At Gidda Cheruvu (pond) in Fasalwadi village near Sangareddy in Telangana’s Medak district, dozens of workers toil under the scorching heat, lifting silt and mud from the centre of what once used to be a big pond, and load on to two tractors. It is back-breaking work. Six of the 15 people working are volunteers from the village while the rest are paid by the contractor who was awarded the contract to desilt the pond.
“The government wants to desilt the ponds and increase water storage capacity. It is a good cause so I do not mind volunteering. In my childhood we used to swim in this pond, but right now it is filled up with silt and there is hardly any water even if it rains well, it flows away,’’ says G Mallesh, a small farmer.
Nearby at Nadakunta Cheruvu, workers are similarly clearing silt. There are deadlines to be met, and at least 50 per cent work has to be finished before the monsoon sets in. “We lost15-20 days due to the heat wave. We could not work and even the irrigation department officials told us to be careful. We have to make up for that lost time,’’ says Giridhar Goud, one of the contractors.
B Sayamma, the sarpanch of Fasalwadi says desilting of these two ponds, and another one Mallam Cheruvu where work is yet to start, will help the village store lots of rain water. “It will help recharge the borewells and hand pumps,’’ she says.
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The Telangana government’s flagship programme ‘Mission Kakatiya’ to desilt, revive and restore minor irrigation tanks, ponds and lakes is receiving lot of praise. The programme with the tagline “Mana Ooru, Mana Cheruvu’’ (our village, our pond) intends to create storage capacity of 265 TMC in the 10 districts of Telangana. It has received kudos from the National Water Commission, Union Ministry of Water Resources, Nabard, and Magsaysay award winner Rajendra Singh who has described it as historic decision to revive water sources.
Officials say it was named ‘Kakatiya’ because it was the Kakatiyas who started building tanks throughout Telangana region during their rule. “The Kakatiyas constructed tanks using a lot of technique. They created lot of storage space in entire region. They were followed by Qutub Shahis and Asaf Jahis who built more tanks and maintained them for centuries. Later on, rich landlords carried on the tradition of digging and maintaining tanks, especially in areas like Mahbubnagar where the tanks were so big that they were named as seas like Ramsamudram. But they fell into neglect and ruin after Independence and successive governments did nothing to revive them,’’ says Sridhar Rao Deshpande, OSD to the irrigation minister.
The tanks and ponds are important to Telangana because both rivers Godavari and Krishna flow at a lower level while the agricultural lands of Deccan plateau are at a higher level. Irrigation was possible only by using water from the tanks and ponds. The Telangana government wants to uphold the vision of the Kakatiyas through ‘Mission Kakatiya’ which is aimed at reviving and restoring all minor irrigation sources.
“Village tanks and ponds are not just sources of water, they are also cultural centres for the communities where festivals like Batukamma, Katta Maisamma bonalu, Teez festivals of Banjara community, Ganga jataraas of fishermen community etc are celebrated on the banks of tanks in the villages,’’ says state irrigation minister T Harish Rao.
“Just after the Telangana became a separate state in June 2014, in July 2014 the irrigation department under the Government of Telangana carried out census of minor irrigation sources in Telangana for the first time which included minor irrigation tanks, percolation tanks, forest tanks, anicuts, check-dams. The survey identified 46,531 tanks and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government planned to take up revival and restoration of 20 per cent of tanks every year. The Mission Kakatiya phase-1 was launched with administrative approval for 8,167 works costing Rs 2,596 crore and work at 8,041 tanks and ponds actually started. As on May 31, 2016, desilting of 6,551 has been completed while work at 1,490 will be done by June-end,’’ says Deshpande.
Under Mission Kakatiya phase-II, 10,184 tanks have identified of which 9,031 were approved for revival at a cost of Rs 3,071 crore. Work has begun at 8,272 tanks.
Officials estimate that so far 10 crore cubic metre of silt has been removed creating 3.77 TMC of water storage in the revived tanks and ponds. Some 3 crore tractor-loads of silt has been removed and farmers have used their own tractors to take the silt to their fields.
Chief engineer, minor irrigation, K Suresh Kumar, says that the restoration of tanks involves eight steps. Silt removal, and silt application in agriculture fields; repairs to bund, weir and sluices; re-sectioning of irrigation channels; repairs to cross masonry and cross drainage works; restoration of feeder channel to the tank; weed and vegetation clearance from tank bed; raising of Full Tank Level where ever possible and protect tank lands from encroachments.
Officials say that once the tanks are restored and rainwater is stored, groundwater tables will rise considerably and bore wells and hand pumps in the villages will work uninterruptedly. Drinking water problem in the villages will be solved to a large extent. Water can be used for irrigation also. A research by ICRISAT and CRIDA (Central Research Institute for Dry Land Agriculture) shows that application of silt in fields has increased the moisture retention capacity of the soils.
“It is an old wisdom that silt has all the micro-nutrients required and farmers don’t have to depend on fertilisers and chemicals so much. We were initially apprehensive whether farmers would pick up the silt that is dug up but we got overwhelming response and people’s participation is making Mission Kakatiya a success,’’ says minister Harish Rao.
While the government allocated Rs 2,596 crore in 2014-15, the budget for2015-16 is Rs 2,500 crore and a similar amount for 2016-17. The government plans to spend a total of Rs 11,500 crores over five years(starting 2014) on ‘Mission Kakatiya’. The government has got Rs 3,500crore from the Centre and it has applied for RS 5,000 crore from Niti Aayog.