Contents - Previous - Next

This is the old United Nations University website. Visit the new site at

8 Large dams and conflicts in the Krishna Basin

The capacity to divert rivers from their natural course increased dramatically in the post-colonial period with the transfer of technology of large dams from the US. The Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers were in competition with each other and created a new culture of gigantism, financed by public money. In Reisner's words, 'what had begun as an emergency program to put the country back to work, to restore its sense of self-worth, to settle the refugees of the Dust Bowl, grew into a nature wrecking, money-eating monster that our leaders lacked the courage or ability to stop. Interest groups have mushroomed around the building of large dams, and their interests are in conflict with those of indigenous populations and ecologists. As Barnett has observed,

Public water projects-dams, reservoirs, irrigation pipelines, schemes for rerouting streams and a host of other feats of engineering-are viewed by proponents-usually the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who build them, politicians looking for federal money, and large agribusiness interests and power companies, which directly benefit from them-as modern wonders of the world. Opponents-environmentalists, Indian tribes whose land is taken or ruined, and cost-conscious politicians and bureaucrats denounce the implantation of huge concrete waterworks in the midst of America's wilderness and the accompanying hydraulic technologies as the worst examples of pork barrel politics and extravagant wasted

When the technological euphoria of dam building was transferred to India, the concomitants of ecological disruption and social conflicts were also transferred. These conflicts and destruction are more aggravated in India than the havoc caused in the American West because India is a riparian civilization which has evolved in a monsoon climate. Most of India's river valleys are highly populated and rivers have provided the primary life-support systems for our riparian settlements. Large dams, intensive irrigation and large diversions have, therefore, been associated with three types of conflicts. The first type is related to large-scale displacement and uprooting of people from their ancestral homelands leading to ecological refugees. This conflict, which originally expressed itself through human rights struggles based on the violation of rights of displaced people, has now taken an e cological turn, with human rights issues being perceived as intimately linked with ecological issues. The second type of conflict related to water projects arises from the ecological impact of impounding large quantities of water, transporting it across drainage boundaries and using it for intensive irrigation. Displaced people are, of course, in direct conflict with those who benefit from large dams and massive irrigation systems. However, when dams and canals cause waterlogging, even the 'beneficiaries' fight against state planned water projects.

Changes in water flows create changes upstream as well as downstream. Such changes generate conflicts not merely between the people and the state, but also between different communities and different states. The third type of conflict which is an outcome of large river diversions is regional conflict over water rights. Interests of people of different regions are articulated through regional governments, and regional conflicts take the form of inter-state conflicts over the sharing of river waters.

The Krishna river, one of the most important rivers of South India, was chosen for the ecological analysis of conflicts over river waters since it traverses through the most arid and drought prone regions in South India and there are intense and diverse demands for its water from different regions for diverse uses.

Water Conflicts in the Krishna Basin

The east flowing krishna river originates in the mahadev range of the western ghats, north of the hill station of Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra, and after flowing over a distance of about 1,40(1 km it meets the Bay of Bengal, south of Vijayawada. In between its origin at 1,337 metres above the MSL and its delta, the river fows across the entire width of the Indian peninsula through the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The Krishna river is joined in its course by a large number of tributaries, big and small, draining a total basin area of about 256,000 sq km of which the share of the three riparian states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh is 26.8 per cent, 43.8 per cent and 29.4 per cent, respectively. The basin drains a length of approximately 700 km of the Western Ghats which is the predominant source of water of the river. As the river flows about 135 km from its origin near Mahabaleshwar Hills, it is joined by the Koyna river flowing from the western side of the same hill. Further along its course. it is joined by tributaries like Varna, Panchaganga and Dodhganga draining about 150 km of the Western Ghats. As the river emerges from the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats, it is joined by Ghataprabha and Malaprabha from the south at a distance of approximately 500 km from the origin. After traversing the Deccan proper the east flowing Krishna then enters the alluvial lands and at a distance of about 800 km from the source, just before it enters Andhra Pradesh, a major tributary Bhima, draining the Western Ghats, north of Mahabaleshwar joins it from the north. Near Kurnool the river is joined by another major tributary, Tungabhadra from the south, draining a major section of the Western Ghats in Karnataka. Within a short distance from this confluence, the river enters the Naliamali Ranges characterised by peep gorges. At this place the Srisailam Dam and further downstream the Nagarjunasagar Dam have been constructed. At this point the major water sources of the Western Ghats have all been united. Tributaries like Dindi, Musi, Palleru and Muneru draining the dry north-eastern parts of the basin join the river between Srisailam ad Vijayawada but do not add much water. Below Vijayawada, where the Krishna is blocked by the barrage constructed during the British period, the river spreads out into the delta and below the last major village Nagailanka it joins the Bay of Bengal in three branches, thus ending the long eastward journey of the waters of the Western Ghats.

Since water flow creates an interconnectedness within the basin, each intervention in land and water use, depending on its scale, can become the source of conflicts. The mining of iron ore at Kudremukh and Manganese ore in Sandur in the upper catchments of Tungabhadra has seriously affected the stability of the catchment and has led to severe soil erosion and silting of the Tungabhadra reservoir, thus conflicting with irrigation needs. The Krishna river system has a large number of small, medium and major dams starting from Dhom which is located within 5 km of its origin. This storage and diversion of water from the original river course has destroyed the fishing economy which was dominant on both banks of the river as well as the indigenous irrigation system that existed throughout the course of the river. Further, large dams have also generated conflicts by creating waterlogging in the command areas. The hydroelectric power generation from the river water has come into conflict with irrigation needs both in terms of the spatial and temporal characteristics of water storage and distribution. The maximisation of power generation from Koyna demands that the water of the Krishna basin, draining into Bay of Bengal, be diverted to the Arabian Sea.

Industrial uses of the river system are a major source of conflict. For example, the pulp based industries on Tungabhadra have polluted the river and destroyed the fishing economy 20 km downstream. Moreover, the large-scale cultivation of pulpwood species like Eucalyptus in this part of the basin has impaired the groundwater recharge potential.

In the Krishna basin comprising mostly of arid and semi-arid regions water management had reached a high level of sophistication, both for surface as well as groundwater utilisation. An aerial view of the basin reveals a network of a large number of tanks, some pre-historic, others constructed by the local people or the rulers at different times in history. In general the technology used for all these tanks involved the construction of an earthen embankment at the exit of a natural water collection point that is a result of topography. These tanks were used for surface irrigation of approximately 500 acres of land as well as for enhancing ground water recharge to support the wells. These tanks formed a network so that water did not drain out easily and was conserved at the site. To some extent indigenous water management techniques also included the diversion of streams to irrigate land by canals. The total number of tanks in the basin may be around 30,000. By arresting the scanty rainfall, these tanks actually provided a cushioning effect against variations in rainfall which is common in the basin. This decentralised water conservation system met both drinking water and agricultural needs. There was no major long distance transfer of water and the local cropping pattern evolved in accordance with the local water endowment.

The needs of the Vijayanagar Empire led to the first major intervention in the natural water flow. In the sixteenth century, specially during the reign of King Krishnadevaraya, there were many attempts to divert the water of Tungabhadra through seven canals in the Bellary district, these are now known as the Vijayanagar Canals. The canals provided water for irrigation as well as satisfied the needs of the large army stationed in the capital city of Hampi. The interests of the Vijayanagar rulers were not limited to canals. Understanding the crucial role of tanks in food production as well as in providing drinking water supply, the kingdom undertook a systematic programme of tank construction. The Daroji tank and the Vyasayaraya Samudram in Cuddapah district are the result of this programme.

The first large-scale intervention in the natural flow of water in the Krishna river basin was seen in the late nineteenth century. It was motivated both by the irrigation needs of export crops like cotton and groundnut, as well as for transporting these products easily to major ports like Madras. The Krishna delta canal system based on the Vijayawada barrage was constructed in 1855 The Nira Canal in Maharashtra was constructed in 1835 to irrigate about 150,000 acres and the Kurnool Cuddapah Canal was constructed in 1886 to irrigate 100,000 acres. With the passage of time. an increasing number of government aided large and medium projects came up and today the Krishna river has numerous dams including the Dhom Dam which is at a distance of 5 km from its source. Midstream, we find the Alamatti and Narayanpur Dams of the Upper Krishna Project while further downstream Srisailam and Nagarjunsugar Dams generate electricity and divert water for irrigation.The tributaries have also been used extensively in this respect.

The Koyna Dam is situated 58 km below the origin of the river. The Tunga river is impounded at Gajanur and Bhadra at Lakavalli. The Tunga and Bhadra meet and the Tungabhadra Dam is located 265 km from the origin. In Ghataprabha the reservoir at Hidkal in Karnataka is the major irrigation project while Malaprabha is impounded at the peacock gorge near Manoli. The spread of water-intensive cultivation throughout the basin has dramatically altered the water balance, leading to major conflicts between water for cash crop cultivation and staple food production on the one hand, and between irrigation and drinking water needs on the other. The case of sugarcane cultivation in Maharashtra and grapes in Hyderabad are two instances of over-exploitation of water resources in the basin for cash crop production and a consequent destabilisation of the water cycle, leading to water scarcity in large parts of the basin.

Dams for irrigation and/or power are also a source of conflict between the traditional rights of people to land and water and the rights of the state to displace and uproot them for building river valley projects as in the case of Srisailam Dam. Large dams require massive submergence areas, and hence necessitate the displacement of large numbers of people. Big dams also allow large diversions of water. Major diversions from the river basin as in the case of the Telugu-Ganga Canal taking off from Srisailam Dam, affect the riparian rights of the states and have generated unresolvable inter-state conflicts.

Dams and Displacement: Conflicts Generated by Srisailam Dam

The krishna, like other rivers of india has been reversed by the people srisailam is the most sacred pilgrim spot on the Krishna. It is named alter the Srisailam temple situated amidst rich forests on the banks of the river. The Krishna flows 3 km below the Srisailam temple which is dedicated to LOrd Shiva. In 1960. this ancient temple gave way to a temple of modern India Srisailam Dam.

The project

'the Srisailam project began in 1960, initially as a power project, across the Krishna, near Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh. After several delays, the main dam was finally completed twenty years later in 1981. In the meantime the project was converted into a multipurpose one with a generating capacity of 770 MWs by its second stage which was expected to be completed in 1987. The dam is to provide water for an estimated 4,95,000 acres with its catchment area of 79,553 sq miles and water spread of 238 sq miles. Under the right branch canal 1,95,000 acres in Kurnool and Cuddapah districts will have assured irrigation. From the initial modest estimate of Rs. 38.47 crores for a power project the total cost of the multipurpose project was estimated to cross Rs. 1,000 crores in its enlarged form. The 470 feet high and 1,680 feet wide dam has alone cost Rs. 404 crores together with the installation of four generating sets of 110 MWs each. The right branch canal is estimated to cost Rs. 449 crores and the initial investment of Rs. 140 crores has been provided by the World Bank. The projected cost-benefit ratio of the project has been worked out at 1:1.91 at 10 per cent interest on capital outlay.

The construction of the project has meant the submergence of 106,925 acres of land belonging to 117 villages (100 main and 17 hamlets). Of these villages, spread over six taluks of Kurnool and Mahaboobnagar districts. seventy-two were completely submerged and ten were partially submerged (see Annexure l). A total of 27,871 families in these villages living in 21,080 dwellings had to be evacuated: resettlement had to be provided for nearly 158,00 people.

In the summer of 1981, shocked by the brutal and inhuman manner in which people were thrown out of their homes by the government with the assistance of police, bulldozers and workers from the town, a Lokayan team in Andhra Pradesh carried out a survey of the problem of the evictees in July-August 1981. The survey aimed at:

  1. Understanding the socio-economic background of the affected households.
  2. Appraising government policies and programmes with regard to compensation and the rates paid, adequacy of the mode of payment and the reactions of the recipients.
  3. Studying government actions in evacuation of the people facing displacement.
  4. Examining the problems associated with the rehabilitation schemes.
  5. The survey covered fifteen of the 100 villages which were affected, using a stratified random sample of 344 households.

A second survey was carried out in 1984-85 covering nine of the villages included in the earlier sample survey as part of the UN University project on Conflicts over Natural Resources. The questions that prompted the second survey were:

  1. How are the people evicted from the submerged areas of the Srisailam Dam in May-June 1981 living now, i.e., what changes have taken place in the last three years?
  2. How have they utilised the compensation paid to them by the government?
  3. Who can do what to improve the conditions of this displaced people?
  4. Given the experience of evictions under the Srisailam project, what measures should be undertaken for future projects to avoid such calamities?

A summary of the two reports highlighting the tragedy of the situation is presented here. It raises several important questions not only related to economics and development but to ethics as well.

Socio-economic conditions of the people before the evictions

The soils of the river bank are very fertile and mostly black or red in colour. Farmers have been cultivating them for generations, if not centuries, growing a multiple variety of crops ranging from food crops like rice, jowar and other millets to cash crops like tobacco, chill), groundnut, vegetables, onions, mustard and wheat. The river bed was also cultivated in the dry season, especially by the weaker sections, harvesting a rich crop of water melons.

Overwhelmingly (81 per cent of the sample), the population in the region belongs to the weaker sections of society, i.e., the Scheduled Castes (14 per cent) and Backward Castes (67 per cent). As in other regions of the country, the Scheduled Castes are concentrated among the small and marginal farmers (66 per cent) and landless labourers (20 per cent). Backward Castes are predominant in all classes but are most numerous among those involved in non-agricultural occupations (84 per cent). Among the other castes Reddys are predominant. People of other castes are more concentrated in the upper classes. They account for 42 per cent of the big farmers but only 5 per cent of the agricultural labourers. Of the total number of households, 17 per cent were those of big farmers, 16 per cent of middle farmers, 36 per cent of small and marginal farmers, and 17 per cent of agricultural labourers. We have classified those people as big farmers who owned more than 10 acres of wet lands' middle farmers as those owning between 5 to 9.99 acres, small as those owning between 2.5 to 4.99 acres, marginal as those owning between 0.1 to 2.49 acres. Two acres of dry land has been assumed to be equivalent to 1 acre of wet land based on the income generated.

In addition to agriculture, small and marginal farmers are also involved in several subsidiary occupations such as sheep and goat rearing, toddy tapping, weaving, fishing and plying dinghies across the river. Those belonging to service caste groups like barbers and washermen tried to supplement their income from their caste occupation by working on land either as small or tenant farmers or agricultural labourers. The proportion of agricultural labourers is comparatively low in these villages, because the poorer sections of the population are engaged in the cultivation of poromboke and manyam (waste) lands.

The average size of the displaced family was found to be around seven in both sample surveys (census figure: 5.33). One interesting feature was that big farmer households had an average size of ten members per family, perhaps there were more joint families among them.

Draught power provided by bullocks appeared to be adequate in these villages. In addition to cows and buffaloes, a majority of households also reared sheep, goats and fowls. In view of the prosperous agriculture in these areas, employment prospects were particularly good, in the sense that people could secure employ ment for approximately 250 days in a year. In addition, there was immigrant labour from neighbouring areas during the peak seasons. The average annual income per household was approximately Rs. 8,000 with a minimum of Rs. 2,000 and a maximum of Rs. 150,000.

Since stone is available in plenty and owing to the relative prosperity of the region, most of the houses, including those of the poor and landless (81 per cent in the second sample), were made of stone and were quite spacious, although they were old.

From the data it is evident that though the region is relatively prosperous, it is not very different from other parts of rural India in terms of complacency regarding caste and class. Economic power is largely concentrated in the hands of the 'other castes' (Reddys in this region). The leaders in these villages are drawn from the 'other castes' (Reddys and Velamas), and they exercise tremendous influence on the people in the village. They also maintain close links with government officials in towns and with other important individuals. Often villages are divided into various factional groups following One leader or the other. All these factors had their respective impact on the entire process of displacement and rehabilitation.

One important factor that needs to be noted here is that for one generation, i.e., twenty years (1960 to 1980, i.e., till their eviction) no significant developmental activities were undertaken in the submergible areas since logically the whole area would be under water 'very soon'. The people of this region therefore had to do without electricity, proper roads, school buildings and other government asset building activities.


Keeping in view some of the problems encountered in trying to rehabilitate people displaced by developmental projects, the g,overnment of Andhra. Pradesh decided to pay compensation in cash, a policy initiated with the Pochampad project in the late sixties. Compensation was assessed for lands, wells and houses. Acquisition began in July 1969 and 1,829 acres of land was acquired. But this process was stopped almost immediately due to non-availability of funds and the areas notified for acquisition were once again denotified. Acquisition was resumed in 1974 and completed by 198(), in accordance with the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 (and several resolutions adopted and recommendations made at meetings of the Srisailam Control Board and the government). Compensation was paid for 84,772.55 acres out of a total of 107,348 acres submerged. The rest of the land was either government wasteland, or government land assigned to the poor or forest land constituting 2() per cent of the total submerged area which was not compensated for.

Drawing upon the registered value of sale/purchase of land which is normally much lower than the actual price (to avoid higher stamp duty) and the fact that the acquisition and payment of money were long drawn out affairs, they had the net effect of offering very low prices for the properties acquired. The average price paid for dry lands was Rs. 1,820 per acre, whereas the prevailing market rate for reasonably good dry land was Rs. 10,000 per acre in 1981. Similarly, compensation paid for wet land was on an average Rs. 3,547.05 per acre while the market value was around Rs. 20,000 per acre, i.e., the compensation paid between 1974 and 1980 was only one-fifth of the market value of land at the time of eviction.

Similarly, in the case of dwellings, the government acquired 21,080 houses which sheltered 28,234 families of eighty-two villages out of a total of 117 villages affected by submersion. This amount was paid after making allowance for factors like depreciation since most of the houses were very old. The average amount paid per house was around Rs. 5,500 whereas constructing similar houses would have cost the inhabitants over four times (Rs. 20.000) as borne out by the actual expenditure on new housing after eviction, which will be discussed later.

Despite such gross injustice few people approached the courts since majority of them were illiterate and without any means. Further, the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 deals with people on an individual basis, fixing a time limit of 6 weeks from the date of receipt of notice or 6 months from the date of award, whichever expires earlier, for filing objections, and only if the amount of compensation has been accepted under protest in writing.

As the surveys revealed, very few people bought any land with the compensation money paid to them. For every 100 acres of wet land submerged only 1 acre of new land was purchased. Similarly in the case of dry land, barely 8 acres was purchased for every 100 acres lost.

Why did the people not buy lands? What did they do with the money received as compensation?.

  1. No one believed that the lands facing submergence under the project would be permanently submerged. Once the flood waters of the rainy season recede, lands would re-emerge, i.e., within one or two months, and made more fertile by the rich alluvial deposits. They could thus continue to cultivate these lands. While the people held on to this belief, the government could not allow this as such cultivation would increase the siltation rate and cause harm to the dam. The land is in the process of being handed over to the forest department to bring it under its social forestry programme. There are also widespread rumours that farmers displaced by the Nagarjunasagar Dam were cultivating their erstwhile lands in a similar manner. Moreover, in the past, whenever the Krishna river was in floods, the water would recede after a few days and the fact that the actual dam was at a distance from most of the affected villages strengthened the peoples' tendency to ignore the several notices of the government and the oral warnings of the project authorities. Due to these beliefs the people constantly demanded only higher compensation but never contemplated buying new lands. This also explains why none of them really pressed the government to provide them with alternate lands.
  2. The little compensation that was paid was given in instalments for different types of lands and houses. Of the amount received, 25 to 50 per cent was used to pay off old debts and bribes to officials to fix better rates of compensation and at the time of receiving cheques for the compensation amount (normally 2 per cent). After meeting other domestic needs the amount of money left was not enough to buy new land.
  3. Normally there is great pressure on fertile lands. With most of the fertile black soils on the river banks submerged, the pressure on the remaining fertile lands in the area must have grown tremendously.
  4. Moreover, the fact that money was paid to the displaced people as compensation could have also increased the land prices.

The result was that barely 4 per cent of the evictees actually bought land with their compensation money (using either a part of it or the whole amount). Another 20 per cent used the money to build new houses after eviction, 26 per cent utilised the money to clear old debts, and 50 per cent used the money for various domestic needs such as marriages, clothing, food. death ceremonies and education. Therefore, the claim that the compensation money paid to the displaced people was squandered by them in drinking and gambling is very much disputable (though the number of people indulging in such activities may have gone up after receiving the compensation money).

Similarly, in the case of compensation paid for dwellings which were submerged, only 19 per cent of the evictees utilised the money to build new houses, 32 per cent used it to repay old debts, and 40 per cent used the money for various domestic needs such as food, clothing and marriages. Barely 3 per cent invested money in agriculture. Those who invested in agriculture are largely big farmers (12 per cent of the category) and middle farmers (3 per cent of the category).

It may be mentioned here, that the moneylender-landlords collected their dues (of old debts at exorbitant interests) as soon as the compensation money was sanctioned for the dwellings of the poor even before they could lay their hands on it. Second, as most of the poor people (predominantly belonging to Harijan caste) were cultivating government lands or government assigned lands they were not paid any compensation for the loss of these lands.

In this manner, having exhausted the little compensation money that they finally received, with no apparent understanding of what submersions meant, unwilling to desert their sacred temples and places where for generations, if not centuries, they had been residing, and with absolutely no plans for resettling elsewhere they continued to reside in their old villages in mutual reassurance ignoring all warnings of the government officials. To add to their confidence, the government also did not initiate any action to demolish government property such as schools and panchayat buildings and other offices and structures.

The eviction trauma

The people were rudely shaken out of their complacence soon after the completion of the dam in the summer of 1981. When repeated warnings failed to dislodge the villagers the government realised that until and unless the houses and huts were demolished, the people would not vacate the villages. The officers and staff of the Departments of Revenue and Irrigation and Power along with hired labourers from the towns and a large contingent of police undertook the demolition work. They completely demolished the houses by knocking down ceilings and walls, and removing door and window frames. Demolition of huts was carried on with much more vigour and zeal. Utensils and other belongings were thrown out, cattle were let loose and people were driven out-hounded out of their own homes like stray cattle in one big swoop. People had never seen anything like this. The authorities used simple tools like crow bars and pick axes and bulldozers in the operation. The ruthless actions of the authorities shocked the people who were already distressed at the thought of having to leave their homes. The officials did not show any regard and respect for people. People complained to the research team that the officials were very repressive in their actions. An old woman in Relampadu village bitterly weeping, reported to the committee that her ankle and her right hand were fractured when she was dragged out from her hut by the police. The government brutality created panic among the people. Strong resentment against the behaviour of the officials was vocalised by people in every village that the research team visited. Very few families were provided with the promised free transport to the new sites chosen by the villagers. People complained that they had to pay money even for this facility. As a result, majority of the evictees had to carry their belongings on their heads. Without transport, almost all the evicted families had to leave a part of their belongings in the villages. This traumatic experience was repeated in most of the eighty-two villages facing full or partial submersion.

Life after evictions

Leaving their lands. houses and sometimes even utensils in the evacuated areas, the villagers were orphaned overnight. Unemployment stared them in the face. The idea of settling down in a new place made them feel like 'aliens'. Insecurity and uncertainty about the future further aggravated the problem. Added to this were the appalling living conditions in the new areas. With no basic civic amenities, life became very difficult. The primary responsibility of any civilised government in such a situation is to provide at least basic amenities to the displaced people, especially when they are in distress and emotionally disturbed. Cash compensation, far too inadequate, was the only one-point rehabilitation programme the government had envisaged.

As compensation was paid in 'full', it was the responsibility of the evacuees to fend for themselves. The callousness of the government became apparent when the evacuees who had savings had to take their own initiative to buy land for houses from private land-owners. They had to pay exhorbitant rates for the new land as land was scarce and the demand was high.

By and large, the evacuees succeeded in 'settling' down in areas near the old villages. The research team also observed that an entire village did not settle down in the new place as one unit. Each village resettled in more than one cluster. Each village leader and landlord had his own following. Some people went along with a group as they could get house sites at reasonable prices. Labourers went along with big farmers to whom they were attached earlier. Old village rivalries continued and rival groups moved into different settlements. The grouping in the new settlements was also based on caste lines. The Scheduled Castes were segregated and settled in separate quarters. Backward Castes congregated on the sume lines as before eviction.

The research team which visited the villages soon after the evictions in July-August found the life of the villagers in the new settlements pathetic. Those who possessed stone houses earlier were forced to live in huts. Of course, there were a few stone houses. People were either building houses or were idle. Drinking water continued to be a problem. No bore wells had been dug in several settlements and in many cases there was no water source near by. The team observed that groups of people would discuss their future work prospects and livelihood, looking morose and depressed. Their clothing was inadequate and invariably unwashed. People cursed the government for driving them to destitution. An angry young man told the team that he would like to see the Srisailam Dam bombed.

Several representations were made to the government at various levels by the people, their representatives, the Lokayan team and civil rights organisations arid demonstrations were held, but all to no avail. Apart from some marginal benefits like providing house sites and electricity and Rs. 1,000 to each member of the weaker sections, the government did precious little by way of creating new avenues of livelihood for these people.

A second survey by the Lokayan team in November 1984, three years after the evictions, found the people to be worse off.


The immediate need of the people after eviction was housing. When the money given as compensation for their dwellings had already been spent where did the evictees get money to construct their new houses? Almost 70 per cent of the people reported that they had borrowed money. Another 7 per cent had either used their savings or sold some assets. With the inadequate materials and money provided by the government (supposed to be Rs. 1,000 worth) and some materials from their old homes, about 5 per cent of the weaker sections built their huts.

What is surprising is that people spent substantive amounts in building their new houses though the number of stone houses was reduced from 81 per cent to only 53 per cent and were smaller in size, the number of thatched houses went up by 218 per cent. The average cost of construction was around Rs. 16,000 varying from Rs. 5,000 in the case of agricultural labourers to Rs. 40,000 in the case of big farmers. When asked why they did not try to buy land with the compensation money some of the evictees replied: 'First we need a place of shelter'. The idea that they would be permanently losing their lands did not dawn on them till much later. They attempted building houses similar to their old houses and had to spend a lot of money and resources. Ironically, after taking all the trouble and incurring huge debts, most of them had to travel to distant places in search of work as the remaining lands of the village, if any. could not support the same large population. Further, not being used to living in thatched huts led to several fire accidents in the new settlements forcing people to build their houses all over again. Another point that needs to be mentioned here is that the cost of construction increased enormously due to the pressure of so many trying to build their houses at the same time.

Land, Income and Work

As stated earlier, 64 per cent of the lands in the sampled villages were submerged. Category-wise, 84 per cent of wet lands, 59 per cent of dry lands and 90 per cent of wastelands were submerged. Class-wise, big farmers lost 56 per cent of their lands, middle farmers 69 per cent, and small and marginal farmers, 80 per cent of their lands. Of the lands now remaining after submergence, 70 per cent were owned by big farmers (as against 60 per cent in the old villages). The share of middle farmers decreased from 16 per cent to 11 per cent and of small and marginal farmers from 15 per cent to 11 per cent. In other words, dependence on big farmers in terms of loans, etc. had increased after submersions. Further, there was drought for two successive years following the eviction. With most of the lands submerged, the income and employment prospects of people decreased drastically. The average income in the villages surveyed declined from Rs. 9,116 to Rs. 2,347 per annum per family, i.e., a reduction of 74 per cent. As an average this of course hides the extremities such as the situation in villages like Beeravolu and Sanharenipalli where all the land was lost. The submergence of fertile lands forced the fanners to shift from commercial crops to subsistence crops on the remaining lands. They now cultivate mostly rice and millets instead of tobacco and chilliest The latter also require heavy investment. Lands acquired by the government were still being cultivated wherever possible but due to the construction of crest gates and untimely rains, the standing crop in some of the submergible areas was lost.

While initially some people were employed in the construction of houses at the new sites as well as in building roads, the average employment decreased from 256 days per year to 59 days per year, forcing people to migrate or trek long distances in search of work.


The drastic change in circumstances had forced most of the displaced people into debt. The number of people without debts dropped sharply from 38 per cent in the old villages to only 9 per cent in the new villages. Interestingly, while 67 per cent of the agricultural labourers reported that they had no debts in the old villages, the number dropped sharply to 9 per cent in the new settlements. This only confirms our earlier explanation that most people paid off their past debts with the compensation money they received. On an average, the debt per family increased from Rs. 4,810 to Rs. 12.462, i.e., an increase of 259 per cent in three years. In the case of agricultural labourers the increase was fivefold rising from Rs. 949 to Rs. 4,771. Debts of small and marginal farmers doubled. while those of middle farmers rose one and a half times from Rs. 6,903 in the old villages to Rs. 10,000 in the new villages. Debts of large farmers also rose sharply from Rs. 10,500 per family on an average to Rs. 32,279. As mentioned earlier, the sharp increase in debts was largely due to the expenses incurred in building new houses. The question remains: who could have given credit to the displaced people despite their worsening conditions?

As mentioned earlier, most people had repaid their past debts with the compensation money they received. A substantial proportion of this money may have been in the villages with some of the large farmers-moneylenders and therefore people may not have been compelled to seek credit from external sources. A more important reason, apart from the availability of money within the villages, was the fact that almost all the displaced families had filed cases in the court claiming higher compensation. The courts had invariably enhanced the amount of compensation to be paid to the evictees. Having realised this, the big farmers and moneylenders had given loans liberally to the displaced people. The rate of interest on 9() per cent of the loans given was 24 per cent. The main reason that the rate of interest remained constant at 24 per cent and was not increased despite the urgency and demand and dire circumstances may be due to the fact that the creditors in the villages were Rushed with compensation money in the form of recovered loans.

Cattle Wealth

The survey revealed that cattle wealth of the people was reduced to less than half of what it was in the old villages. The number of cows were reduced by 64 per cent, female buffaloes by 5() per cent, male buffaloes by 78 per cent, sheep by 74 per cent and goats by 86 per cent. Poultry was reduced by 61 per cent. Even bullocks which are so essential for cultivation had gone down by 38 per cent. Looking at this class-wise, the landless appeared to have suffered the most, having lost 91 per cent of their cows, 79 per cent of their bulls, all the sheep they possessed, 91 per cent of goats and 61 per cent of their poultry. The relative decrease in different species of animals clearly revealed that depending on the necessity, the displaced people had been selling their cattle one by one. People are less directly dependent on goats and male buffaloes, than on bullocks and to an extent on cows and female buffaloes. While the situation varied from village to village, the desperation of the people is well exemplified by the case of Gudem village which consists predominantly of a sheep rearing community (Gollas). There has been a decline from 2,580 sheep in the old village to just 706, i.e., a decrease of 73 per cent. The variations between villages with regard to decrease in cattle wealth is also dependent on the extent to which lands have been submerged and the specific occupations of the villagers. Broadly, there appear to be three distinct reasons for the decline in cattle wealth of the evictees:

  1. Due to the submergence of cultivable lands and failure of good harvests the evictees sold a large proportion of their cattle for sheer survival.
  2. Acute shortage of fodder due to the submergence of river banks and wastelands on the one hand and failure of good harvests on the other have made it extremely difficult to maintain cattle in the new settlements.
  3. To generate resources to construct new houses.

Agricultural Implements

The same trend was discernible in the case of agricultural implements. Farmers of this area do not appear to have been using modern agricultural equipment such as tractors and pumpsets. Bullock carts' one of the key elements of Indian agriculture, declined by 37 per cent. Of the nine oil engines in the old villages only three were left. While one tractor was sold, two new tractors were purchased by big farmers-cum-contractors. Several farmers mentioned that they had sold many of their agricultural implements to make both ends meet.

Non-agricultural Occupations

A quick look at the non-agricultural occupations completes the dismal picture.

POTTERS: Due to the submersion of land the old sources of mud and clay have been eroded. Following the loss of their lands and unable to sustain themselves on pottery alone, some of the potters were forced to trek long distances in search of work as labourers. Moreover, due to the submersion of their lands and displacement, the income of the villagers has been drastically reduced and hence their demand for pots may have also been reduced considerably.

WASHEIMEN: No distinctive change was observable in their condition.

BARBERS: With the loss of their lands, cutting hair was their only means of survival. According to one barber from Sankarenipally (Nandikothur taluk, Kurnool district), due to the displacement of several villages nearby and dispersal of the population over a wide area, the barbers from these villages were 'coming to our village so that we now have more barbers and less work'.

STONE WORKERS: Wadders were very busy due to the sudden spurt in construction activity in the new settlements.

TODDY TAPPERS: Following the submersion of land most of the toddy trees over which they had traditional claims were lost and they were therefore reduced to complete dependence on agricultural labour for survival.

FISHERMEN: Most of them used to make a living by plying dinghies, carrying people and cattle across the Krishna. During summer they would cultivate water melons in the river bed and also fish in the river using small nets. With the increase in the volume of water in the Krishna and with no prospect of it drying up in any season they were unable to ply their dinghies most of the time. Nor did they possess the boats, nets and skills necessary for deep water fishing while water melon cultivation in summer was out of the question. Of late, however, several people, not necessarily fishermen, had turned to fishing in a big way using massive nets and boats. But the market was monopoIised by some businessmen from the neighbouring State of Tamil Nadu with little profit accruing to the fishermen.

CARPENTERS: were also in great demand due to the spurt in construction activity despite the fact that people used the beams and door and window frames of their erstwhile dwellings in the construction of their new houses.

LEATHER WORKERS: They had to supplement their meagre earnings by engaging in daily wage labour even in the old villages, which they continued even in the new settlements. Although one cobbler of Vellatoor (Mollapur taluk, Mahboobnagar district) said that he had practically given up his profession after shifting to the new village (perhaps the earnings were too meagre).

WEAVERS: Several villages in the vicinity had a long handloom tradition. Villages like Pragatur (Alampur taluk, Mahboobnagar district) were mostly inhabited by handloom weavers, who combined weaving with agriculture. The loss of agricultural lands has forced them to increasingly depend on handloom weaving. Many of the weavers interviewed by the team complained of lack of capital to begin their weaving activities again.

OTHERS: Shopkeepers, teachers, post office personnel, priests, etc. complained that loss of their lands had forced them to depend almost exclusively on their present occupations.

In short, only those connected with construction activity like masons, stone cutters and carpenters prospered at the new settlements, as also small time contractors who had taken contracts for various public works, like laying roads, constructing drains and panchayat bhavans. While the government had thought of compensation for houses and lands only, it does not seem to have taken into account a whole range of activities which are not directly dependent on agriculture as described above resulting in enormous distress to families involved in these occupations.

Government measures at the new sites

After forcibly driving people out of their homes and making them destitutes in May-June 1981, pressure exerted by the evictees, and witnessing the enormous difficulties of the people themselves prompted the government to ameliorate their condition to some extent:

  1. Under the on-going 'sites and services' programme, the weaker sections among the evacuees were allotted free house sites and given a hutment grant of Rs. 1,000 per family (part of which was in the form of bamboos).
  2. To provide school and panchayat buildings, electricity, roads and drainage facilities.
  3. To sink bore wells for drinking water.

Under this programme a sum of Rs. 2.80 crores was spent between April 1981 and March 1985, i.e., ever since the forcible evictions took place. This works out to an average of Rs. 70 lakhs per annum for four years. For the eighty-two displaced villages this works out to a pittance. In addition a sum of Rs. 3 crores was allotted for shifting sixty-two of the several temples and other religious monuments likely to be submerged.

Based on the first Lokayan report, the World Bank, which has emerged as the prime financier of the remaining part of the project, insisted on the proper rehabilitation of the displaced, but was easily satisfied with these meagre measures of physical rehabilitation undertaken by the state government. This is understandable since ultimately the Bank is more interested in lending money than in looking after the welfare of the victims of development sponsored by it.

What is surprising is the totally callous attitude of the authonties, the so-called 'experts' and even the people's 'representatives' to the need of these displaced people, viz., employment or a permanent source of livelihood.

Sucked deeper and deeper into the whirlpool of destitution, as is quite evident from the surveys, with nobody to help them there was a ray of hope in the form of lawyers from the nearby towns.


Contents - Previous - Next