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Irrigation in Telangana: The Rise and Fall of Tanks

Agriculture currently produces only 30% of total income in the Telangana region, but it remains the basis for survival of nearly 78% of the population. During the 53-year period, 1956-2009, Telangana lost 2.92 lakh hectares of tank irrigation. Meanwhile, despite the high cost of irrigation - both in capital and operating costs - over the same period the area irrigated by tube wells has grown up. The latter is entirely dependent on the recharge of groundwater and the availability and cost of power. Whatever the future irrigation policy and its implementation, it will need a close ground level, local district and regional governmental efforts in Telangana.


Irrigation in Telangana: The Rise and Fall of Tanks

Gautam Pingle

Agriculture currently produces only 30% of total income in the Telangana region, but it remains the basis for survival of nearly 78% of the population. During the 53-year period, 1956-2009, Telangana lost 2.92 lakh hectares of tank irrigation. Meanwhile, despite the high cost of irrigation – both in capital and operating costs – over the same period the area irrigated by tube wells has grown up. The latter is entirely dependent on the recharge of groundwater and the availability and cost of power. Whatever the future irrigation policy and its implementation, it will need a close ground level, local district and regional governmental efforts in Telangana.

Gautam Pingle ( is with the Centre for Public Policy and Governance, Administrative Staff College of India, Hyderabad.

Are the agriculturalists in thy kingdom contended? Are large tanks and lakes constructed all over thy kingdom at proper distances, without agriculture being in thy realm entirely dependent on the showers of heaven? (Narada to Yudhishthira).1 Irrigation works are the sources of crops; the results of a good shower are ever attained in the case of crops below irrigation works (Kautilya).2 Virtue and prosperity will increase only when tanks and irrigation canals are constructed and favour shown to poor cultivators in the matter of taxation and services (Emperor Krishnadevaraya of Vijayanagaram).3 In comparing socio-economic indicators and Millennium Development Goals, there is an almost perfect correlation between poverty and lack of access to irrigation (Government of Andhra Pradesh).4

1 Introduction

rom 1724 to 1956, Telangana had been the major region of the princely state of Hyderabad. From the 1870s onwards, under the pressure and “guidance” of his British suzerain, the Nizam of Hyderabad and his government began to take an interest in irrigation as a way of avoiding and mitigating famine. However, reliable data on acreage under different sources are available only since the 1920s when detailed statistical and revenue records began to be published.

The taxes on unirrigated and irrigated land (the latter at a much higher rate) were the major sources of government revenues. While these taxes took a substantial part of the value of the crop, irrigation development became the basis of sound revenue and fiscal policy. Hyderabad state had a much higher incidence of land taxation compared to British-ruled provinces. Largely, this strategy paid off and Hyderabad became the richest princely state in British India, capable of funding part of the war effort of the British empire in the first and second world wars. It also funded a bankrupt Pakistan when it ran short of money soon after its creation. The Nizam himself was reputed to be the richest individual in the world but the Telangana farmers remained poor and insecure. By 1956, Hyderabad state was generating substantial annual surpluse s and had accumulated reserve s. Even after trifurcation of the state, the Telangana regio n also showed similar trends for generatin g surplus revenues over expenditures.5

The state-level figures for irrigation are given in Table 1 (p 124). They show substantial rises in canal and well irrigation, but a drastic fall in tank irrigation. The decline in tank irrigation seems that it nearly tripled in the many decades before the creation of Andhra Pradesh.6

This study proposes to concentrate largely on the Telangana region and examines its three sources of irrigation and explains their variations over time. We will occasionally refer, where relevant, to the two other regions and the state as a whole.

Table 1: Irrigated Areas of Andhra Pradesh (ha)
Period Tank REVIEW OF AGRICULTURE Canal Well Total State
1903-04 4,26,258 6,42,472 2,17,065 12,85,795
1956-57 11,79,987 12,74,305 3,70,759 28,25,051
1970-72 9,56,700 15,16,901 5,70,900 30,44,501
1980-82 9,43,251 17,27,843 8,00,600 34,71,694
1990-92 9,33,019 18,30,076 13,72,600 41,35,695
2001-05 4,89,974 15,84,697 18,85,966 39,60,637
2005-09 6,21,657 16,18,470 21,59,848 43,99,975
Source (unless stated): BES, various years.
Table 2: Irrigated Area in Telangana (ha)
Period Tank Canal Well Total
18757 41,000 7,000 46,000 95,000
19018 3,04,423
19209 1,39,511 27,447 1,08,535 2,75,492
193010 2,56,714 61,700 1,77,980 4,96,394
194011 3,73,684 51,417 1,94,332 6,19,433
1956-57 5,30,565 1,16,619 1,29,869 8,01,586
1970-72 3,30,920 1,98,701 2,14,500 8,50,055
1980-82 3,86,351 2,81,843 3,41,400 10,34,487
1990-92 3,80,319 3,38,276 7,04,400 14,85,795
2001-05 1,65,303 1,62,315 9,74,470 13,44,604
2005-09 2,18,124 2,59,629 12,17,642 16,95,395

Source (unless stated): BES, various years.

The source-wise distribution of irrigation in Telangana is given in Table 2.

In Telangana, it will be observed that while well irrigation has advanced substantially and in a secular manner over time, canal irrigation reached a peak in 1990-92 and then showed a decline, and later, a recovery. Tank irrigation, on the other hand, declined drastically ever since 1956-57 and has showed little sign of recovery. Despite this, the total irrigated acreage has, however, grown but it is driven largely by private sector investment in well irrigation – which doubled since 1956-57. There has, therefore, been a drastic relative decline in the share of government-funded irrigation in Telangana since 1956-57.

2 Tank Irrigation

The role of tank irrigation in south India is well known to historians of the area. The enormous numbers of inscriptions at tank sites and in temples proclaim the active role of Chola, Pandya, Vijayanagar a and Kakatiya kings and viceroys in the construction of tanks.12 Some tank-irrigated lands were granted tax-free to temples for performance of ritual: as also to carpenters, masons, boatmen, fishermen, water regulators and others for the upkeep and maintenance of tanks and de-silting operations.13 Other inscriptions also show the builder to be a private individual seeking merit by dedicating tank-irrigated lands to the temple or investing for his own benefit.14

While the state or donor underwrote the capital costs, “tank committees” carried out maintenance operations.15 This seems to have been the great strength and resilience of the south Indian agrarian society when faced with war and conquest and the successive dissolution of one state and the rise and dominance of another. In short, south India owes the survival of its culture, religion and ritual to the independent economic base built around “tank and temple”.16

By the 13th century, the moral incentives were strengthened when the construction of tanks was included among the seven acts of charity, which were considered especially meritorious. The construction of tanks had become the major investment activity for rulers and their local potentates. So common were these tanks, that the Padma purana (circa 750 BC) has an entire chapter on ritual for the consecration of tanks.17

3 Suitability

The topography and rainfall pattern in Telangana made tank irrigation an ideal type of irrigation. The dense forest cover and generally favourable soil structure helped in promoting paddy/ rice cultivation under tanks and shallow rock below facilitated groundwater storage and recharge, and consequently, exploited by wells.

The knowledge and technology for identification of sites, construction of dams and maintenance of tanks were well-developed in south India.18 Till the decline and the end of the Kakatiya dynasty, the construction of tanks seems to have been a common feature in Telangana.19 Many of these still function. Elaborate technical and ritual specifications were developed for identification of sites and construction of tank bunds and canals.20 Krishnadevaraya even invited Portuguese masons to build an embankment “a cross bow shot wide”.21

Under Muslim rule, the religious part of the motivation ceased to guide the rulers, but in course of time, the economic rationale ensured some construction activity.22 Data on this is scarce and trade and commerce seem to have had more importance in this period than agriculture.

Table 3 indicates that in the Telangana region there was a loss in tank irrigation from 1956-57 to 2005-09 of 58% of 3,12,441 hectare s (ha). Over this same period, Rayalaseema lost 1,29,503 ha which is about 70% of its acreage in 1956-57! Similarly, the loss in the Coastal Andhra was 1,16,295 ha but its relative decline over this period is only 25% and is substantially lower compared to the other regions. So while there has been a general decline of tank irrigation in Andhra Pradesh generally, the declines are not uniform across the regions.

Table 3: Tank Irrigated Area in Andhra Pradesh (ha)

Period Telangana Rayalaseema Coastal Andhra Total State
187523 41,000 70,60024 NA 1,11,600
1903-0425 1,39,51126 1,07,349 1,79,398 4,26,258
1956-57 5,30,565 1,83,942 4,65,389 11,79,896
1970-72 3,30,920 1,47,800 4,77,980 9,56,700
1980-82 3,86,351 91,000 4,65,900 9,43,251
1990-92 3,80,319 88,800 4,63,900 9,33,019
2001-05 1,65,303 42,479 2,82,192 4,89,974
2005-09 2,18,124 54,439 3,49,094 6,21,657

Source (unless stated): BES, various years.

We propose to look at the Telangana region and its irrigation sector, with an emphasis on tank irrigation, where the decline is most severe and the well irrigation sector, where the rise is phenomenal. Canal irrigation in Telangana has been variable and subject to major investment decisions at the state level, which are subject to complex issues of political economy, interstate and intra-state issues which are not clear.


In Telangana, it will be seen from Table 4 that the major push in tank irrigation came in the 65-year period (1875-1940), when tank irrigation multiplied ninefold, while total irrigation in Telangana grew sevenfold (Table 2). Between 1940 and 1957, however, tank irrigation increased by only 42% and total irrigation by 25%. On the whole, the Nizam’s government can justifiably claim credit for this massive effort and achievement – while restoration of defunct tanks and wells held future promise for the state and farmers (see footnotes 28 and 58).

Meanwhile, during the period from 1956-57 to 2008-09, after the merger of Telangana with Andhra, tank irrigation decreased by about 59% or 2,92,546 ha, while total irrigation from all sources doubled (Table 2).27Table 4: Tank-Irrigated Area in Telangana (ha) The four-year averages

Period Telangana

for 2001-05 and 2005-09 in

187528 41,000 dicate a sharp recovery.
192029 193030 194031 1956-571970-72 1,39,511 2,56,714 3,73,684 5,30,565 3,30,920 However, Table 5 gives annual data for the eight-year period from 2001 to 2009, which shows a sharp and
1980-82 3,86,351 steady decline in tank irriga
1990-92 3,80,319 tion in the first four years.
2001-05 1,65,303 The average for the period
2005-09 2,18,124 2001-05 conceals a drastic

Source (unless stated): BES, various years.

decline of over 34% within the period – losing nearly another 66,324 ha! But during 200509, there has been a recovery. The average for the period 200509 is higher than for 2001-05 due to better monsoon conditions but the acreage is unstable.

As we have seen, in the last five decades, tank-irrigated area in Telangana had declined by 2,92,876 ha, at the opportunity cost of Rs 4 lakh per acre or Rs 9.88 lakh per hectare (the estimated cost of new canal irrigation). What makes it worse is that total irrigated area under all sources, after reaching a peak average of 14,85,795 ha in 1990-92, declined to 13,44,604 ha in 2001-05 and then rose to 16,95,395 ha in 2005-09. This indicates a shift of primacy from tank irrigation to well irrigation.

The decline in tank irrigation is curious and needs a close study, especially as its advantages are obvious. First, it is a type of irrigation favoured by the terrain and its topography. Second, it is a quick gestation project where paddy fields can be brought into cultivation in short order. Third, the system of maintenance is well-established and can be continued on lines similar to the past. Fourth, the technology is simple and needs

Table 5: Eight-Year Tank-Irrigated Area (ha)

Year Telangana Rayalaseema Coastal Andhra Total
2001-02 1,92,844 78,421 2,96,284 5,67,549
2002-03 1,53,090 35,147 2,37,440 4,25,677
2003-04 1,88,758 27,131 2,73,671 4,89,560
2004-05 1,26,520 29,218 3,21,371 4,77,109
4-year average 1,65,303 42,479 2,82,192 4,89,974
2005-06 2,43,855 81,019 3,26,752 6,51,626
2006-07 2,29,035 34,788 3,38,404 8,36,806
2007-08 1,61,587 56,456 3,66,922 5,84,965
2008-09 2,38,019 45,491 3,64,299 6,47,809
4-year average 2,18,124 54,439 3,49,094 6,21,657

Source: BES, various years.

no sophistication (though with earth-moving equipment the gestation period can be reduced and desilting accelerated). Fifth, tank irrigation is more amenabl e to farmer’s control than irrigation under major canal systems.

Four main reasons, however, seem to be the cause of the decline in tank irrigation. One reason may be the transfer of tanks (below 100 acres) to panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) and their consequent neglect due to lack of funds allocated to them for this task.32 Also state budget allocations33 to the minor irrigation acreage are very poor compared to the potential to be realised.

The second reason could be that in practical terms, the tanks constitute too small an investment for the political-administrative class to bother about, in contrast to large projects.

The third reason is the encroachment of tank beds due to government allocation of this land for landless. The consequent disputes have led to declines in acreage as tank bed farmers have little interest in maintaining water levels in the tank. The grant of fishing rights in tanks by government to “recognised” fishermen cooperatives also set up an opposed interest of a different kind. This group does not want water to be released at all in order to maintain their fisheries. Given this policy, which did not recognise the primacy of the tank- irrigated farmers, the inevitable consequence was the decline in tank irrigation which should have been expected by the decision-makers.

The fourth, and most important factor, is that the general loss of the heavy forest cover in Telangana has had an adverse affect on rainfall, and which in turn, affected tank irrigation.

4 Monsoon as Arbiter

The major aspect that indicates the weakness of tank irrigation is that it is wholly dependent on the monsoon rainfall. Tanks need to be recharged by rainwater, and they in turn, act to recharge the groundwater both by seepage from the irrigated and also from the storage areas. The rainfall dependence is illustrated by variability of acreage irrigated under tanks. The figures for the period 1956-57 to 2005-09 indicate a wide variatio n between a high of 5,26,000 ha (in 1978-79) and a low of 1,07,715 ha (in 1997-98);34 though with all the variation due to rainfall, there seems to be a secular decline in tank- irrigated land.

Comparing rainfall data available for the last eight years indicates that the monsoon has been first poor (2001-05) and then quite good (2005-09) (Table 6). The results show up in fluctuations

Table 6: Telangana Districts: Annual Normal Rainfall in Millimetres and Percentage Deviations from Normal

District Normal (N) 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09
Mahabubnagar 604 14 -11 3 -32 61 -20 40 -24
Rangareddy 781 1 -24 13 -23 45 -19 17 -2
Hyderabad 779 6 -21 10 -19 50 -5 22 25
Medak 874 -21 -38 -6 -39 3 -16 -8 -19
Nizamabad 1,036 -15 -37 -16 -26 13 -7 -7 -19
Adilabad 1,158 -12 -24 -3 -35 4 -2 -21 -23
Karimnagar 969 -22 -36 -20 -43 6 11 -8 -19
Warangal 993 -18 -37 0 -30 20 3 12 4
Khammam 1,125 -18 -32 10 -6 37 -5 13 18
Nalgonda 751 -8 -40 -1 -31 33 -27 9 -9

Source: BSE, various years.


in tank irrigation acreage. The years 2002-03 and 2004-05, when all the Telangana districts received below-normal annual rainfall, there is a sharp decline in tank-irrigated acreage of 21% and 33%, respectively over the previous year. On the other hand, the best year, 2005-06 (when all districts showed above normal figures) resulted in an extraordinary bounce back – nearly doubling the previous years’ acreage.

5 Canal Irrigation

During the Nizam’s rule, one major irrigation project – Nizamsagar

– and several medium schemes were undertaken. The real momentum, however, came with independence and assistance from the central government when giant projects such as Nagarjunasagar and Pochampad were undertaken. The post-merger period saw a sharp increase, as Table 7 indicates, in canal irrigation in Telangana by 70% between 1956 and 1970-72. Compared to 197072, there is a growth by 1980-82 of another 42%. Thereafter, between 1980-82 and 1990-92, the rate of growth falls to 20%. This turned into a decline of over 50% between the periods 1990-92 and 2001-05. During 2005-09, fortunately, new irrigation projects seem to have come onto stream and canal irrigation has seen a stabilisation around an average of 2,60,000 hectares.35

Table 7: Canal-Irrigated Area in Andhra (ha)

Period Telangana Rayalaseema Coastal Andhra Total AP
1903-0436 27,44737 47,287 5,67,738 6,42,472
1956-57 1,16,619 82,940 10,74,746 12,74,305
1970-72 1,98,701 1,53,000 11,65,200 15,16,901
1980-82 2,81,843 1,63,400 12,82,600 17,27,843
1990-92 3,38,276 1,64,700 13,28,000 18,30,076
2001-05 1,62,315 3,61,721 10,60,661 13,13,406
2005-09 2,59,629 1,29,423 12,29,409 15,68,460

Source (unless stated): BES, various years.

Table 8 shows that the decline in canal irrigation within the period 2001-05 was alarming: it had fallen from the 2000-01 to 2004-05 even more precipitously by 53% or 1,31,887 ha!38 It then improved during 2005-09 to exceed the 2001-02 figures, partly as old areas recovered under the very favourable monsoon conditions of 2005-06 and slightly less favourable years thereafter.

Thus, weather conditions seem to affect canal irrigation also, despite it being thought to be a guaranteed all-weather irrigation. From media reports, the new canal irrigation is yet to materialise fully.39 But the official statistics show an increase in new canal irrigation ayacut (major and medium) of 1,18,739 ha during 200407, with nearly 59% of this or 69,876 ha coming into being in

Table 8: Eight-Year Canal-Irrigated Area (ha)

Year Telangana Rayalaseema Coastal Andhra Total
2001-02 2,48,091 1,11,418 12,02,904 15,62,413
2002-03 1,48,815 64,900 9,94,823 12,08,538
2003-04 1,36,151 76,680 9,23,865 11,36,696
2004-05 1,16,203 1,08,723 11,21,053 13,45,979
4-year average 1,62,315 90,430 10,60,661 13,13,406
2005-06 2,63,422 1,33,700 11,75,100 15,72,222
2006-07 2,79,493 1,10,296 12,32,965 16,22,754
2007-08 2,22,023 1,33,816 12,53,579 14,09,418
2008-09 2,73,579 1,39,878 12,55,990 16,69,447
4-year average 2,59,629 1,29,423 12,29,409 15,68,460

Source: As in Table 7.

2006-07.40 The figures of irrigation and command area development (I&CAD) and the Bureau of Economics and Statistics (BES) figures of irrigated acreage (given by the revenue department) cannot be reconciled largely because I&CAD reports “developed” ayacut, which may not immediately (if ever) materialise as irrigabl e areas available to farmers.

The state government can hardly afford to neglect this underutilisation of expensive investment. At Rs 4 lakh per acre or Rs 9.88 lakh per hectare (estimated for new projects), this is an extraordinary loss of sunken capital, and more so, if this canal irrigation is based on water rights allocated from the interstate Krishna-Godavari rivers. However, much interest in the political economy system is devoted to “develop” unused water rights on the Krishna-Godavari and to pre-empt any other state or region demanding a share.

In 1999, it was suggested in AP Vision-2020 that:

Harnessing water resources as envisaged will require an investment of Rs 1,25,000 crore and power of 9,000 MW. Committing these resources will enable the State to utilise 856 TMC of dependable water and 300 TMC of flood flow water available to the State, 50% of which would need to be pumped to a height 100-300 metres to lands situated at higher elevations.41

The vision document gave skimpy details:42

1 Godavari for Telangana: 775 TMC 23.5 lakh acres
2 Krishna for Rayalaseema,
Telangana, Andhra Flood flow 8.0 lakh acres
3 Pennar for Andhra and
Rayalaseema Flood flow nil
4 Vamsadra, Janjhavati and
Bahuda for Andhra ? ?

Thus, the vision involved more than 32 lakh acres at the cost of Rs 1,25,000 crore! This works out to almost Rs 4 lakh per acre! This is only if we take 9,000 MW as part of the Rs 1,25,000 crore bill.43 If not, the per acre cost would be much higher. Of this estimate, the state has spent already Rs 64,469 crore betwee n 2005 and 201044 with little result so far as Telangana is concerned.

While Telangana would benefit from such investment, the high power requirement for pumping water, technical feasibility of pumping large volumes continuously over long periods, interstate and central clearances, high capital costs and scarce funds would indicate that it is a much better alternative to concentrate on savin g and restoring existing canal and tank irrigation and extending new tank irrigation and ensuring higher productivity for well-irrigated land.

However, the Telugu Desam government of Chandrababu Naidu did very little to achieve its vision of irrigation. On the other hand, the Congress government under Y S Rajasekhar Reddy went very fast by convincing the Planning Commission and obtaining clearances.45 His government began pumping thousands of crores into the Jalayagnam scheme aimed at creating vast acreage of irrigation in Rayalaseema and Telangana. It started irrigation projects, which will take decades to fructify, even if all the funds required for them can be mobilised in time. The use of the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC)


method of contracting has its critics and some projects seem not to have been planned to the detail required before being tendered out.46 This will result in confusion, further delays and cost overruns. Funding of such a magnitude has already put state finances under acute stress.

The Jalayagnam package47 is an interesting one. The lift irrigation components of three of the five projects are located in Telangana as well those of another five independent lift irrigation projects together require power of nearly 4,700 MW. The entir e funding is to be requested from the union government for these “national projects”.48 The power requirement of these Telangana irrigation projects cannot be supplied from the existing generation of 14,000 MW (which itself is insufficient to meet the current demand!).

Again, the area to be irrigated by one TMC in Telangana is factored to irrigate over 30,000 acres, while the same volume of water is estimated to irrigate only 6,000 acres in the Coastal Andhra region! Thus, these Telangana projects will have to await the union government clearances and funding and additional generation of power. And if they are realised, the acreage actually irrigated per TMC will be one-fifth of the “planned” figure.

It does not take much to conclude that some simple and extra-clever sleight of hand is being undertaken to show higher total allocation and larger irrigable areas for Telangana for which clearances, funding and power backup are unlikely to be obtained in the near and medium-term future. The figures for Telangana being bandied about need a very careful scrutiny.49

As far as Rayalaseema is concerned, the more viable and modest-sized 14 projects are to cost Rs 30,000 crore and are funded entirely from the state budget year-after-year.50 They also need Karnataka and the union government approvals and these are not likely in the near future – notwithstanding this, construction is being undertaken. Further, the water for many of them is sourced from the Srisailam reservoir on the Krishna river, which is expected to supply an additional 300 TMC yearly.51

Well Irrigation

Well irrigation has been in existence in Telangana for a long time though the human and animal labour costs of lifting water using traditional devices have been the main hurdle in its growth. Even in time of monsoon failure and consequent famine in the late 19th century, well irrigation has been able to hold its own as it relied on groundwater.52 Yet, its growth took off only after the beginning of rural electrification programme. Most, if not all, the investment in wells is privately funded and productivity tends to be high as farmers have flexibility in selection of crop pattern and also cultivate more crops in a year per acre irrigate(and many of them commercial crops of higher value than food crops) than is done under other sources of irrigation.53

Table 9 indicates, that in all the regions, well irrigation advanced over time and accelerated. The major advance, however, is seen in the Telangana region.

Table 10 indicates the growth of both open and tube well irrigation in Telangana and the results are quite remarkable, with 56% of the total well irrigation in the state contributed by Telangana farmers by 2005-09.

Table 9: AP Well Irrigated Area (hectares)
Period Telangana Rayalaseema Coastal Andhra Total
187554 46,000 40,76055 NA 86,760
1903-0456 1,08,53557 82,656 25,874 2,17,065
1956-57 1,29,869 1,57,414 83,473 3,70,759
1970-72 2,14,500 1,90,600 1,65,800 5,70,900
1980-82 3,41,400 2,31,800 2,27,400 8,00,600
1990-92 7,04,400 3,26,800 3,41,400 13,72,600
2001-05 9,74,470 4,06,837 5,04,659 18,85,966
2005-09 12,17,642 4,12,193 5,30,013 21,59,848

Source (unless stated): BES, various years.

As Table 10 indicates, well-irrigated area has grown ninefold from about 1,29,869 hectares (in 1956-57) to nearly 12,17,642 hectares (in 2005-09) overtaking, by far, tank- and also canal- irrigation as the major contributory to Telangana’s irrigation. The chief compo-Table 10: Telangana Well Irrigation (ha)

nent of the growth is the Period Open Well Tube Well Total Well
tube well segment, which 187558 46,000 46,000
is highly expensive – in 192059 1,08,535 1,08,535
terms of both capital and 193060 1,77,980 1,77,980
operating costs – and is entirely dependent on the availability of groundwater and cost and availa 1940611956-5762 1970-72 1980-821990-92 1,94,332 1,29,869 1,91,472 3,32,245 6,35,307 193 8,545 71,011 1,94,332 1,29,869 2,14,500 3,41,400 7,04,400
bility of power. 2001-05 4,73,697 5,00,773 9,74,470
Table 11 shows the 2005-09 5,16,467 6,68,974 12,17,642

growth in well irrigation Source (unless stated): BES, various years. over the eight-year period (2001-09). The most dramatic increases are in the Telangana region, while the growth of well irrigation in Rayalaseema and costal Andhra is stagnant or marginal.

Table 11: Eight-Year Well Irrigated Area (ha)

Year Telengana Rayalaseema Coastal Andhra Total
2001-02 10,31,193 4,33,628 4,62,617 19,27,438
2002-03 9,26,710 4,21,608 4,93,947 18,42,265
2003-04 9,43,020 3,86,510 5,39,990 18,69,520
2004-05 9,95,957 3,85,599 5,22,080 18,85,716
4-year average 9,74,220 4,06,837 5,04,659 18,85,716
2005-06 10,97,400 3,89,748 4,99,086 19,86,234
2006-07 11,48,652 4,11,858 5,13,030 20,73,540
2007-08 13,14,243 4,24,304 5,48,638 22,87,185
2008-09 13,10,274 4,34,972 5,77,922 23,23,168
4-year average 12,17,642 4,12,193 5,30,013 21,59,848

Source: BES, various years.

Left to their own deserts by the government, Telangana farmers had invested their capital in digging or boring wells, fitting pump sets and laying pipelines to bring water to their fields. The only concession given to well-irrigatio n farmers is – since 2004 – that of providing free power to their wells. This power, however, is given when no one else needs it – mostly at unearthly hours – and is of a low quality (below 230 volts). With free power being doled out in two shifts, one in the dead of the night, farmers report that their crops are affected due to poor timing of power supply.

As Table 12 (p 128) indicates, in Telangana, due to free power announced by the Congress government in 2004 and due to the i nadequate rainfall, the number of connections in 2009 increased by 13% over 2004, while connected load (though not necessarily power consumption) increased over the same period by 26%.

Table 12: Power for Well Irrigation in Telangana
No: of Connections in Lakhs Connected Load (MW) (% of State Total)
As of 31 March 2004 REVIEW OF AGRICULTURE 13.82 (60) (% of State Total) 4,320 (52)
As of 31 March 2009 15.66 (58) 5,447 (53)

Source: BES: 2005, 2009.

This indicates how important availability and cost of power is for accelerating well irrigation in the absence of adequate surface irrigation.

The state government is said to provide seven hours of free power daily to farmers and this accounts for 40% of state’s total power consumption.63 How anyone can calculate this, without metering at the user end, is a mystery that has yet to be solved. Basically it is suspected that whatever the power utility cannot account for – either theft by industry or residential users or losses in distribution – seem to be attributed to “free power” and billed to the state government.

Much of well irrigation depends on the condition of the water table. As far as groundwater depletion is concerned, nearly 54% of the 462 groundwater basins in Telangana have been declared as “safe”, while 18% are “overexploited” and 28% are “critical” or “semi-critical”.64 Evidence indicates that the water table is falling and with the decline in surface irrigation, largely of the widely dispersed tanks, recharge of groundwater depends almost directly on the monsoon. Telangana overlies a shallow rock region and where overextraction does not necessarily involv e long-term groundwater loss. The shallow aquifers of this region can be quickly recharged by one or two wet years or by safeguarding existing tank irrigation sources, which are widespread in Telangana.65 If tank irrigation was not so badly affected, the recharge of groundwater probably would have been much better and thus allowing well irrigation to expand further.


It will be useful to remember that agriculture now produces only 30% of Telangana income, but is the basis for survival of nearly 78% of the Telangana population. For agriculture, especially in the semi-arid tropics, irrigation is a key element in raising land productivity, farmers’ incomes and assuring stabilit y of livelihoods .

It needs to be admitted that while monsoon conditions could explain some of the fluctuations, the figures seem to indicate an underlying secular decline of considerable magnitude. To lose nearly three lakh hectares (or 7.62 lakh acres) of tank irrigation in Telangana in the last 53 years is surely something for which successiv e governments should be truly concerned. This implies a loss of Rs 30,000 crore of government investment in Telangana irrigation. Added to this is the loss of nearly two lakh ha (or five lakh acres) of canal irrigation from the peak of 3,38,276 ha in 1990-92 to a low of 1,16,203 ha for 2004-05. The loss of another Rs 20,000 crore of investment in this older irrigation is a major one.66 Seriou s attention needs to be paid to restoring and stabilisin g these lost surface irrigation flows in Telangana, which have a replacement cost of Rs 50,000 crore. This is more so if new irrigation potentia l, as alleged, has come into usage in the period 2005-09 and thus is hiding even greater declines in older canal irrigation.

There has obviously been loss of agricultural production and income to the nation and to Telangana farmers from the non- utilisation of these extensive and expensively developed irrigated areas. The consequent loss of groundwater recharge, the decline in the water table and slowdown in the growth of well-irrigated acreage, further reduce Telangana farmers’ incomes from their private irrigation sources.

It is also curious that successive state governments seem to be oblivious of the needs of Telangana region in restoring defunct or damaged tanks and stabilising canal irrigation. As far as tank irrigation is concerned, the Nizam’s government seems to have done a better job than the popular and democratic governments that followed. But where canal irrigation is concerned, democratic governments have done well till 1990-92 but the momentum was lost thereafter and regained only in 2005-09. Whether this is due to new irrigation capacity coming into use or recovery of old irrigated areas due to better monsoons needs to be examined more closely.67 On the other hand, the Coastal Andhra region had the benefits of British rule and its investment in canal irrigation of the Godavari and Krishna deltas,68 which continue to sustain agricultural development and incomes there.

Much of Telangana’s need to stabilise its older, and to realise its entitlements of new, surface irrigation seems to have been ignore d. Only where well irrigation is concerned, Telangana has done extremely well – largely because its farmers have no other option – though even here much depends on availability of power (free, subsidised or otherwise) and the level of the wate r table – which again is dependent on the monsoon and surface irrigation recharge.

Successive state governments seem to have been too preoccupie d to sort out the problems of Telangana irrigation and too uncertain of their tenure to take a holistic view of the agricultural development of the region. What is obviously needed is to move the level of enquiry, data collection, analysis, intervention and investmen t to a lower level – at least at district level, if not lower – and devise irrigation plans, especially for tank and well-irrigation, conducive to the weather, geography and soil conditions in the region. Too much attention of the political-bureaucrati c system has been paid to huge investments in interstat e river projects, which take too long to complete and involve considerable fund mobilisation – a significant part of which may be subject to diversion and distortion. What is needed is a farmer-centric approach compared to the political-bureaucratic-contractor system that now dominates irrigation policy in the state and – as some would say – ignores the basic needs of the farming community.

Whatever the future irrigation policy and its implementation – by whatever government structure that may preside over it – it will need close ground level, local district and regional efforts to balance the delicate surface and groundwater situation in Telangana with the need for farmers to access irrigation in order to improve their livelihoods and raise their incomes. Like all politics, all irrigation is local.


1 Ganguli 2001, Vol II, Sabha Parva, p 12.

2 Shamasastry 1915, p 374.

3 Appadorai 1936, Vol II, p 668.

4 Commissioner, Command Area Development, Government of Andhra Pradesh,

2010, p 7. 5 See Government of Andhra Pradesh (Kumar Lalit Report), 1969 and Government of India (Justice Vashishtha Bhargava Report), 1969.


6 While there are reports of similar decline in south India, the figures for Karnataka tend to belie this general impression and indicate a secular increase over a century or more. Dikshit et al (1993) give a remarkable set of annual irrigated acreage figures from 1880 to 1950; Nadkarni (1979) from 1950 to 1975.

7 Ali, 1879, p 31. 8 The figures for 1901 are given in total irrigation for Telangana as 304,324 ha, with 18,969 tanks and 58,001 wells. Figures were given in square miles for each district. GoI (1909), see section for each district. 9 Pavier 1981, p 23 quoting Quershi (1947), pp 94

96. 10 Ibid. 11 Ibid. 12 The records in successive issues of Epigraphica

Indica, Annual Report of Epigraphy, South Indian Inscriptions, etc, are populated with references to tanks and temples – usually associated with each other.

13 DA 1917-18, p 145. Inscription is dated 1023 AD and many more are available for later periods.

14 Venkayya, 1906, pp 202-11. See also Talbot (2001), pp 104-05.

15 DA 1918-21, p 143 Inscription is dated as 1 December, 996 AD. See also DA 1919, p 96.

16 Talbot 2001, pp 92-125.

17 Venkayya 1906, p 202.

18 Srinivasan 1970, pp 315-25.

19 Talbot 2001, pp 40-41; 95-99.

20 The Porumamilla (called Ananthrajasagar) Tank inscription of Bhaskara Bhavadura, son of Bukka I, brother of Harihara II of the First Dynasty of Vijayanagara gives a detailed account (Epigraphica Indicia, XIV, No 4, p 97). This tank is in Badvel taluk of Cuddapah distrcit of Rayalaseema .

21 Nuniz, quoted in Longhurst (1917), p 50.

22 “Before this Country was Conquerd by the Moguls it was Divided into Several Circles under the government of Particular Rajahs which descended from Father to Son. Their Revenues for the most Part arose from the produces of the Land, and the therefore weer always carefull to keep up the Banks of the Tanks or Reservoirs of water and to cleanse’em of the Mud, of which they were at the Expence themselves, knowing that the Land wou’d produce more or less according as they had a Quantity of Water. But the Mogulls, who have now the government of the Country, and are continued in those governments only during Pleasure, do not think themselves under the same Obligation to be at that Expence for their Successors. By which means, in the Process of Time the Tanks are almost Choack’d up, and great Part of the Lands lye uncultivated for want of water. This alone wou’d Occasion Grain to be scarce and of Course Dear...” (Governor of Fort St George, George Morton Pitt, to England, Vol X, 1 January 1733-34). Spelling as in original, quoted in Love,

1995, Vol 2, p 252.

23 Ali, 1879, p 31.

24 Figure is for 1879, Firminger 1985, Vol III, p 516. Report is by Thomas Munro, Principal Collector for the Ceded Districts.

25 The figures for 1903-04 are given in Francis (2001).

26 Figure is for 1920; see Pavier 1981, p 23 quoting Quershi 1947, pp 94-96.

27 In Coastal Andhra, the tank irrigated area maintained a stable figure of 4,65,000 ha between 1956-57 and 1990-92 and then fell by about 1,00,000 ha between 1990-92 and 2008-09. In Rayalaseema, in the one century between 1803 (Firminger 1985, Vol II, p 516) and 1903 (Francis 2001) the acreage under tanks increased only from 70,000 to 1,07,000 has.

28 Ali (1879), p 31. He also says: “But in order to get at the correct figures, the area should be increased by 50-25% to cover the difference between the correct area and the area entered in Patwari’s records from which the above statements have been taken and a 25% for double cropped area”, p 32. He reports on a survey of 14 villages in Tekmal Taluq of Medak district that the differences between the record and actual ground positio n was an increase of 263% for irrigated land and 1,635 for unirrigated land (p 113). He also says that: “There are about 18,089 large tanks in Telangana, of which 4,924 are in use and about 3,165 are out of repair. Besides these, there are 10,110 small tanks, of which 5,616 are in use and 4,494 are out of repair. If these were put in through repair about 1,000,000 acres (4,05,000 ha) of land would be irrigated” (pp 33-34). This seems to have been done by 1901 (see footnote 8 above).

29 Pavier (1981), p 23 quoting Quershi 1947, pp 94-96.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

32 This has been lately reversed and one hopes that more attention and funds will be allocated to rehabilitate small tanks, which have become defunct.

33 Total amount allocated in the state budget during 2005-10 for minor irrigation (largely tanks) works out to Rs 3,974 crore compared to the allocation for major and medium projects in the same period of Rs 64,624 crore. That is, minor irrigation was allocated 6% of the total irrigation budget! GoAP (2010a), Table 17, p 38.

34 BES (1980; 1999).

35 In Coastal Andhra, the canal acreage expanded from 10.75 lakh hectares in 1956-57 to 12.55 lakh hectares in 2008-09. In Rayalaseema, the canal acreage grew from 83,000 ha in 1956-57 to

1,39,000 ha by 2008-09.

36 The figures for 1903-04 are given in Francis (2001).

37 Figure is for 1920, see Pavier (1981), p 23 quoting Quershi (1947), pp 94-96.

38 That this should be the result of spending Rs 62,998 crore on major and medium irrigation during the period 1956-1997 (from the Second to the Eighth Plan) is extraordinary. The expenditure figure for 2005-10 is almost the same!

39 The chief minister is reported to have stated that despite the fiscal troubles, the state government has decided to complete 39 irrigation projects costing about Rs 6,900 crore during the 2010-11 financial year. The projects, which are in the final stages of completion under Jalayagnam, will be taken up on a priority basis, the objective being “least effort and maximum benefit”. The ex chief minister K Rosaiah directed the officials to complete the projects on a priority basis by March 2011. On completion, the projects will provide irrigation facility to about 14.33 lakh acres of new ayacut. New Indian Express, 16 March 2010.

40 Irrigation & CAD Department 2010.

41 Government of Andhra Pradesh 1999, p 174.

42 Ibid: 171-72.

43 Current generating capacity is 14,047 MW and is insufficient to meet current demand. GoAP (2010b), p 23.

44 See GoAP (2010a), Table 17, p 38.

45 The ex-chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Rosaiah reported to have said that: “When I accompanied the late chief minister to New Delhi in 2005, Planning Commission members put their foot down on the concept of Jalayagnam. However, within a short time they changed their view based on the necessity and urgency as presented by the State” (The Times of India, 18 March 2010). What the persuasive skills used is not mentioned!

46 Allegations of poor planning, mismanagement of tender process, favouritism and outright corruption have been laid by opposition parties and demands for an investigation are pending with the Government of India. Two of the contracting parties are Maytas Infra and Maducon Projects and html (Both accessed on 24 March 2010).

47 “Jalayagnam programme to complete 32 major and 17 medium irrigation projects at a cost of Rs 65,000 crore to provide irrigation to an extent of 71 lakh acres besides stabilisation of an existing ayacut of 21.32 lakh acres, while providing drinking water to a population of 1.2 crore and generating power to the tune of 2,700 MW. Eight of these projects were to be completed before the kharif season of 2006” (Jalayagnam website: (http:// /Jalayagnam.htm:).

48 “The most expensive of the projects are the lift irrigation projects intended to irrigate the dry Telangana region and supply water to the Anantapur-Ongole-Mehaboobnagar area which is “turning into a desert”. With the land level being 300 m above the water level, lift irrigation is supposed to be the only way out to take water to the dry region. Currently, 3,000 TMC water from Godavari is wasted into the sea as the land is at a higher elevation. For the first time in the postindependence era, the Congress government took up linking of Godavari and Krishna by constructing Indira Sagar Project and Rajiv Sagar project across river Godavari. By executing projects like Rajiv Sagar, Indira Sagar flood flow canal, SRSP Phase-II and so on, 21 lakh acres of parched land in Telangana region would be made fertile” (Jalayagnam website).

49 In the Budget Speech for 2010, Rosaiah stated on 10 February 2010, the following: “The government has taken up major, medium and minor irrigation projects in a big way under the ‘Jalayagnam’ programme to utilise every drop of water in the state for agriculture and drinking water purposes. Where it is not possible to command the area by gravity, lift irrigation schemes are being taken up to benefit the backward and drought prone areas. The state government aims at completing 86 major and medium irrigation projects, besides taking up programmes for raising flood banks, modernisation of delta and lift irrigation schemes with an ultimate objective of creating new irrigation potential of 98.41 lakh acres, besides stabilisation of 22.26 lakh acres. During 2004-05 to 2008-09, as part of Jalayagnam programme, an additional irrigation potential of 19.26 lakh acres was created in addition to providing stabilisation of 3.09 lakh acres, GoAP (2010b), p 8. The budget estimate allocation for 2010-11 is Rs 19,708 crore for major and medium irrigation and Rs 2,074 crore for minor irrigation. GoAP (2010a), Table 17, p 38 (emphasis added).

50 The total amount spent out of the state budget between 2005 and 2010 on major and medium irrigation projects works out to Rs 64,469 crore. GoAP (2010a), Table 17, p 38.

51 Srisailam is already overtaxed with having to generate power, supply existing irrigation to Rayalaseema and act as a balancing reservoir for Nagarjuna Sagar project downstream and (thereafter) the Krishna Delta. The Srisailam reservoir, therefore, has to be maintained at a high enough water level to allow water to flow into the Rayalaseema canals. Consequently, this means power generation and releases into the Krishna river towards Nagarjuna Sagar and the delta will have to suffer. Keeping Srisailam at full reservoir level increases the risk of catastrophe due to dam breaks for the Nalgonda, Vijayawada-Guntur and Krishna Delta and its high density populated areas in eight districts, 108 mandals and 12 lakh hectares of area (Commissioner, CAD 2010: 82). This nearly took place in the unprecedented flood of August 2009, while Srisailam was kept at full reservoir level to facilitate Rayalaseema irrigation. The situation resulted in Srisailam backwaters flooding Kurnool and Alampur towns and more extensive


damage along the Krishna and Tungabhadra river valleys further upstream of Srisailam. Fortunately, the dam itself, despite full and emergency releases into the river (and after giving everyone a fright), held and, fortunately, the flood eased off. The releases too had to held up as downstream Nagarjunasagar project was nearing its full capacity and more release from there would inevitably flood the high population density areas of Vijayawada and Guntur agglomerations and the delta itself. Coordination and synchronisation of the Krishna flows need to be based solely on technical parameters of dam safety, irrigation and power generation. This requires integrated releases by Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh – and by Telangana and Rayalaseema states (when they are formed)

– if the entire valley and the coastal delta of the Krishna are to have predictable and flood free river flows and secure irrigation.

52 Ali (1879), p 31. 53 Pingle (1976), Table 11, pp 103 and 212-15. In this statistically representative sample survey of 564 farms in 1970-71, it was found that even by using five different methodological analyses well irrigation showed higher per acre returns. These relative rankings are not likely to change by much even as the absolute figures will alter due to price and other changes.

Returns to Irrigation in Telangana (1970-71) (Rs /Acre)

Canal Tank Well
Gross output 720 703 805
Business income 425 454 520
Net profit 74 82 103
Production function analysis 102 108 239
Net profit by linear programming 215 257 985

54 Ali (1879), p 33.

55 Figure is for 1804, Firminger (1985), Vol III, p 516. Report is by Thomas Munro, Principal Collector

for the Ceded Districts.

56 The figures for 1903-04 are given in Francis 2001.

57 Figure is for 1920. Pavier (1981), p 23, quoting Quershi (1947), pp 94-96.

58 “In the Telangana districts there are in all 52,685 wells, of which 33,851 are in use and about 18,834 are out of repair. If these were put in repair an area of about 2,10,740 acres (85,000 ha) at the rate of four acres per well would in like manner be completely protected in a season of drought. This area would on average yield about 2,25,792 tons of grain which would support a population of 91,000” (Ali 1879, p 33). The areas under well irrigation were remarkable stable during the famine period, 1875-77. By 1901, the defunct wells seem

to have come into use (see footnote 8 above).

59 Pavier (1981), p 23 quoting Quershi 1947, pp 94-96.

60 Ibid.

61 Ibid.

62 Sree Rama Sastry, nd, Table 3, p 62.

63 BES (2005), Table 10, p 222; BES (2009), Table

10.8, p 264.

64 Groundwater Department – figures are for 2007.

65 Fishman et al (2009).

66 The increase since 2005 seems largely from new canal irrigation potential reported to have been created rather than a recovery of old areas.

67 A former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh in a press interview is supposed to have stated that: “During 2004-09 about 5,70,000 acres (2,30,000 ha) of new ayacut was brought under minor irrigation and another 10,00,000 acres (4,05,000 ha) stabilised” (emphasis added). New Indian Express, 16 March 2010 (figures are for the entire state).

68 In the Godavari and Krishna deltas, the construction of anicuts in the mid-19th century on the initiative of Sir Arthur Cotton (1803-99) and his associates under the rule of the East India Company ensured that these areas (hitherto famine-ridden) became the basis of the high population densities and culture and civilisation of the Coastal Andhra area – especially those of the central delta districts. That such a massive effort should be undertaken by a foreign joint-stock company – which profited from the investment it made here – is a remarkable example for democratic and popular governments of today. It is little wonder that Sir Arthur is revered to the extent of being worshipped today by the population in the delta as a demi-god.


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Appadorai, A (1936): Economic Conditions in Southern India (1000-1500 AD) (Madras: University of Madras), Vol II, p 668.

BES (various years): Statistical Abstract, Bureau of Economics and Statistics, Government of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad.

Columbia Water Center, “Concept Note of Water Security in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh”, The Earth Institute at Columbia University, nd. http://water. columbia. edu/ sitefiles/file/India%20Conference/ Concept%20Note%20on%20Water %20Security%20in%20AP-1.pdf (viewed on 19 March 2010).

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