New Opportunities

Initiatives to ensure sustainable availability of water in Telangana

Since the formation of the new state of Telangana, the state government has accorded the highest priority to the irrigation sector. The government is striving hard to ensure that all the districts reap near equitable benefits of the irrigation schemes in the state. It has set a goal of achieving at least 100,000 acres of land under irrigation in each of the constituencies.

To meet this ambitious objective, it has designed tailor-made projects after assessing the availability of water resources, constituency by constituency, with the aim of covering the entire state with projects for irrigation, drinking water, and for other uses by industries. The state government has envisaged an investment of almost Rs 2.25 trillion on various water projects for irrigation, domestic and industrial purposes. As of December 2019, it has managed to spend about Rs 1.2 trillion on the irrigation sector. As a result, water availability in the state has increased multifold, especially from projects such as the Kaleshwaram, Devadula and Sita Rama lift irrigation projects.

Developments so far

In 2018-19, Telangana had earmarked Rs 250 billion for the irrigation sector, particularly for completing major irrigation projects and Mission Kakatiya. Mission Kakatiya is a programme for restoring all minor irrigation tanks and lakes in Telangana. Further, in January 2020, the state government directed the irrigation department to under take maintenance works every year on minor irrigation tanks revived under Mission Kakatiya. It has also directed the department to take up the construction of 50 per cent of the check dams needed in the state during 2020, and the remaining 50 per cent in 2021. The required funds for the construction of these check dams will be allocated in the state budget.

In order to meet the funding requirements for these schemes, the state government has tied up with various financial institutions. It has already taken loans amounting to Rs 450 billion for the irrigation sector while another Rs 200 billion is currently under consideration. With the help of investments from internal as well as external sources, the state government aims to achieve the target of providing irrigation facilities to about 12.5 million acres, as against the total cultivable land of 15 million acres available in the state, in the coming five years. This is expected to cover 70-75 per cent of the area under irrigation schemes at a cost of about Rs 1.5 trillion.

One of the major irrigation projects taken up by the state government is the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Scheme (KLIS), which was earlier envisaged with the Pranahita river as the water source. However, it was subsequently changed to the Godavari river due to the more dependable flows of the river. The diversion of the source involved a huge expenditure by the government, changing the entire scope of the project. The project aims to bring drinking water and irrigation to the parched areas of Telangana by drawing about 225 billion cubic feet (bcf) of water from the Godavari river basin. The scope of the project includes building reservoirs at various places and is expected to irrigate 1.82 million acres of land in the state with 165 bcf of water, provide 56 bcf of drinking water and supply another 10 bcf for industrial purposes. Within a span of six months, as of December 2019, the project has managed to store about 200 bcf in various reservoirs and minor irrigation tanks. It has filled over 600 tanks under the Sriram Sagar Project, Phase II, which are almost 300 km away from Karimnagar. These linking canals have received water for the first time in over 15 years and far-flung places such as Surayapet, Kodad and Thungaturti have also received water from the project.

Upcoming opportunities in the state

Going forward, there seems to be huge opportunity for infrastructure developers in the field of micro-irrigation, sprinklers and piped irrigation systems in the state. The Telangana government is working towards providing efficient irrigation systems as it is no longer feasible for the state to create large dams. Under the KLIS, the government is envisaging the construction of five large pump houses, canals, pipeline systems and barrages, opening up huge opportunities for contractors and technology and equipment suppliers in the next two to three years. Another upcoming opportunity in the state is the expansion of the Mahabubnagar lift irrigation system (LIS), called the Palamuru LIS. The scope of work involves an increase in area covered under the project by another 600,000 acres from the existing 1 million acres.

The state government is also taking measures to promote seed production by increasing godown storage capacity and setting up laboratories for developing seeds. The probability of seeds getting damaged due to moisture is low as Telangana does not have a coastline. Further, the government is also encouraging crop colonies, keeping in view the variations in soil fertility and climatic conditions in different parts of the state, to encourage farmers to take up cultivation of suitable crops.

Besides, Telangana has taken up piped irrigation over a large area of about 200,000 acres under one of its ongoing projects. Once successful, it plans to extend the piped irrigation system over 1 million acres in the coming two to three years, especially in areas where water is scarce, and wet irrigation is not a feasible option. It plans to cover a total area of 2-2.5 million acres under piped irrigation, depending upon the success of the current schemes.

Issues and challenges

One of the major issues faced by the irrigation sector in Telangana is the lack of ac-quifers in the state, which limits the amount of groundwater that can be tapped. Therefore, the government has been working on creating systems for recharging the groundwater, especially in areas where it is over-exploited. It is also planning to come up with systems for artificial groundwater recharge. However, the potential is quite limited. Therefore, the state is planning to recharge groundwater within the large command areas of the projects so that the use of groundwater becomes feasible.

Besides, micro-irrigation systems have been subsidised by the government. It has provided 100 per cent subsidy to farmers belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, with only 2-2.5 acres of land. For the rest, the government provides 80 per cent subsidies. These subsidies are being provided under specific programmes of the central and state governments. The per acre cost of micro-irrigation is Rs 50,000-Rs 70,000, depending on the type of systems being deployed. Currently, Telangana has 500,000 to 600,000 acres under micro-irrigation. Moreover, running charges in terms of the power costs are also completely borne by the state. Besides, the government ensures 24×7 power availability to farmers in the state, resulting in huge expenditure on power.

The way forward

Initiatives such as the KLIS and impounding of water in tanks repaired under Mission Kakatiya are already yielding positive results as the groundwater level has risen by 2.99 metres across the state. According to the state groundwater department, the net levels of groundwater have increased in all 33 districts of the state during the year 2019-20 (up to December 31, 2019).

Once the under-implementation irrigation facilities are developed in the coming five years, the state government plans to take specific steps to ensure sustained growth in the irrigation sector. At present, it is not a viable option for the government to charge water cess or other surcharges from farmers. However, the government plans to levy partial charges on the farmers after a constant revenue stream is established from the ongoing irrigation schemes. Besides, the government is also preparing protocols and manuals for maintaining the pumps as over 80 pumps are currently being set up under different irrigation projects, including the KLIS. The irrigation department is preparing a comprehensive operations and maintenance policy for the lift irrigation projects by conducting a number of workshops. The policy will provide guidelines for effective maintenance of the pump houses that will come up in the next two to three years.

Based on remarks by Cheeti Murlidhar, Engineer-in-Chief, Irrigation and CAD Department, Government of Telangana, at a recent India Infrstructure conference

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