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Monday, May 01, 2017

Telangana, Andhra Pradesh Reel Under Heatwave, But Petty Politics Takes Centrestage

As the mercury soared to a new 10-year record of 43 degrees Celsius in Hyderabad recently – a heatwave for the third consecutive year — the demand for spicy buttermilk or masala majiga too soared. This product of Heritage, a unit owned by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, notched an all-time high business of nearly 12 lakh sachets being sold by 17 April. It also kicked off a political satire on social media that summer did not take note of bifurcation of state and that it did not differentiate between people of Telangana and Andhra.


As both the Telugu states called April a ‘cruel month,’ experts warn that May is likely to be even worse. A scientific study has, in fact, attributed the soaring mercury levels for the third year running, to climate change. Global warming has increased the likelihood of a heatwave in the region from being a once-in-a-hundred-year event to a once-in-a-decade event. The study, ‘Raising Risk Awareness,’ presented by environmental experts at an international conference in New Delhi in February also blamed the extreme heatwaves in the continent to what they termed “human-induced climate change.”

Similarly at a workshop organised by CMS-Vatavaran, Ministry of Environment & Forests and a German Institute in Hyderabad early this month, several experts were categorical that the issues like severe droughts, farmer suicides, climbing temperatures, and rising pollution had their roots in climate change. Though government officials failed to confirm, experts say that since 2012, sunstroke has claimed nearly 6,000 lives in the two states, particularly in the vulnerable groups of the elderly, children, women, farm labourers, slum dwellers and the destitute. A keynote address by an official of the National Disaster Management Authority at the conference also recorded that heatwaves had claimed around 20,000 lives across the country in the past two decades.

Andhra1-listicleAt least 176 people have died due to sunstroke in Telangana (90) and Andhra Pradesh (86) as of 20 April this summer.

At least 176 people have died due to sunstroke in Telangana (90) and Andhra Pradesh (86) as of 20 April this summer. Thousands of animals have also died in the scorching heat. The unprecedented heatwave deaths, in the beginning of summer, drove the government to send out advisories that people should stay indoors between 12 noon and 3 pm. “As dog days are ahead, it is essential for people to avoid exposure to the sun and stay indoors,” said AP Home Minister Chinarajappa.

The Met office at Hyderabad and Vijayawada which have been giving out daily status reports, recorded a steady rise in day temperatures from March from 38 degrees up to 43 degrees Celsius on average, touching 45 degrees in the coal belt of Warangal, Adilabad and Karimnagar in Telangana as well as the sand and mineral belt of East and West Godavari, YSR Kadapa and Prakasam districts in AP. “The heatwave this year is above normal. It was 40-42 degrees last year. This is mostly due to global warming and huge infrastructure projects being unveiled in both states,” said Raja Rao, of the weather office (IMD) at Hyderabad.

On 23 April, the Met Department issued an advisory of 2-4 percent increase in average day temperature of 43 degrees until 26 April.

Massive irrigation projects, Mission Bhagiratha and Mission Kakatiya projects (worth over Rs 27,000 crores in Telangana) and the building of Andhra’s new capital Amaravati’s irrigation and road laying works (worth about Rs 32,000 crores in AP) have added to the heatwave conditions. “Both the states are competing in felling trees, converting fertile lands into canals, capital city and also roads in total disregard to advisories of National Green Tribunal (NGT) and other environmental bodies,” said Yelamanchali Shivaji, spokesperson of a farmers federation environmentalist.

AP disaster management commissioner, Dhanunjaya Reddy said for the first time, the district administration has taken up the provision of oral rehydration kits, salts and intravenous fluids at public places at over 100 locations in 13 districts (more in Rayalaseema, East and West Godavari districts). While unofficially the heatwave deaths were over 2,600 in 2015, they touched almost 2,000 in 2016. But the revenue administration has pegged it to just 450 in 2015 and about 320 in 2016. “To avoid payment of compensation to families of hapless heatwave victims by taking advantage of the loophole that such claimants should file an FIR first, the government is pegging down sunstroke deaths,” alleged YSR Congress MLC and spokesperson C Ramachandraiah.

The Andhra Pradesh government has already declared 245 mandals as drought-hit in 2016 and prepared an action plan for provision of drinking water, fodder for animals and also ambali (gruel) centres to help the aged and the destitute. Naidu, experienced in handling drought and cyclones, has already pressurised the NDA government at the Centre to send funds and geared the administration to provide succour to the people. In Andhra Pradesh, the chief minister has already pushed proposals for Rs 1,200 crores for relief funds from the Centre and directed the disaster management department to take up activities on a war footing.

But the Telangana government, which is not keen to declare many mandals as drought-hit, has only made a token request to the Centre for assistance. Asked why Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao delayed the process, a senior IAS officer told Firstpost, “The state government wants to do better without Centre's assistance and hence show that it is not dependant on the NDA government.”

Following delay by Telangana government, Governor ESL Narasimhan summoned the chief secretary of Telangana Panchayat Raj and Rural Development (PR&RD) SP Singh and sought details of drought relief measures. The secretary said that the Centre had given just Rs 100 crores for drought relief in 231 mandals of 31 districts. In 2016, the state sought Rs 3,064 crores from the Centre for drought relief but New Delhi sanctioned only Rs 791 crores, of which only Rs 400 crores has been released till date.

Telangana BJP state president K Laxman though blamed the state government for lack of focus on drought relief. “There is no point in blaming the Centre when you are lethargic. At least Rs 5 crores has to be spent in each mandal by Telangana government this year, if it wants to put an end to heatwave deaths,” he said.

In 2016, when Telangana suffered drought for the second year in a row, there was large-scale migration of farm labour to neighbouring districts. “We see the same trend this year also,” said S Malla Reddy, vice-president of All India Kisan Sabha, who alleged that last year, 1.4 million labourers from rural areas had migrated to neighbouring Karnataka, AP, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. They migrated mostly to Pune, Mumbai, Bhiwandi, Ahmedabad, Bellary and Surat to work as construction labour, say farmer leaders of both states.

Joint Action Committee chairman M Kodandaram said the situation was scary in all of Telangana’s districts where farmers were selling livestock, homes and land to make a living elsewhere. “Most farmers of Mahbubnagar, Warangal, Medak and Nalgonda districts have sold 70 percent of their cattle to slaughtering houses near Hyderabad,” he said, blaming the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) government of indifference and negligence. “Why does the TRS government not want to own up to the drought and provide succour to affected farmers?” he asked.

In response to this charge, senior officials in the Telangana Secretariat told this reporter that the government was of the view that after providing so many incentives to farmers and welfare programmes for the poor, it would become a laughing stock to cry drought. “We are spending nearly Rs 40,000 crores on welfare budget in 2017. At this rate there should be no starvation deaths or farmers’ suicides which are precursors to heatwaves and drought conditions,” they argued.

The TRS government said that it has directed all district collectors to take appropriate steps without even waiting for drought conditions. KCR continued the midday meal scheme for school children even after declaring early summer holidays for schools and at residential educational institutions. “We have the best welfare budget, and massive irrigation works are underway and hence there is no need to declare drought and seek Centre's support which we know is not wholehearted,” he said at the recent plenary of the party in Hyderabad last week.

“Unless both states rise above petty politics and stop use of droughts and floods for political opportunism, the tragic conditions of the farmers and the poor will never change,” said a political analyst of Kurnool K Radhakrishna Rao.

The TRS plenary also announced free fertilisers worth Rs 4,000 per acre for both Rabi and Kharif crops. The AP government too has been doling Chandranna Kanuka package (welfare goodies) to the poor in villages.

Both the Telangana and AP governments have instead made an ardent plea to the Centre to link agriculture with the MNREGS to curb migration of agriculture labour. “It is the migration that causes starvation and heatwave deaths of the aged and the destitute as the young workers leave them behind in villages,” explained Changal Reddy, a spokesman of Farmers Federation of AP.

Ironically, both states with abundant water resources, have failed to harness 14 rivers for meeting the drinking and irrigation needs of the people. “Almost 400 tmc-feet of Godavari water flows as waste to the sea as it is not well harnessed in both Telangana and AP,” said Vidyasagar Rao, a former chief engineer, now appointed as irrigation advisor to the Telangana government.
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