Dry days: a seven part series on water scarcity in South India

Summer of dry lakes and dry throats

A view of the highly polluted lake Banjara in Banjara Hills in Hyderabad is sought to be developed through the laying of a walking track around it.

A view of the highly polluted lake Banjara in Banjara Hills in Hyderabad is sought to be developed through the laying of a walking track around it.   | Photo Credit: Nagara Gopal

While the drought-hit cities of Telangana struggle to deal with the consequences of declining groundwater availability, rural regions are grappling with severe drinking water shortages

Urban and rural areas of Telangana have contrasting details but similar intensity of water stress during the ongoing season of drought-like conditions.
In Hyderabad, the development trajectory seems to be changing the metropolis’ image from the “City of Lakes,” as it was known since the erstwhile Nizam’s time, to a city of encroachments. Field visits, revenue records, environmental studies and the admissions of government officials suggest that all the 170 lakes in the Greater Hyderabad region have been encroached upon. 
The lakes have been exploited for illegal construction for everything from slum settlements to posh colonies and farmhouses, which raises the question of loopholes within the system. “For the longest time, the government officials have deliberately changed the definition of a lake boundary,” said Jasveen Jairath, a well-known city activist. “The Full Tank Level or the FTL only determines the depth of a water body and it can have infinite boundaries. What needs to be considered is the total water spread of a lake. Sadly, government officials confuse the media and the judiciary by considering FTL in cases leading to suppression of encroachments or delayed justice,” she said.
There are also indications that the State government may not be doing enough to conserve the lakes. “The government officials are not even aware of the local names of the lakes. They have documented the same name for more than one lake. They also do not have the coordinates and complete information of every lake in the city,” said Lubna Sarwath of Save Our Urban Lakes (SOUL).

The landscape of the western part of the city is almost a guide on converting lakes and stormwater drains into lucrative real estate. Many properties in Kukatpally, Miyapur, Chandanagar and surrounding areas have sprung up on top of lake areas. During last year’s heavy rain many of these colonies were submerged.
Recently, the State government carried out a five-month survey for 173 stormwater drains, spread over a total length of 390 km. It was found that 12,182 illegal structures had come up along the drains.
“Most of the lake encroachment cases are in courts. In cases where we got a favourable verdict from courts, the local political conditions are preventing any decisive action against these structures,” said a senior official of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. 
Experts concur that the concretisation of catchment area and restriction of inflow channels has resulted in plummeting groundwater levels in the city. 
In Rangareddy district adjoining the city’s outskirts, a 2015 analysis by the Telangana Ground Water Department showed that the groundwater level in was 20 metres below the surface.

Drinking water crisis

In the hilly agency tract of Kumram Bheem Asifabad district in Telangana, the drought is manifested as scarcity of drinking water thanks to an unsuccessful attempt to supply water through the ambitious Kumram Bheem Drinking Water Supply Scheme (KBDWSS). The scheme envisaged supply of purified water to every household through taps by lifting water from the Kumram Bheem reservoir.
It is nearly nine years since work started on the ₹150 crore KBDWSS but only a handful of villages have benefited, and even then, the supply is erratic due to power supply issues.
Recently, the Northern Power Distribution Company Limited disconnected three-phase power to the 14 villages between Hatti and Jodeghat as the government failed to clear electricity bill dues.
It is a great irony that the area thirsts for water every summer despite being washed by many a hill stream in monsoon and winter. “Local water harvesting is what is needed in the mandals of Asifabad, Wankidi, Kerameri, Jainoor, Sirpur (U), Lingapur and Tiryani,” an official of the Rural Water Supply department said.

“We cannot afford to buy water”
The same story is told about Karasgutti, located more than 100 Km from the district headquarters Sangareddy and 20 Km from the constituency headquarters Narayanakhed. Karasgutti is surrounded by 20 hamlets located one to 3 Km apart.
Many of the hamlets’ revenues are limited and they cannot afford to buy water. “Those who are passing on the road in four wheelers only occasionally ask for water. Very rarely, the locals buy water,” said local shop owner Banoth Santosh, adding that bottled water cost ₹20.
     “They are more dependent on Manjeera water that comes once in three or four days and bore wells existing in the surrounding areas. We cannot afford to buy water,” said K. Pandu Ranga Rao, resident of Sukkal Teerth of Manoor mandal.


Andhra Pradesh - Water availability dwindling in tribal tracts



Tribal women trekking long distances to fetch drinking water, risking their health, is a common sight in the hilly areas of Visakhapatnam district.
As summer turns harsher, the situation worsens in almost 40% of the 3,400 habitations spread over 11 mandals in 244 gram panchayats. The locals face untold hardship for water. Tribal communities numbering 6.5 lakh people, the highest of any district in Andhra Pradesh, live in the fragile ecosystem of the foothills of the Eastern Ghats.
Their habitations are on highly elevated places and the tribal women on average travel 2 Km to 5 Km to collect freshwater from the streams. Some even use children to assist them in carrying a few pots of water.
NGO activists working in the tribal areas blame the scarcity on the lack of maintenance of water harvesting structures, Gabriel structures (stone water harvesting), RO water plants, gravitational water supply and solar power-propelled water supply.
The Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) and Panchayat Raj 
Department have launched several projects to mitigate water problem 
in the hilly tracts, yet S. Balaraju, founder of Nature, an NGO which works 
for livelihood improvement among tribals in north Andhra Pradesh, said, “There is massive rise in construction activity due to the boom in construction of government buildings and housing. Over 13 lakh Sq ft of built space has been created over the past four years. The use of cement has led to excessive use of water and choking out of the flow of hill streams.”

ITDA contingency plan

Admitting that the water situation deteriorates during summer, ITDA project officer Pattanshetti Ravi Subash said that they were implementing a contingency plan with an outlay of ₹3.4 crore, to take up 106 works for augmenting and replacing pump-sets and other defunct systems.
Those habitations which are left out will get funds from the Velugu Project – a poverty amelioration project in the rural areas.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2020 12:13:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/summer-of-dry-lakes-and-dry-throats/article18361344.ece

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