and heard during the first foray with the students Prasad quit teaching business administration and spends five days a week with villagers helping them improve not one or two aspects of their life but bring about a total and qualitative improvement in their life.

Patiently over the last ten years, Prasad took them through the paces and today Kokanoor (75 km from Hyderabad) is a model village, a showcase of how community action based on conviction produces results. Without receiving an extra paisa, Kakanoor is able to boast of a primary school with good attendance, smokeless chullahs in the kitchens, a couple of bio-gas plants, dairy, livestock breeding and watershed development that is improving its agriculture.

It gets only four copies of newspapers, has forty black and white TV sets and a local cable network while the only colour TV set in the village is at the school. As is evident, Prasads focus has been on overall development with watershed management - critical for improving agro-output - providing the base. Of course there were skeptics to his ideas, particularly water conservation. Prasad convinced them by organising a visit to Anna Hazares Ralegaon Sidhi to see the results for themselves.

Today, Prasad has launched an intense greening programme in 15 watershed villages of Keshampet and Talakondapalli mandals of Mahbubnagar district with the aim of growing a million trees. While water conservation remained his priority, Prasad persuaded them to adopt Tuesdays as bhajan days by listening to prayer songs at a local temple and offer shramdan on Sundays to keep the village surroundings clean through voluntary work. Prasad has also brought women into the forefront by organising them into thrift groups to encourage them to earn. The widest participation, he realised, keeps them engaged in a positive, forward looking mode. And it has to be from within.

As he says "Total development is the total responsibility of the village and those going as agents of change or visitors should only support from behind, " explains Prasad. " Urban intervention without local participation has made villagers feel helpless or indifferent."

You can contact GVVSDS Prasad at:

GVVSDS Prasad
Vasavya Society for Rural Development,
Mahbubnagar,
Andhra Pradesh

 

WASTELAND WEARS A NEW LOOK DUE TO WATERSHEDS

 

 Water management is the key to progress and development. Drought prone and with stretches of barren land

 and hillocks devoid of greenery for decades, Palamur, as Mahabubnagar is called, now wears a new green look,

 all because of implementation of water harvesting structures.

 

 While the regular droughts deprived the land of the green cover, the hills and slopes faced soil erosion during

 rainy season. Unable to eke out living from the arid wasteland, it is common for the people of this district to go

 out or migrate in search of employment.

 

 All this has changed when Mahabubnagar was identified along with 11 other districts by the Union Ministry of

 Rural Development and chosen for assistance under the Drought Prone Areas Project (DPAP) in 1974-75. The

 program envisages sustainable development by adopting watershed management practices with people's

 participation, with the dictum of "Make the running water walk, and allow it to sink into the ground".

 

 Under the Project, forty-nine watersheds were identified and the run-off stopped with water harvesting structures

 like contour bunds, rock-filled dams, check dams and gully control works. The work is undertaken with the

 people's involvement, while technical inputs and monitoring is done by the Project Implementing Authority. After

 the treatment area is saturated during the four- year period, it is left for the people to take care of.

 

 The program yielded positive results and a perceptible change in the area came when, in 1995, the government

 modified the guidelines and set a time frame of four years and divided the macro- watersheds into

 micro-watersheds. The water harvesting structures have made the water literally crawl and sink into the ground,

 resulting in a significant rise in the ground water table and transformation of the area.

 

 Now the hillocks and the slopes wear a green look, the yield has considerably increased. The migration has

 come down and there is a rise in the living standard of the people.

Watershed Development In Drought-Prone Andhra
Like hundreds of other villages in Mahbubnagar in Andhra Pradesh, Kakanur used to witness large-scale migration to urban areas due to difficulties resulting from lack of rain and poor agricultural conditions. However, that is a thing of the past. Today signs of prosperity are evident in the small village which undertook the experiment of watershed development with community participation and aid from non-governmental organisations and official agencies.

 

ANDHRA PRADESH
DYING Hopes

Their crops and livestock destroyed by the scorching heat, debt-ridden farmers seek refuge in death

After driving for hours through the unsparing heat, Patha Jangamayapalli village in Mahbubnagar district south of Hyderabad comes across as an oasis in a land wracked by drought. It showcases a new direction for sustainable farming in the drylands. The water that is pumped up from a deep bore well in the bed of the dry Sarala Sagar skirting the village is used judiciously to irrigate the 80 acres under cultivation. The villagers grow sweet lime, guava and papaya, each of the 60-odd families making at least Rs 10,000 a month.
Not everyone treats this precious common resource with so much care. A few kilometres away, Kanmetta village is paying a heavy price for the profligacy with which its residents have used the ground water. The stream that used to feed the village has dried up. So has the village water tank and the two open wells in the village. A farmer, G. Venkat Reddy shows the fields where paddy and sorghum were sown last year only to be destroyed by the drought. "The fluctuation in power supply burnt up the motor so we couldn't pump water up," he says.
It may not have made any difference since the water table in the region has dropped drastically in the past one year. The drought has affected 18 of the 23 districts in Andhra Pradesh, sending the rural economy into a tailspin. The Government estimates that the farm sector lost Rs 2,556 crore. It has declared 17,431 villages as drought hit. But drinking water is being transported to only 1,400 of these villages. The others have been forced to fend for themselves.
The falling ground water table made desperate villagers throw caution to the winds. In Palem village, Lakshmiamma, 32, is lying dazed on a cot under a tree, unmindful of the oppressive heat of the Andhra summer. She is yet to recover from the shock of losing her 10-year-old daughter to gastroenteritis a few weeks ago. Lakshmi took ill after she drank contaminated water. Lakshmiamma and her husband Ramulu, an unskilled labourer, dug into their meagre savings for her treatment but could not save her.
The cavalcade of misery is never-ending. The drought has wreaked havoc on crops, throwing farmers into a debt trap. In Gangapuram village of Mahbubnagar district alone there have been five drought-related deaths. Seetharam Reddy, 45, drank pesticide to quench the despair that came from mounting dues and a destroyed cotton crop. G. Shivaiah, 40, also sought refuge in death after he could not repay the Rs 21,000 he had borrowed for his daughter's marriage.
Farmers who have learnt to face the vagaries of nature do not lose heart easily. But the continuing drought, the exorbitant rates of interest charged by private moneylenders, and the insensitivity of the administration seems to have dried up their hopes this time round.


-
Amarnath K. Menon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click here to read Paper on Contract Labour of Palamoor

 

AP has highest number of child labourers
Hindustan Times Correspondent
(Hyderabad, September 14)

ANDHRA PRADESH has the dubious distinction of having the highest number of child labourers in the country. State Labour and Employment minister T Krishna Yadav informed the Assembly on Wednesday that the State had on record 16.62 lakh child labourers, highest among the states.

The Minister said that the State Government had launched an intensive drive to identify and rehabilitate all the child labourers. State and district level advisory bodies had been constituted to monitor the progress of the rehabilitation measures.

Replying during question hour, the Minister said that child labour was widespread in the districts of Mahboobnagar, Kurnool and Prakasam. Similarly, the problem was acute in hotel industry, stone breaking units, automobile shops and in agriculture.

He said that the government had launched a package of measures including back-to-school programme throughout the State to eliminate child labour. As many as 92 schools had been set up under the auspices of the National Child Labour Rehabilitation Programme, he said.

The Minister said that stringent measures were being adopted to discourage people from employing child labour. Open courts are being conducted as part of the scheme to find the guilty establishments and punish them.

According to the International Labour Organisation, India has about 13,157,000 economically active children including 5,992,000 girls, in the age group of ten to 14 most of which represent about 12.07 per cent of the age group. However, the government acknowledges the presence of only 20 million child labour but this does not include the children working in the unorganised sector like agriculture and as domestic servants.

Andhra Pradesh has the maximum number of 1,662,000 child labourers in the country with the problem being very acute in Mehboobnagar, Kurnool and Prakasam districts.

 

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