Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project opens a barrage of woes in border villages of Maharashtra

Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project opens a barrage of woes in border villages of Maharashtra

Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project opens a barrage of woes in border villages of Maharashtra

Lands submerged and livelihood lost, farmers in 11 villages in Gadchiroli district fight for better compensation


Bhupalpally, Telangana: “Our lives have been spoilt by the governments of Telangana and Maharashtra. We have been protesting even before the construction began in 2016 on Medigadda barrage, the starting point of Kaleshwaram project. We are farmers, give us land not compensation. Otherwise, provide us with Rs 20 lakh per acre. Though hopeless, we will not yield.”

Young farmer and activist Mugdham Tirupathi of Maddikunta village in Maharashtra’s Sironcha taluka is furious about how livelihoods have been affected by the flooding of farmlands following the construction of Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project (KLIS), the world's largest multi-stage lift irrigation project located in Telangana. It took only three years to complete the interstate project, which became operational in June 2019.

Since then, flooding of farmlands has kept people in the border areas of both Telangana and Maharashtra on their toes. Besides Medigadda village in Mahadevpur mandal of Karimnagar district in Telangana, 11 villages Arda, Rajannapalli, Maddikunta, Mrudukrishnapur, Janampalli, Chintalpalli, Nagram, Ramkrishnapur, Karaspalli, Sironcha Rai and Sironcha Mal in Sironcha tehsil of Gadchiroli district in Maharashtra have been affected.

“For the last four years, I have not even sowed a single cotton seed in my four acres of land due to flooding by the backwater of Medigadda reservoir. If everything was fine, I should have got at least 10 tonnes of cotton per acre. I am losing a minimum of Rs 4 lakh per annum as a tonne of cotton would fetch at least Rs 10,000 to 15,000,” said Tirupathi.  

He claimed farmers relied on moneylenders, but the mounting interest rates have forced some of them to take up daily wage labour. Yet, that will not be enough to pay up. “Our only hope is the next harvest. We can have that only if the government solved our problems. Otherwise, death is the only option. That is why we have announced a mass suicide plan," said a teary-eyed Tirupathi before the increased compensation was announced.

 

Flood of protests

As per the interstate agreement, the responsibility to obtain all statutory clearances, acquire land likely to be submerged, and provide compensation rests with the Telangana government. Its Maharashtra counterpart would facilitate public hearings, land acquisition and conduct of joint survey for acquisition.  

The cost of Medigadda barrage is fully borne by Telangana and water utilisation from the storage shall be in the 80:20 ratio.  Both states shall have free fishing and navigation rights in the submergence area.

After the first survey, the land for barrage construction was procured from farmers for Rs 10.50 lakh per acre. When a second survey was carried out recently in the areas affected by submergence, the villagers intensified their protest.  

Sitting at the dharna chowk lined with flex boards urging justice for farmers, Venkat Swamy said, "From the very moment we learnt about the barrage proposal, we knew it would disturb our lives and livelihoods. From that moment until now, even our right to protest has been snatched away.”

He said prohibitory orders restricting freedom of assembly were imposed under Section 37 of the Bombay Police Act, citing Maoist presence in the area. During the COVID-19 period, the protests were further muffled. “We plan to approach the Human Rights Commission against this violation of rights, and will fight until justice is served," Swamy said, even as wails of discontent filled the air.

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In Maharashtra, 234.91 hectares of private land had been acquired for the barrage project. Another 138.89 hectares have been submerged, for which compensation was announced only recently. But local activists believe another 500 hectares is in danger of flooded by backwater (Photo sourced by Jamsheed Shaikh)

Outside the tent, Padma Rangu (50) from Arda village was seen sobbing her heart out. Her four acres have been submerged, forcing her to become a daily wage labourer to take care of her five children.

"When my husband passed away, those four acres were my only hope for survival. But the Medigadda barrage swallowed that land, and left me bankrupt. I took money from a lender at a high interest rate, and have been struggling beyond words for the last four years. If the government does not solve my problem, my family has no option but to commit suicide,” she wept inconsolably. 

For the pious, barrage has distanced them from River Godavari. "The construction of a very deep canal makes it near impossible to take a ritualistic bath in the holy river, immerse ashes or hold poojas,” complained Sironcha native Mallikarjun.

He added that the promise to construct a bridge remained on paper. “Even the protection wall has not been properly done, leading to the entry of backwater into the land,” he alleged.

 

Nominal revision in compensation

According to the irrigation report prepared by the executive engineer of Gadchiroli Irrigation Division, Gadchiroli district, 234.91 hectares of private land in Maharashtra has been acquired for the barrage project. Another 138.89 hectares have been submerged, for which an increased compensation has been agreed upon following farmer protests.

Recently, a group of farmers met Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, after which a nominal revision in compensation for 138.89 hectares affected by submergence was announced.

Speaking to 101Reporters, Sironcha tehsildar Jitendra said the compensation has been fixed at Rs 11.54 lakh per acre for cultivable land and Rs 10.12 lakh per acre for non-cultivable land.

However, farmer activist Ram Ranguwar said revised compensation was barely a solution as another 494.21 acres would be lost to backwater in no time. Asked about farmers’ demand for a new survey to include more areas under submergence land, the tehsildar said, “We have brought the demand in front of the district Collector. He will decide on that.” 

Though farmlands constitute most of the flooded area, around 5,000 people from Ramkrishnapur and Nagram villages had to be relocated when water swelled in the Godavari last June-July. “We had to shift them to nearby schools. Once we reported the matter to the government, the Gadchiroli Collector took necessary steps, including arrangements to hold medical camps. However, we used our own funds to arrange food,” said Nagaram deputy sarpanch Ramesh Samaiah Thota.

On the demand to conduct a survey to identify more flood-affected lands, he said, “We (local bodies) have very little scope to deal with the Medigadda submergence issue… I do not know the exact number of flood-hit plots, but a fresh survey is very much the need of the hour.”

Meanwhile, farmers like Tirupathi and Venkat Swamy continue to fight for justice despite being let down by both Telangana and Maharashtra governments. “We have been trying hard for justice. Unfortunately, we did not get what we deserve,” Tirupathi concluded. 


Cover Photo: A submerged piece of land in Arda village, Maharashtra (Photo sourced by Jamsheed Shaikh)
Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli 

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