“It’s a god-sent opportunity,” says N. Purushotham, 49, about how an assured supply of irrigation water has boosted his farming. Until 2017, there was just enough water to raise a single paddy crop a year on his two-acre farm in Telangana’s Ranga Reddy district. But ever since the Pahalwan Talab in Shabad village was revived, by removing silt and strengthening the feeder channels, farmers like Purushotham have also been growing vegetables for half the year. “Earlier, I would grow veggies only if there were rains. But with steady water supply, leafy vegetables that are in great demand are being grown regularly,” he says. Since 2015, Mission Kakatiya has spurred the revival of 27,625 of 46,531 lakes/ irrigation tanks, with the help of local communities, boosting water supply to the state’s 11,000 villages and their farms. There is no plan, though, to revive the remaining lakes/ tanks since they irrigate less than 20 acres each or have been in disuse.
All restored irrigation tanks have been geotagged for unique identification with the help of the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad, to enable continuous monitoring using digital toposheets, satellite imagery and other tools. The use of technology enables farmers to tap water resources optimally.
“Instead of gambling with cotton or jowar crop, I grow paddy on five acres twice a year and vegetables in the intervening period,” says Kammala Ilaiah, 52, of Pamulaparthi village in Siddipet district. Land prices, Ilaiah claims, have shot up from about Rs 8 lakh an acre in 2010 to Rs 1.5 crore an acre. “Water availability has turned the cotton soil into black gold for us.”
The Telangana government has so far spent Rs 9,110 crore on Mission Kakatiya. The project draws its name from the Kakatiya dynasty (1163-1323 AD), whose rulers had developed a vast network of village tanks and irrigation utilities in the region. “With Mission Kakatiya, the water table has risen by an average 10 metres across the state. The miracle was achieved due to a well-defined mission plan coupled with widespread people’s participation,” says Dr Rajat Kumar, principal secretary (water resources), Telangana.
The work involves clearing silt from the bottom of lakes and tanks, ferrying it to farms for use as fertiliser, restoring feeder channels, repairing bunds and weirs, and reviving irrigation channels that bring water to the fields. Tree planting and beautification of tank bunds have also been carried out. Besides, one tank has been identified in each of the 119 assembly constituencies and developed as a recreation spot. Other outcomes include fish farming and ensuring water security for livestock during the lean season. Impressed by the state’s efforts, 135 NRIs have donated Rs 18.5 crore towards Mission Kakatiya.
The 2019 Composite Water Management Index report of the NITI Aayog calls Mission Kakatiya a ‘great example’ of restoring minor irrigation structures to improve water availability to small- and medium-scale farmers. The report says local water bodies, such as lakes and ponds, can serve as vital resources for irrigating small farmlands.
So far, 8.75 thousand million cubic feet of water storage capacity has been restored and 1.5 million acres of tank basin have been stabilised. The intensity of irrigation (percentage of irrigated area to net sown area) has gone up by 45.6 percentage points, from 88.4 per cent in 2013 to 134 per cent in 2017, according to NABCONS, the consultancy arm of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, which studied 400 tanks across Telangana’s agro-climatic zones. “Water was at the heart of the Telangana statehood campaign. Mission Kakatiya begins a transformational journey to revive water supply and farming in India’s youngest state,” said T. Harish Rao, the state finance minister who handled the irrigation portfolio when the mission was launched.