VIJAYAWADA: Having a big river nearby is not enough of a solace in this drought. Kruthivennu mandal lies on the coast in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, about 100 km downstream of the Prakasam barrage. On the upstream side of the barrage, the reservoir lies placid and beautiful, reminding you of film lyrics extolling the Krishna. Downstream it's all dry and water supply is one pot a week, bused in by tankers. The Krishna is cold comfort here in the outer reaches of the drought.
In Pictures: Drought Rules on Very Edge of Krishna
Since the single pot of water given by the village panchayat -- brought from Bhimavaram 30 km away -- is hardly sufficient for daily needs, women in Matlam village for instance patiently dig holes called chelamalu on the river bed into water duly seeps. It's muddy but it will have to do.
"Water from the chelamalu is not fit for drinking, so we use it for
household needs. We hardly get enough to bathe and make do with a wet rub down. We are worried about contracting skin diseases. Our children suffer from skin rashes and fevers," said A Mahalakshmi, a woman from Matlam.
Her neighbour T Anasuya said her family buys 30 litre cans of water at Rs 50 each for drinking and cooking purposes. "We have had no work for two years.
It has become a daily struggle to buy a can of water," she says.
Around Matlam village you hear echoes of the same story, of water stress even in river valleys: families contemplating to visit relatives to tide over the summer, husbands gone in search of work and children made to put in a shift fetching water before school hours.
Water scarcity used to be an annual, primarily a summer, phenomenon in Kruthivennu until Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated in 2014. Until then, water would be released from the Nagarjunasagar dam down to the Prakasam reservoir and further down to villages along the dry banks of the Krisha. But since bifurcation, with Telangana impounding its share of water from Nagarjunasagar, there is nothing left to Prakasam. What's stored in the reservoir at Vijayawada serves upcoming capital region of Amaravati. Not until late July are the gates of Prakasam opened and what is released does not reach Matlam 100 km away.
The drought's twin offspring are water scarcity and loss of work for
landless labourers. The NREGS is a feeble attempt to shore up the marginal sections in mandals like Kruthivennu and not enough to stem the tide of migration.
"There is no water to drink here, for us or for our cattle," says D
Venkateshwarlu. Out of desperation, livestock are let loose upon the
aquaculture ponds. The brackish water makes them sick and they die. Cattle are still a prized asset in Andhra Pradesh, and the loss of a pair of bullocks may set back a marginal farmer by at least Rs 20000. That's a disaster for any family visited upon.
Farmer T Bommaraju says Kruthivennu has been living through a seamless drought for the last two years. There have been no rains and water has not reached the tail end of the Krishna canals even in the monsoon season last year.
The sarpanch of Matlam T Venkatalakshmi admits that NREGS has not been adequate and there has been migration. "We already have canals here. So there are no canals to dig under NREGS," she says. The problem is the canals have no water.
The situation is no different in the neighbouring panchayats like Lakshmipuram, says T Edukondalu, Mrs Venkatalakshmi's husband. Officials say they have released water thrice into the canals in recent months, but the villagers of Matlam and Lakshmipuram have not seen it. "The upstream people have taken all the water," he complains.
There you have it. The drought is a divider of people: upstream vs
downstream, village vs city, right bank vs left bank, state vs state, poor vs rich and so on.
Last month, the president of the water user society of Kruthivennu, P Nagabhushanam, resigned. He was piqued that the upstream people were drinking up the Krishna. "A big aquaculture firm upstream is drawing all the water from the canals," he said to this correspondent. "What is happening is public knowledge. We are 9000 people in three villages. But officials do not care about us. That's why I quit."