Hyderabad: As crops failed in large swathes across the state and water bodies have dried up over the last two years, the Telangana state government fought shy of moving the Centre for relief funds.
This cost the government large amounts of funds from the Centre to mitigate the effects of drought, and adversely impacted farmers. When it actually did approach the Centre, its cl-aims were full of holes, and local politics appeared to dominate the list.
Therefore, when the Centre announced Rs 1,540 crore for Karnataka, Rs 3,050 crore for Maharashtra, Rs 2,033 crore for Madhya Pradesh and Rs 1,800 crore for Tamil Nadu for drought relief, Telangana state got `700 crore while what it sought was over Rs 3,000 crore.
In 2014-15, the year the state was formed, the government did not declare drought in any mandal. This deprived the state of funds from the Centre; farmers lost out on input subsidy and rescheduling of loans.
Last year, the government sat on reports for months even as the state experienced an unprecedented drought right from the start of the 2015-16 kharif season. It was only at the end of November that the government finally listed 231 mandals, out of the 430 in the state, as drought-hit. This list contained some mandals with normal rainfall while several of those that were drought-hit were missed out.
The government overlooked the reports submitted by the collectors, giving scope for the Opposition to accuse the TRS government of discriminating against Assembly constituencies held by Opposition MLAs.
For instance, four mandals in Siricilla constituency held by IT minister K.T. Rama Rao figured in the list though only Gambiraopet experienced deficit rainfall.
Three mandals in Huzurnagar constituency held by finance minister Etela Rajender recorded deficit rainfall but did not figure in the list.
Barring Hyderabad, the government declared drought-hit mandals in the remaining nine districts. While all mandals in Mahbubnagar, Medak and Nizamabad districts were declared drought-hit, the list of the other six districts turned controversial.
The government had constituted a nine-member committee headed by special chief secretary, finance, K. Pradeep Chandra in October 2015 to select drought-hit mandals. Collectors were asked to submit the list of drought-hit mandals to the committee for scrutiny and make recommendations to the government.
Mr Chandra said, “The committee has no role in the declaration of drought-hit mandals. We have only brought the facts to the notice of the government. The final decision on declaring drought-hit mandals rests with the government.”
Agriculture minister Pocharam Srinivas Reddy said, “We followed the State Handbook for Management of Drought 1995 and Centre’s manual for drought management while selecting drought-hit mandals. There is no question of discriminating against any mandals on political grounds.”
Mr Srinivas Reddy is incharge of declaring the drought-hit mandals.
While the Karimnagar collector had repeatedly recommended 40 out of 57 mandals as drought-hit, the government selected 19. Most mandals were in constituencies held by ruling TRS MLAs.
In Warangal district, the collector had recommended 30 out of 51 mandals as drought-hit, but the government selected 11, mostly held by TRS MLAs.
“I approached the High Court against this discrimination but the government submitted before the court that it would examine the issue and rectify the discrepencies. This has not not happened so far,” said Congress legislator T. Jeevan Reddy from Jagtial in Karimnagar district.
In Jeevan Reddy’s Jagtial constituency, three mandals — Jagtial, Rayakal and Sarangapur — are drought-hit and Karimnagar district collector Neetu Kumari Prasad recommended drought in all these mandals. But none of these mandals figured in the final list.
Opposition puts blame on KCR
Opposition parties and social organisations are putting the blame dir-ectly on Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao for the poor handling of the two successive years of drought in TS.
For one, the Chief Minister had frequently stated there was no use declaring a drought. Two, the official machinery maintained a casual approach in identifying drought-hit mandals.
Mr Rao went into damage control mode Friday by chairing his first drought meeting in his two-year term with collectors in attendance, but the Opposition said it was too late.
“The CM repeatedly ridiculed visits by Central teams both in the Assembly and outside. He termed them as ‘timepass teams’ which ‘simply come and go with no end result.’ If this is the approach of the CM towards drought, how do we expect of the official machinery to be serious,” said TS TD working president A. Revanth Reddy. The TJAC, which wor-ked with the TRS during the statehood agitation, is upset with the government’s approach.
“There are no concrete measures to provide relief. The identification of drought-hit mandals itself is faulty. While all the 430 mandals are witnessing severe drought, the government decla-red only 231 as drought-hit. It should take village as unit and not mandal,” said TJAC chairman Prof. Kodandaram, who toured the districts and submitted a report on April 27.
The BJP said the TRS government had failed to spend the drought funds sanctioned by the Centre on providing drinking water. “Over Rs 300 crore central funds are lying unused at district level,” said TS BJP president Dr K. Laxman.
“The Centre is ready to help the state government, but there is no serious initiative from its side to use the funds and ask for more,” he said.