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Telangana's tanker economy

The continued lack of policy attention towards rainwater harvesting and storage negates what good could come of higher rainfall levels. Inevitably, this skews the prognosis for the days ahead towards water scarcity. As of 2015, 42 per cent of India was rainfall deficient, and the overall deficit was 13 per cent of the Long Period Average. Yet while rainfall levels fluctuate, experts argue that they have not secularly declined as the data in the infographic shows. To bridge the gap between rainfall and water scarcity, the government will have to invest in desilting and upgrading water storage in canals and minor water bodies

May 04, 2016 02:57 am | Updated November 28, 2021 09:45 pm IST - HUSNABAD (TELANGANA):

Across many villages in Narayankhed and Zaheerabad in Medak district, Telangana, there is one striking and common feature nowadays – large plastic drums placed in front of the households to store water supplied not by the Rain Gods but by water tankers that come lumbering through sporadically.

With a 14 per cent rainfall deficit in last year’s monsoon and precious little water harvesting in the state, drought-like conditions have started to grip parts of the countryside here. Yet faced with the insufficient arrangements made by the government people in this area have mostly been left to fend for themselves in the private sector.

“As we get only a couple of tankers supplied by government every day, we are forced to purchase water from private tankers at Rs.30 to Rs.50 for drum (200 litres),” Gurappa of Manoor said, adding that those who were prospering now were private tanker owners and drum sellers.

Costly water

This emerging “tanker economy” is not an easy solution for over 5,000 villages facing water scarcity in this region and people are queuing up overnight to get a few pitchers filled in villages such as Anthakkapeta in Husnabad.

Whether they are supplied by the Rural Water Supply Department or private sources, tanker water comes at a steep price. “We have collected Rs.200 from every household and gave it to the tanker driver to get water every day”, Venkanna of Abbenda village in Narayankhed explained.

For lakhs of households across Telangana the ongoing summer has been brutally harsh not just owing to the mercury touching 46 degree Celsius in some places but also because the inevitable need for people to spend money on water has cut sharply into their household income. Failure of three out of the last four successive monsoons not only affected most parts of the newly-formed State but also in the catchment areas of the Godavari and Krishna rivers originating in the Western Ghats and some of their tributaries taking off in Maharashtra and Karnataka. In turn, this has impacted water storage in major reservoirs.

Poor storage

Despite the State Government’s plans to restore irrigation tanks under its flagship scheme of Mission Kakatiya from last year, the continuing over-siltation of minor water bodies such as tanks, lakes and ponds along with the poor condition of feeder channels implies that even the minimal rainfall that occurred are not stored efficiently.

The impact has been cumulative this year as the resultant depletion of groundwater table has dried up nearly 5,000 sources of protected water supply schemes meant for supplying water to one village each.

Besides, over ten per cent of the 1.57 lakh hand pumps have also gone bone dry and a majority of the remaining ones are able to give only meagre quantity of water. The average depletion of groundwater table in Telangana in March this year compared to last March was 8.7 feet in with the highest being 31.9 feet in Dharur area of Mahabubnagar. The average depth of groundwater availability has slipped to 50 feet in March this year compared to 41 feet last year.

Telangana’s monsoon rainfall deficit in was 30 per cent in 2014-15. The nationwide deficit figure of 14 per cent in 2015-16 belies the impact in this State, because the uneven spread of this shortfall meant that there were excess deficits of 46 and 45 per cent in Nizamabad and 40 and 35 per cent in Medak, respectively, during the two years.

Residents such as Gurappa and Venkanna can only pray that this year the Indian Meteorological Department’s forecast of a normal monsoon will come true. If it does not, then they will have to dig ever deeper into their pockets to pay for tanker water with money that they do not have.

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