It is with an eye on by-elections to 12 Assembly constituencies in Telangana that the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) has raked up the issue of Babli irrigation project that is coming up in Nanded district in neighbouring Maharashtra. TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu who did a U-turn on Telangana separate state demand and batted for a unified Andhra,has raised the issue to send a message in Telangana that he still sympathises with the people.
The project is located just across the AP border on the river Godavari. The river feeds the Sriram Sagar Project reservoir which is the lifeline of Telangana: seven districts depend on Sriram Sagar for irrigation and drinking water needs including Warangal city. In fact,the Babli barrage is coming up on the reservoir created due to the Sriram Sagar Project in 1980.
Experts feel that barriers like Babli being constructed across the border would reduce the flow of the river into Sriram Sagar so much so that the project would become redundant and a large part of Telangana Nizamabad,Adilabad,Karimnagar,Warangal,Khammam, Medak and parts of Ranga Reddy would be left without any water.
As the Godvari flows from Maharashtra to AP,the Godavari Tribunal had fixed a share of Godavari waters for Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. Following this,AP built Sriram Sagar dam and since part of the reservoir fell in Maharashtra,it compensated the state for it.
Since several years,many areas in Maharashtra along the AP border have been facing water scarcity,especially Nanded,and it decided to build a barrage on the Sriram sagar reservoir in Babli which has now become the bone of contention between the two states.
Telangana region already faces water problems because the Sriram Sagar project is only half-complete and affected due to heavy silting. Though it was started in 1963,even the first phase of the project has not been completed and the rehabilitation of the displaced people under this project is still pending. Against an allocation of 200 TMC (thousand million cubic feet),the project is hardly able to utilise 20 TMC.
As canal heads and regulators are not ready,only 4 to 5 lakh acres is being irrigated at present against the capacity of 18 lakh acres. If barriers come up upstream in Maharashtra even this water flow would be reduced and there would be havoc in Telangana, says Telangana ideologue and former vice-chancellor of Kakakiya University S Jayashankar.
An official of the irrigation department said parts of Telangana were still dependent on irrigation tanks built during the Kakatiya dynasty rule. “Downstream of Sriram Sagar,for a large part the Godavari flows through Telangana to reach the coastal delta. However,no major dam has been built to harness the water for Telangana. This is the reason why Sriram Sagar is so vital,” an engineer pointed out.
In 2007,after AP government complained to the Centre over Babli and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the then Union Water Resources Minister Saifuddin Soz to sort it out.
After discussions,the Centre directed Maharashtra to suspend work on the barrage. However,opposition parties have been alleging that Maharashtra had disregarded the Centres directive and going ahead with the project clandestinely.
The AP government approached the Supreme Court which permitted Maharashtra to go ahead with the construction of the barrage but not to install gates.
On July 8,when the Monsoon Assembly session began,the main opposition party in the AP Assembly raised the issue and called on all parties to join for an inspection of Babli.
I even invited Chief Minister K Rosaiah and Congress MLAs to join us. But they refused. If we dont protest now and get the work stalled,there would be no water for Telangana, Naidu said just before leaving for Babli project site along with 73 MLAs and TDP leaders.
TDP has called for a state-wide bandh on Monday to protest against Naidus arrest.