In 2016, the state of Telangana suffered a second successive drought in two years resulting in the worst water crisis the region had seen in three decades. From March to May that year, I travelled to three different districts—Mahabubnagar, Medak and Adilabad—to study the crisis. The residents of the districts were in a visibly desperate situation, as even access to drinking water had become scarce.
In Mahabubnagar, the villages situated on either side of the Tungabhadra river—which was almost entirely dried up at the time of my visit—were dependent on a pit in the riverbed for their drinking water. The villagers had dug a five-feet deep cavity from which water had begun to bubble out and formed a small pool. I saw several boreholes in Medak district that the residents had dug in near their fields and houses. The digging of these boreholes was deemed illegal in October 2015, when the state government had temporarily banned the practice in specific parts of the state, including several regions in Medak and Mahaboobnagar districts. Residents of Lingareddypally village in Medak district told me that the digging required them to take unaffordable loans because of the high costs that they incurred in renting the digging equipment and the motor to pump the water out. However their activities were to no avail because groundwater levels in the state had reached an all-time low.
The loss of crops due to the water crisis triggered a long procession of suicides in the state. According to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau, 1,358 farmers committed suicide in Telangana in 2015. As the drought affected the availability of fodder for cattle, farmers across the state were compelled to sell them for half their market price. In Medak, I observed that only a few villages had underground water, while the rest depended on water tankers, as is common practice across Telangana when there is a lack of groundwater. Each tanker served around the neighbouring villages, which meant that each family got no more than three canisters of water per day after standing in long queues. In addition to their woes because of the drought, the farmers also suffered delays in payments under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and in the implementation of loan waiver schemes. These compounded miseries reportedly resulted in a migration of nearly 1.4 million people from the districts of Mahabubnagar, Rangareddy, Medak, Nizamabad and Adilabad. With the heat wave in the state continuing for the third consecutive year in 2017, a report published in the web publication the News Minute in April 2017 states that a water crisis looms large this year as well.