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Mission Kakatiya: Bringing back sight & sound of water

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The unique irrigation system of Telangana that was nurtured for centuries was in a shambles. Sprightly communities that thrived all over its heartland had their fortunes dwindling. A large network of tanks that helped in building agriculture as its mainstay of economy literally lost its trace.

This is what precisely stemmed the fight for separate Telangana State and thereafter the launch  of the ambitious initiative aimed at reviving a paradise that was lost. Thanks to Mission Kakatiya, the sight and sound of water is back with the rejuvenation of tanks as part of the State rebuilding.

The State had historical evidence of irrigation structures dating back to the 8th century.  Construction of village tanks is an age-old activity. It became a State-sponsored activity during the pre-Satavahana era. It gained the desired technical expertise only during the Kakatiya rule.

The medieval rulers realised that tank irrigation was the main determinant for agriculture and developed the system. It was so well designed that it helped them harness every drop of rain. Flood runoff that originated from Pakhal lake meandered in the south easterly direction adding to the gross storage of  dozens of tanks. At one point in time, Telangana accounted for one-tenth of the 500,000 irrigation tanks that dotted the length and breadth of the country. Before its merger with Andhra, Telangana had over 46,000 tanks of various sizes.

Rich bio-diversity in the past

The erstwhile undivided Warangal district alone had over 4,000 such tanks and they all had water spread of 1,12,733 acres adding to the rich biodiversity of the region. A majority of them helped in irrigating lands in the vicinity by gravity. They had also been of immense support for flood control as well as drought mitigation. They had been big sources of supplementary irrigation during the monsoon season. They seldom let down the peasant community until they witnessed a steady decline in their performance and efficiency in the second half of the 20th century.

Of neglect and vanishing tanks

Neglected by the rulers of the undivided State, a good number of tanks vanished from the Telangana’s landscape.  The communities that depended on these water bodies for their livelihood got displaced. They deserted the villages and the fragile environment in search of fresh meadows.

The neglect of the irrigation tanks had an indelible impact on life as a whole and the agrarian community in particular.  Crop failures, depleting fish stocks, deforestation, scarcity of resources added to social,  economic and political tensions.

What started off as a fight for basic living ultimately took the shape of a quest for environmental justice and it finally found its expression in the form of the fight for a separate State.

The first major initiative in the direction of reviving the dwindling fortunes in the villages was Mission Kakatiya.

The flagship programme, aimed at the rejuvenation of 46,531 minor irrigation tanks in the new State, took off on March 12, 2015, and made its impact felt in almost every gram panchayat. It was an important milestone since rebuilding Telangana would be incomplete without rebuilding its villages.

The villages tanks have by and large been not just as a source of irrigation, but are also as a source for fish farming and silt for fertilization of lands. It is a big source for drinking water to support village communities.

Revival of tank-based system main aim of TS

Telangana witnessed a big loss in tank irrigation from 1956-57 to 2005-09 when nearly 58 per cent of the ayacut of minor irrigation sources  was left barren.

This was the sole reason the State sought to revive tank-based irrigation system to its full potential.  Changes in cropping pattern were favoured to suit to the changes in the tank ecosystem. The land irrigated under minor irrigation sources was only nine lakh acres in 2013 as against the localised ayacut of 24 lakh acres. An ayacut gap of 15 lakh acres was identified and plans were prepared to address this.

The reasons identified for the widening gap in the designed ayacut and  net realisation included loss in storage capacity of tanks due to siltation of tank beds, dilapidated sluices, weirs and weak bunds, defunct and dilapidated feeder channels and irrigation canals.

In all, 8,022 tanks were taken up for restoration in the first phase of Mission Kakatiya, 8,927 tanks in phase II and 5,965 tanks in phase III. The government has proposed to take up another 5,650 tanks in phase IV which will begin soon.

The government has incurred an Rs 2,630 crore in the three phases of the programme while there were bills amounting to Rs 400 crore on hand for release. Works worth Rs 7,357.42 crore had been sanctioned for restoring tanks in bad state. So far completed works pertaining to 15,499 tanks, stabilising 10.3 lakh acre of ayacut. The storage capacity has been enhanced by 7 tmcft.

Quick results earn accolades

According to one of the impact studies conducted on the first phase of the programme by Nabard Consultancy Services ( Nabcons),  the State witnessed a marked improvement  in the minor irrigation sector. A gross increase of 51.5 per cent was registered under tank irrigation.

The tank rejuvenation initiative in fact worked wonders grabbing the attention of many States. Teams from different States and universities have been making a beeline to Telangana to study the model.A major contribution of the programme was that irrigation intensity was also up by 45.6 per cent. It also   helped in replenishing ground water table in a big way.

There was also a 30 to 35 per cent drop in use of fertilizers since farmers used silt removed from the tanks. The farmers, according to the study, made net savings ranging from Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,000 per acre on crop investment. The farmers are now presented with a promising agriculture system that is less prone to the consequences associated with heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides. Application of the tank silt in farms was found to yield amazing results. It is a highly beneficial but conventional practice that had become prohibitive for small and marginal farmers.

With desilting of tanks turning an activity involving the entire village community, almost every farmer could avail his share of the fertile organic collection from the tank bed for treating his farms. It fetched numerous benefits that helped in significant reduction in expenditure on fertilizers.

The study found that the farmers could save at least 27.6 per cent on their expenditure on fertilizers. In 2013-14, the gap ayacut was found to be 42.4 per cent under the tanks covered in the first phase.  It was reduced to 23.2 per cent by 2016-17 under the same set of 400 tanks taken up for study.

With availability of adequate water in tanks, areas under paddy has substantially increased from 49.2 per cent in the base year 2013-14 to 62.1 per cent in the assessment year 2016-17.  Its impact was more significant in Rabi 2016-17, with more area under paddy.

There was 7.2 per cent increase in rabi over kharif. Paddy cultivation was found to be fast catching up under tanks rehabilitated and rejuvenated under Mission Kakatiya. The area under the water-intensive crop shot up by 11.1 per cent during kharif and 23.7 per cent during rabi in 2016-17.

III-T, Irrigation Department geotagging tanks

The Irrigation Department has partnered with IIIT-Hyderabad for creation of a comprehensive Lake Management and Monitoring System (LMMS) under the Mission Kakatiya programme. According to Dr G Malsur, Commissioner, Command Area Development Authority, the LMMS was using state-of-the-art remote sensing technology and GIS in creating a geospatial database (geo-tagging) of all the tanks.

In addition to geo-tagging of tanks and building database with all the tank attributes, this system also helps monitor the progress of works being taken up under Mission Kakatiya. The smartphone application in this system will enable field staff to geo-tag the works done including bund renovation, de-siltation, sluice and weir repairs. It also helps in uploading photos of the construction work on the website in real time.

Malsur says the LMMS adopts a 3-key model to geo-tag tanks and to identify the viable tanks that fall in natural drainage system to prioritise the rehabilitation process. The 3-keys the model are — use of Survey of India topo sheets to extract lake body information; satellite data that helps in analysing the satellite images for the last 20 years to identify the presence of water in tanks; and digital elevation model through which various sinks and natural drainage channels are studied.

This enables the administration to study various aspects like identification of  natural drainage system,  potential checkdams and non-viable tanks to prioritise the rehabilitation process. Several tanks that have become dry over the years were identified through this analysis. Using the 3-Key model, 45,000 tanks have been geo-tagged. It is further identified that around 18,000 of these tanks are dry most of the months for the past 20 years. A rehabilitation work in these tanks could bring them back to the previous stage.

Post Mission Kakatiya, the impact analysis will also be carried out on these tanks. Field verification and addition of tank attributes (including photos of bunds, sluices and weirs) will also be carried out by irrigation officials through mobile application developed by IIIT, Hyderabad.

Any person or official can download the mobile application and access the details of a tank in his vicinity. Every tank is assigned a unique Geo-ID based on its latitude and longitude, thus eliminating any chance of duplication of work and multiple sanctions to the same tank.

The tanks are being ranked based on various attributes such as the ones with natural drainage channels, their capacity to retain water, their size and viability.

78.5% increase in household agri income

The household agriculture income also witnessed 78.5 per cent increase in the tank ayacut area. The increase was attributed largely to the increase in the irrigated area as well as improved crop yields. After the farmers, fishermen communities are the major beneficiaries of Mission Kakatiya. Longer periods of water storage in the tanks helped in substantial increase in the weight of fish. On an average, there is an increase of 36-39 per cent yield in Rohu and Mrigala type of fish.

The ground water that got substantially recharged also helped in bringing some 17 per cent of the borewell that had dried up over the years, back into use.  Some 63 per cent of the water users said the physical condition of the tanks  was poor while  three per cent said that their condition was very poor in the baseline year.  After Mission Kakatiya phase-I, the perception of water users was altogether different. They acknowledged that condition of 46 per cent of the tanks was very good and 28.6 per cent said good.

Earlier, ICRISAT had carried out a study report on the impact of silt application for crops under the irrigation tanks taken up under Mission Kakatiya in Warangal district.  According to its findings, silt application helped considerably in boosting the crop yields and simultaneously reducing the over-dependence of farmers on chemical fertilisers. In the first two phases of the programme, over 1,825 lakh cubic metres of silt was lifted from the tanks for application to farm soils. Three universities – Prof Jayashankar  Telangana State Agriculture  University, University of Michigan and  University of Chicago have also been engaged in the impact assessment of Mission Kakatiya. The Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) also shouldered the task of impact assessment on Mission Kakatiya and it is expected to submit its report soon.

TWRIS for effective management of water resources

The Irrigation department has entered into an MoU with NRSC, ISRO to develop “Telangana Water Resources Information System,” an exclusive web-based geo-portal using geo-spatial technologies for effective management of water resources in the State. This portal uses multiple inputs from various sources including CAD data, CWC, Ground water, TSDPS, DES, IMD, among others to serve as a one-stop information system on matters related to irrigation. So far as the Minor Irrigation Module of the TWRIS is concerned, the entire information related to minor irrigation tanks is hosted in its domain. Besides geo-tagging the tanks, their information like tank capacity, FTL level, command area etc will be made available.  Water spread area of all tanks is updated every 15 days. Command ayacut boundaries of all tanks were being digitized.

Cropped area and cropping pattern analysis were being be made available for all seasons along with the proposed and existing catchment area.

Mission Kakatiya has raised new hopes      
     

  T Harish Rao, Minister for Irrigation

The impact of Mission Kakatiya, as observed in the impact studies taken up by different organisations, raises new hopes for the  peasant community. The net increase in the crop area under the tanks rejuvenated so far is over five lakh acre in the State.

The gap ayaucut under Mission Kakatiya tanks was brought down effectively from 42 per cent in 2013 to 23 per cent in 2016.  There was a marked improvement in groundwater table.  Farmers have been widely acknowledging that the water availability in the bores and wells was considerably up.

Seventeen per cent of the borewells, which had dried up and abandoned by the farmers, are back in use.  The water levels are also up. The use of surface water for irrigation purposes also added to yields by four per cent in respect of paddy and 4.7 per cent in cotton yields.

Drop in the use of chemical fertilizers is a notable feature of Mission Kakatiya. The silt application to farm soils helped in improving crop yields by 4.7 per cent in the case of cotton and four per cent in the case of paddy. The use of surface water in place of  groundwater helped considerably in adding substantially to the crop yields.

The tank protection and improvement would be a priority for the government. The farmers’ feedback on tank maintenance issues would be given due consideration. Most of the tanks which had no trace of water for years because of the neglect they were subjected have been identified. Mission Kakatiya, as the flagship programme of the  government, would yield the desired results.

The post Mission Kakatiya: Bringing back sight & sound of water appeared first on Telangana Today.



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