November 24, 2014 

“We deal with rivers with utmost unconcern and disrespect… India Rivers Week and India Rivers Forum is most welcome, will look forward to participate in it” says Jairam Ramesh at the India Rivers Week 2014 inauguration

Former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, giving the inaugural address at the first ever India Rivers week emphasized “Ours is a paradoxical society. While we show a lot of respect for rivers socially, we deal with rivers with utmost unconcern and disrespect… India Rivers Week and India Rivers Forum is most welcome, will look forward to participate in it… If we want to save our rivers, the first step is to ensure that no untreated industrial effluent or sewage finds its way into our rivers.” Speaking on development objectives and the growing energy needs of India, he clarified, “Hydro projects may be a painful choice, but we cannot close our doors to it. What we can do is ensure stricter environmental regulations & their enforcement, a cumulative assessment at ‘basin’ and not ‘project’ level and the minimum environmental flow in the river itself.” He was critical of the current dispensation to dismantle all environmental regulations.

JRFormer Union Minister Jairam Ramesh speaking at the India Rivers Week-2014

Ramaswamy R Iyer, former Secretary to the Government of India stressed in his keynote said that rivers are, ”more than just water, and an integral part of our social, historical and cultural fabric.” He spoke on how we obstruct river flow, encroach flood plains, inflict pollution, and hold a economical, cavalier attitude towards it. In other words, “As an American engineer rightly said, we enjoy pushing rivers around,” he added.

Over 125 River experts, planners, researchers, artists, enthusiasts and activists from different parts of the country have congregated at first ever India Rivers Week being held in Delhi during 24-27 November to discuss, deliberate and exchange their experiences and ideas aimed at the conserving, rejuvenation, restoration of rivers in the country. The event is being organized by a consortium of NGOs including WWF India, INTACH, SANDRP, Toxics Link and PEACE Institute Charitable Trust, with additional support from Arghyam (Bengaluru), International Rivers (Mumbai office), and Peoples Science Institute, Dehradun.

Recently the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during his budget presentation pitched for inter-linking of rivers saying the move can yield “rich dividend”. Jairam Ramesh, former Minister, MOEF however stated “We seem to be indulging in the romance of ILR. We need to be more cautious in hurrying up the proposed Inter Linking Rivers projects,” he said, “and understand their ecological and environmental consequences better.” He urged for more debates on water agreement treatise and better co operation within states and also between the neighboring countries.

“Not only are our rivers misunderstood but mistreated and thoroughly abused”, said Manoj Misra, Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan. “We need to move beyond the understanding a river simply in terms of water.” What makes this event significant is that the practitioners gathered here, through their experience sharing session and discussions, “will generate, adopt and present a Nation River Charter at the end of the meeting.”

MMManoj Mishra, PEACE Institute, at the India Rivers Week-2014

This is the first of conclave to enable learning and promote river restoration skills and actions from sharing and exchange of ideas, experiences and practices. “There has been 76% reduction in aquatic biodiversity over the years. That figure is higher than the loss of terrestrial or marine biodiversity, showing the crisis rivers are facing and we need to act fast to address this crisis”, added Ravi Singh CEO, WWF  in his welcoming opening remarks.

Lack of true understanding and appreciation – amongst planners, decision makers, various government departments as well as the common man – of rivers as ecological systems that provide a number of ecological and economic services is a major reason for the sorry state of our rivers. No wonder, there exists no national policy or law that could provide our rivers security from death, degradation and unsustainable and unfair exploitation.

Ravi Agarwal, Toxics link, reiterated, “Rivers are diverse eco systems, where water is just a common defining system”, and hoped this ‘unique meeting’ would debate thoroughly on this complex issue.

A recent appraisal has found that there is no river in any of the top 50 cities in the country that is not sick or dying with river Yamuna in Delhi-Mathura-Agra and Ganga in Kanpur-Varanasi-Patna leading the list. Widespread devastations in Uttarakhand (June 2013) and J&K (Sept 2014) and Assam-Meghalaya in North East (September 2014) bring home the fact that disturbed rivers can become dangerous and highly devastating.

Dams, diversions, bumper-to-bumper hydro projects, diverted natural flows, encroached flood plains, embanked river channels, degraded catchments, destruction of local water systems and pollution of various kinds are causing this. Climate change uncertainties are expected to further compromise the integrity of our rivers.

Ramaswamy Iyer observed, “Disputes rarely come in question when a river is free flowing. Only when water distribution come into play, as in the case of large projects, and issues of power crop in, do conflicts increase.” Speaking strongly against the ‘run of the river hydro projects’, and their ‘green’ tag , he wondered “Can we survive the death of our rivers?”

Rivers have been dammed, diverted, channelized, encroached and polluted no end. Rivers, as ecosystems, have been poorly appreciated. With ‘Rivers in crisis’ as the theme, the Conference endeavors to devise an India Charter for Rivers and initiate an India Rivers Forum for Restoration of Rivers.

The compilation ‘My River Journey’, containing river journey accounts of 47 of the participants has been prepared, published and distributed at the IRW-2014, conclave on 24 Nov, 2014.

-From Sabita Kaushal, India Water Portal

India Rivers Week

Celebrating the story of Koel-Karo resistance: KKJS gets Bhigirath Prayas Samman at first India Rivers Week

Above: KKJS Activists receiving Bhagirath Prayas Samman Award from Justice Madan Lokur Photo: IRW

We are happy to share the story of Koel Karo Resistance even as the Koel Karo Jan Sangathan gets the Bhagirath Prayas Samman at First India Rivers Week (IRW) meeting at Delhi on Nov 26, 2014. The Award is being given by Justice Madan Lokur of Supreme Court of India. The Award includes a citation, a scroll and cash prize. KKJS is one of he three awardees, the only organisation to get this award this year. IRW is being organised by Peace Institute, WWF-India, INTACH, Toxics Link and SANDRP. It is honour for the exemplary work done to protect a river. The citation says:

The Organisers of India Rivers Week 2014 have great pleasure in awarding the


To Koel Karo Jan Sangathan

in appreciation of its dedicated, valiant, untiring efforts to safeguard the integrity of the rivers Koel and Karo 


Koel and Karo are tributaries of river Brahmani in the state of Jharkhand 

threatened by the Koel Karo hydroelectric projects. 

Koel Karo Jan Sangathan was born in 1976 as a community mobilisation 

effort to conserve their sacred sites and 

to look at alternative development paths in place of the proposed Koel Karo dam. 

The Sangathan has carried on a long and heroic struggle in the face of 

enormous pressures from the 

vested interests, battling tremendous odds to forge one of India’s foremost

 resistance movements 

to save rivers, riverine communities and their culture. In Feb 2001, 

8 people died in police firing 

during the struggle. The project remains cancelled due to the struggle.

The Sangathan has demonstrated the use of many innovative methods of struggle

including people’s curfew and people’s check points. The Sangathan has successfully 

mobilised support from villagers, academicians and political parties to ensure that t

heir rivers are still flowing free and pristine. Women of the river basin have played a 

key role in the Sangathan’s work.

It is an honour to recognize and celebrate the 

extraordinary and truly Bhagirathan efforts of the

Koel Karo Sangathan in ensuring the 

integrity of the rivers Koel and Karo.

Dignitaries on the dias to give away the first Bhagirath Prayas Samman Photo: India Rivers Week
Dignitaries on the dias to give away the first Bhagirath Prayas Samman Photo: India Rivers Week
Soma Munda ji of the KKJS, an intergal part of the struggle for decades Photo: IRW
Soma Munda ji of the KKJS, an intergal part of the struggle for decades Photo: IRW

A brief story on the long and arduous struggle 

According to the people of Munda tribe in Jharkhand, the whole planet was once under water. It is Sing-Bonga, the god of the Mundaris, who fashioned the earth with some clay from the bottom of the ocean. This he then populated with plants, trees, birds, animals, and finally, with human beings.

Munda Tribes celebrate Mehla Festival in Tapkara. Photo with thanks from: Felix Featurs/ Panos Features
Munda Tribes celebrate Mehla Festival in Tapkara. Photo with thanks from: Felix Featurs/ Panos Features

Thus is it that the Mundaris live on the land gifted to them by the Father of all human beings. Over the centuries, the already-sacred landscape became dotted with clusters of sasandiri- the stones marking the resting places of ancestors located at places specified by Sing-Bonga.

Sasandiris in Jharkhand Photo: The Heritage Trust
Sasandiris in Jharkhand Photo: The Heritage Trust

For much of the latter half of the 20th century, the Mundaris had to wage a long and hard struggle against the State to protect this sacred trust. Unlike how many other similar stories go, this ends in victory. That too, is a testament to the strength of the Mundaris and their deep connection with their lands.

The project: The story begins in the 1950s, when a hydro-electricity project was first conceptualised by the Bihar State Electricity Board[1]. This project aimed to generate 710 MW of electricity by the construction of  two earthen dams at a then-estimated cost of 157 crores[2]. Of these, one was a  55-meter high dam on north Karo and the second  was a 44-meter high dam on south Koel River.

The Koel RIver Photo from : Wikipedia
The Koel RIver Photo from : Wikipedia

The real cost of the project was far more than what any project report could budget for, and this was to be paid by the soon-to-be displaced Munda tribals. The 1973 project report estimated that 125 villages would be affected. This was contested by the locals who stated that 256 villages would be affected[3]. Also at stake were approximately 152  sarnas (sites for ritual festivities) and 300 sasandhris (Mathews, 2011).

The people: The Mundari were largely ignored when the project was being finalised. Roads were built and offices established without consulting the villagers. It is only when land began to be bought up that the people of the affected villages came to know of the plans for their ancestral lands. At that time, probably because they were unaware of the full implications  of the project, the Mundari were not opposed to the dam in principle. What disturbed them was the opacity and corruption in the land acquisition.

The struggle: This corruption caused the residents of the Koel and Karo rivers to form a group each to safeguard their interests. The dissatisfaction increased when the survey work led to damage of crops in the area. The two groups came together in 1976 as the Koel Karo Jan Sangathan (Koel Karo People’s Organization) KKJS to offer united resistance to the construction work and demand that work be entrusted to local people. It is also around this time that incidents such as deaths due to drowning near Kutku dam and lack of proper rehabilitation for the displaced of Subarnarekha dam opened the Mundaris eyes to the danger that this construction posed to their way of life. Extensive agitation in the following years led to work being stopped in 1979 till the issues could be resolved. The following year responsibility for the project passed from the Bihar State Electricity Board to the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation, causing a setback to the negotiations.

Till 1984, the villagers successfully prevented any work on the site using a variety of non-violent means despite the presence of troops sent in by the State officials to enable the land acquisition officials. The Mundharis worked to prevent the troops and officials from having access to water, firewood and even preventing them from going out into the forest to defecate. “We told them they can’t defecate on our sacred groves..”, said Soma Munda of the KKJS in an interview[4].

In August 1984, the Supreme Court ruled against the use of force to acquire land. The Government of Bihar then offered to build two ‘model villages’ for the Mundharis to decide whether they would agree to relocate. The KKJS retorted that it would first be essential to relocate the sasandiri. The two ‘model villages’ were never built, and things were at a standstill for the next decade.

Matters picked up again in 1995 when the then Prime Minister, PV Narsimha Rao declared his intention to lay the foundation stone of the Koel Karo project. The Mundaris resisted this by astonishingly simple and effective means- nearly 25,000 people lay down on the roads effectively blocking access.

Road Blockade in protest of Koel Karo Project Photo from: India Environment Portal
Road Blockade in protest of Koel Karo Project Photo from: India Environment Portal

In December 2000, the state of Jharkhand was carved out  of Bihar. Just two months later, in February 2001, the police fired 75 rounds (unofficial estimates say 150) on a peaceful crowd at Tapkara killing eight people and injuring more than 30 (PUCL,2002). The Tapkara shooting understandably sparked censure from the country and may have forced the government’s decision regarding the dam.

Meeting organised by Koel Karo Jan Sangathan after the day of firing. Photo: Frontline
Meeting organised by Koel Karo Jan Sangathan after the day of firing. Photo: Frontline

The result: In August 2003, the Koel Karo project was scrapped, ostensibly for financial reasons; The price had escalated from Rs.157 crores in 1976 to Rs.3,000 crores in 2003[5]. However, the KKJS as well as several others who have been linked with the struggle consider the sustained resistance to be the primary reason for the project being scrapped. It took another seven years for the government to shut down all offices and reassign staff. But on 21st July 2010 the Koel Karo project became history.

The reason why: Koel Karo is today one of the very rare instances in India where tribal peoples have successfully persuaded the government to shelve a sanctioned project. This is not due to any dearth of such similar struggles by equally determined people throughout the country. What is the difference?

One reason put forth by anthropologists is the strong sense of tribal identity. The Mundari have a strong and democratic tribal leadership system which continues today. They have a history of asserting their rights since the 19th century. The Chhota Nagpur Tenancy Act (1903) which safeguard the rights of tribals to their land is just one of the instances where they have brought pressure to bear on the government to maintain their tribal identity. In that respect, they see very little difference in colonial rule and the current government, both being secondary to tribal government. This is the reason that the Koel Karo struggle was able to mobilise people in their thousands and present such an united front. While the tribal governance may account for the united resistance put up by the Mundharis, their motivation however came from a far older source.

Fights of Birsa Munda Photo from: Sivatravelogue
Fights of Birsa Munda with the British Photo from: Sivatravelogue

It came from Sing-Bonga Himself. The Mundharis quite simply had no option but to hold on to their land. It is here that their ancestors were, and all through the resistance, not once did Sing-Bonga appear in a dream and give them permission to relocate the sasandiri. This deep and inviolable connection with the land was key to the struggle and manifested itself in the resistance slogans. Initially, the slogan was  “Jaan denge par jamin nahin denge (we will give our lives, but not our lands)”.  After Tapkara, they changed it to  Jaan bhi nahin denge, jamin bhi nahin denge, dam ko rok lenge” (we will give neither our lives nor our lands but we will stop the dam)”.

Dayamani Barla Photo: Tehelka
Dayamani Barla Photo: Tehelka

The struggle was lead by a number of tribal and non tribal leaders, notable amongst them is Ms. Dayamani Barla, who was involved with Koel Karo since 1990s. She says, “The natural resources to us are not merely means of livelihood, but our identity, dignity, autonomy and culture have been built on them for generations. These communities will not survive if they are alienated from the natural resources. How is it possible to rehabilitate or compensate us?’[6]

Later when Ms. Barla was imprisoned while upholding tribal rights, she wrote from the prison, ” I never overlooked the questions raised by the Jharkand people. The flowing water of the Koyal, Karo and Chata rivers is a witness to this. I learnt to write with my fingers in the mud and sand of this land. On the banks of the river Karo, while grazing my sheep, I learnt to bathe and swim. The shade of grass and trees covered with dew filled in the sky, gave me love.”

Shripad Dharmadhikary of Manthan puts the success of this movement down to persistence. The Mundharis successfully kept up an unrelenting and non-violent resistance for nearly three decades. To put this into perspective, it is in December 1929- only 18 years before achieving freedom- that the Indian National Congress passed a resolution calling for complete independence. Even dominion status was only demanded since 1916, when the All India Home Rule League was established. By that count, the Koel Karo struggle has lasted as long as India’s struggle for self-rule in one way or another.

And finally, Dharmadhikary points out one overwhelming lesson that present and future struggles can learn from Koel Karo. ‘Such struggles,’ he says ‘can be won.’

– Chicu Lokgariwar, chicu.l@gmail.com

Author is with India Water Portal and is based in Uttarakhand

Fishing at Koel River Photo: Uttam Krishn Pal
Fishing at Koel River Photo: Uttam Krishan Pal

Further Reading:

Bela Bhatia, Resistance and Repression, Frontline 2001 http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl1805/18050430.htm

Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Dayamani Barla, The Voice of Jharkhand http://kractivist.wordpress.com/tag/dayamani-barla/

About Koel Karo Struggle from Friends of Narmada http://www.narmada.org/related.issues/koel.karo/koel.karo.appeal.html

Vasavai Kiro, Smitu Kothari, Savyasaachi, Culture, Creative Opposition and Alternative Development: Sustaining Struggle in the Koel-Karo Valleys


[1]     Mathews Rohan. 2011. The Koel Karo People’s Movement in Eastern India. URL: http://www.ritimo.org/article877.html

[2]     The Telegraph, 2003. Dam warriors in praise for son-of-soil. 05 August 2003. URL: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1030805/asp/jamshedpur/story_2234167.asp

[3]     PUCL Bulletin, September 2002. The adivasi struggle for land rights at Koel-Karo. URL:http://www.pucl.org/Topics/Industries-envirn-resettlement/2002/tapkara.html

[4]     Down to Earth. Leaders renege, but tribal collectivism holds forth. Down to Earth. July 31, 2003. URL: http://www.downtoearth.org.in/node/13200

[5]     The Telegraph. 2003. Dam warriors in praise for son-of-soil. Jamshedpur.05 August 2003. URl:http://www.telegraphindia.com/1030805/asp/jamshedpur/story_2234167.asp

[6]     Basu Maushumi. 2008. ‘Indian woman with a steely resolve’. BBC News. 21 October 2008. URL:


Godavari’s Story


Godavari, the Dakshin Vahini Ganga, originates at an elevation of 1067 meters in the Brahmagiri Hills of the Western Ghats in Nashik District of Maharashtra and continues its journey over 1465 kms in the south east to meet the Bay of Bengal at Narasapuram in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. Like many Indian rivers, Godavari’s origin is consecrated with a Shiva Temple, the Trimbakeshwar, which is also one of the 12 Jyotirlingas (most of them near a river). And like many other rivers, it has an elaborate myth and a hymn in its honour. The river has a sister, Gautami, right at its origin in Maharashtra and again a distributary called Gautami right where the river falls into the sea in Andhra Pradesh!

Bramhagiri range of Western Ghats where Godavari originates Phot from: shritribakeshwar.blogspot.com
Bramhagiri range of Western Ghats where Godavari originates Photo from: shritribakeshwar.blogspot.com

The river mainstem, longest in Peninsular India, travels through three states, Maharashtra, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, while its basin includes Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, parts of Chattisgarh and Odisha. It traverse through 3 agroclimatic zones, 6 agro ecological zones and supports an astounding array of biodiversity and communities. More than 60 million people call Godavari Basin their home. The basin includes important towns like Nashik, Nagpur, Wardha, Nanded and Chandrapur from Maharashtra and Bhadrachalam, Nizamabad, Mancherial & Ramagundam in Telangana, Rajahmundry & Narsapur in Andhra Pradesh and Seoni & Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh.

Idol of Godavari at Brahmagiri, her origin. Photo from: http://dharmanlife.blogspot.in/
Idol of Godavari at Brahmagiri, her origin. Photo from: http://dharmanlife.blogspot.in/

The river is considered no less than a sister to Ganga and I remember as a child, elders always referring to Godavari as Ganga. Nashik is important religiously not only as the birth place of this Dakshin Vahini Ganga, where she refused to fall into the Arabian Sea, but also because of the deep association of the city with Ramayana. Nashik was believed to be a part of Dandakaranya where Lord Ram resided for nearly 14 years in Vanavasa. All along the river in places like Tapovan, one can find glimpses of this ancient myth worshipped today. On the banks of Godavari in Nashik also stands the KalaRam Mandir where, in 1930, Babasaheb Ambedkar launched the KalaRam Mandir Entry Satyagraha, storming the temple which was thus far restricted for the depressed classes. Indeed, Godavari has borne witness to several remarkable happenings at her origin itself.

In her middle reaches in Nanded, Takth Sri Hazur Sahib graces the banks of the river where Guru Gobind Singh breathed his last. The place is one of the five holy places in Sikkhism. In Telangana and Andhra too the banks have numerous mosques, temples and ghats of historical significance like Kotilingala in Karimnagar, Telangana, at the confluence of Peddavagu and Godavari. This was the first capital of the Satavahanas circa 230 BC. Most of the important towns in Satavahana era are along the Godavari. Sadly today the Koti Lingala is facing threat of submergence from Sripada Yellampalli Irrigation project. At Dhawaleswaram the river divides into two branches, the Gautami and Vasishta.  Between the two lies the Godavari Central Delta.  The two arms split into branches as they approach the sea dividing the Central Delta into a number of islands.

Anne Feldhaus sums up the historical legacy of many cultures and religions of this upper Godavari Valley and Marathwada eloquently. She says: “This is the area that Cakradhar, the founder of the Mahanubhav sect (circa 12-13th Century), referred to as the “Ganga valley” that is, the (upper) valley of the Godavari, the northernmost of the great rivers that flow from northwest to southeast across the Deccan Plateau. In Cakradhar’s time, what is now Marathwada was the core of the Yadava kingdom, with its capital at Devgiri (subsequently called Daulatabad). Paithan, the capital of the much earlier kingdom of the Satavahanas (first century B.C.E. to third century C.E.) is also found in Marathwada, on the Godavari river, as is Nanded, the site of the grave of the seventeenth-century Sikh leader Govind Singh. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s city, Aurangabad, is now the principal city of Marathwada in Godavari basin, which is also home to the Buddhist (and Jain and Hindu) caves at Ajanta and Ellora (called Verul in Marathi) and to the major Sufi shrines at Khuldabad.” (From: Feldhaus, Anne, in History of Sacred places in India as reflected in traditional literature, Edited by Hans Bakker, 1990)

GOddess GOdavari at Godavar Delta Photo from : http://www.panoramio.com/photo/3342895
Goddess Godavari at Godavari Delta Photo from : http://www.panoramio.com/photo/3342895

Basin Characteristics

(Based on WRIS Basin Profile on Godavari)

Godavari Basin accounts for nearly 9.5% of the total geographical area of the country and extends over states of Maharashtra (48.7%), Andhra Pradesh & Telangana (23.7%), Chhattisgarh (12.4%) and Odisha (5.7%) in addition to smaller parts in Madhya Pradesh (7.8%) and Karnataka (1.4%)

Godavari Basin Map by WRIS
Godavari Basin Map by WRIS
Table-I: Important Tributaries of Godavari
Sr. No. Name of Tributary Length
1 Godavari 1419
2 Purna 382.16
3 Penganga 634.36
4 Wardha 538
5 Wainganga 635.40
6 Pranhita 111.0
7 Indravati 558.96
8 Sabari 179.99
9 Kolab 240.05
10 Pravara 198.79
11 Manjara 198.79

Around 32% of Godavari basin area lies in the elevation zone of 500-750 m. Average annual rainfall (1971-2005) is 1096.92 mm. While the high rainfall zone of Western Ghats the annual rainfall varies from 1000 to 3000 mm region on the east of Western Ghats falls in the rain shadow area which experiences less than 600 mm rainfall.  About 60% of the basin is covered with agricultural land.  Forest area is about 29.78% and water bodies occupy 2.06% of the total basin area.

Sub Basins: The Godavari basin is divided into 8 sub-basins. Principal tributaries are listed in Table-I above.

Geography of the basin: The basin is bounded by the Mahadeo Hills of the Satpura Range in the north, the Western Ghats in the west, Eastern Ghats of the Dandakaranya region of Odisha, Chattisgarh and Andhra in the east. The onterior part of the basin lies in Maharashtra and in a snese the Godavari basin bisects the plateau of Maharasthra.The basin also covers the Vidarbha Plain and the forest covered Wainganga valley. The area is rich in natural vegetation that covers the rugged hilly land.

Wildlife sanctuaries/ Protected areas/ National Parks in the basin: Godavari basin supports significant forest are in the Central India much of this is in the belt of eastern Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Telangana states. Wainganga, one of the most important tributary of the Godavari is the stage of Kipling’s Jungle Book. Wainganga basin is home to three tiger reserves viz. Tadoba and Pench National Park in Maharashtra and Indravati National Park in Chhattisgarh. Table-II lists these areas.

Pench National Park in Godavari- Wainganga Basin Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP
Pench National Park in Godavari- Wainganga Basin Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP
Table-II: Wildlife sanctuaries/ Protected areas/ National Parks in the basin:
Sr. No. State Wildlife sanctuaries/ Protected areas/ National Parks District
1. Maharashtra Tadoba National Park (Tiger Reserve) Chandrapur
Bor Wildlife Sactuary Wardha
Navegaon Wildlife Sanctuary Gondiya
Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary Gondiya
Pench National Park (Tiger Reserve) Seoni
2 Chhattisgarh Bhairamgarh Wildlife Sanctuary Dantewada
Kanger Ghati National Park Bastar
Indravati National Park (Tiger Reserve) Dantewada
Pamed Wildlife Sanctuary Dantewada
3 Andhra Pradesh Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary East Godavari
Papikonda Wildlife Sanctuary West Godavari
4 Telangana Kinnerasani Wildlife Sanctuary Khammam
Pocharam Wildlife Santuary Medak
Manjira Bird Sanctuary Nizamabad
Eturnagaram Wildlife Sanctuary Warangal
Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary Adilabad
Siwaram Wildlife Sanctuary Karimnagar
Pranhita Wildlife Sanctuary Adilabad
Siwaram Wildlife Sanctuary Karimnagar
Hilsa from Yanam, Godavari Delta Photo: Indian Express

 Fish and Fisheries in the Basin: Godavari Basin is rich in fish species. The estuarine zone itself is habitat for nearly 228 species, some of which are marine. While the upper stretch of the river is nearly completely dependent on reservoir water releases for fisheries the middle zone has species like Carps, Mahseer, and prawns. Delta, in times of floods and monsoon has rich fisheries of prawns, large sized carps, catfishes, Puntius species, etc. According to CIFRI reports (Selvaraj, 2000, River Godavari: Environment and Fishery, CIFRI), dams like Polavaram will affect a number of species like prawns, which would get severely restricted, Hilsa and carps. The impacts of Polavaram on the lives of thousands of migrating fisherfolk has been documented. Hilsa, or the Pulasa, as it is called in the local language is famed in the estuary.

Major Challenges faced by the Godavari and it inhabitants

1. Dams, Barrages and Anicuts

Dams are a primary challenge faced by a river due to the profound ways in which they affect the hydrology, ecology, sociology, continuum of the river.

According to MoWR (Ministry of Water Resources), so far nearly 921 Dams, 28 Barrages, 18 Weirs, 1 Anicut, 62 Lifts and 16 Powerhouses have been constructed in the basin for irrigation, diversion or, storage purpose. The basin has 70 Major Irrigation Projects and 216 Minor Irrigation Projects.

One of the oldest barrage in the basin as well as the country is the Dowleshwaram Barrage also known as Arthur Cotton Barrage, situated on the Godavari Delta near Rajamundry, Andhra Pradesh. Godavari barrage has come up by remodeling the Dowleshwarmam barrage and irrigates the Godavari Delta. The barrage does not have a fish lift or a pass and does not releases eflows in the downstream, starving the delta of sediment and water and blocking migration of the fames Pulasa, Hilsa fish.

Dowleswaram barrage just upstream bifurcation of Godavari into Gautami and Vashitha Photo: The Hindu
Dowleswaram barrage just upstream bifurcation of Godavari into Gautami and Vashitha Photo: The Hindu

Other important projects include Sri Ram Sagar Project or the Pochampadu project in Nizamabad, Telnagana and the Jayakwadi Project in Paithan, Maharahstra. Jayakwadi project boasts of the one of the longest dam walls in the country, running more than 10 kms, which has resulted in massive evaporation losses from the reservoir. The project was built displacing 70 villages and is now in the eye of the storm as intra state water disputes heat up in Maharashtra. In the upstream of Jayakawadi are more than 11 large dams in the districts of Nashik and Ahmednagar, which is a cane and grape growing region. Downstream Jayakawadi too are several projects on the Godavari and tributaries in Maharashtra like 11 barrages on Godavari, Vishnupuri, Upper Penganga, etc.  The massive GosiKhurd Dam coming up on Wainganga River, one of the biggest tributary of Godavari, is mired is corruption charges. The project will submerge more than 100 villages and is witnessing stiff resistance from the region.

Waterbirds on mudflats of Jayakwadi Dam Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Waterbirds on mudflats of Jayakwadi Dam Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Nizamsagar multipurpose project is constructed in Nizamabad district in Telengana on Manjira River in 1931. Kaddam Reservoir is constructed on the Kaddam River in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh. The dam broke in a year after construction in 1958, by 4.6 cms water flowing over the crest.[1] Upper Indravati multipurpose project on the Indravati in Odisha diverts waters of the Indravati into the Mahanadi for power generation. Upper Kolab dam was completed in 1990 on Kolab River, Orissa, it has a live storage capacity of 935 MCM. At FRL, the reservoir water spread covers 114 sq. km. The dam displaced more than 50,000 people in the Koraput district of Odisha, who were already distressed by a number projects in Odisha. Hydro projects in the Sileru river, a tributary of Godavari in Odishna has displaced thousands of tribals till date. Thee projects include Machkund (120 MW), Balimela (510 MW), Upper Sileru (240 MW), Donkarayi (25 MW) and Lower Sileru hydro (460 MW) power project.

According to this disturbing report, about 20,000 people from 6 grampanchayats, predominantly tribal are cut off from the main land for several years, first by the Machkund Hydro electric project and then by Balimela Project. They hire a ferry to get to mainland and in 2010, this ferry was targeted and attacked by the maoists.

tribals trying to get aboard the only motor launch thats their link to the main land after being cut off by Machkund and Balimela Dams. Photo from : http://moonchasing.wordpress.com/2010/03/14/forgotten-country-the-cut-off-area-of-malkangiri/
Tribals trying to get aboard the only motor launch thats their link to the main land after being cut off by Machkund and Balimela Dams. Photo from : http://moonchasing.wordpress.com/2010/03/14/forgotten-country-the-cut-off-area-of-malkangiri/


Surplus basin or Deficit Basin? Surprisingly. although there is a severe water scarcity in many parts of the basin, leading to increasing conflicts, the National Water Development Agency, responsible for works related to Interlinking of Rivers, classifies Godavari as a Surplus Basin and plans diversions from Godavari into other basins like Krishna and Pennar. Ironically, in Maharashtra, there are projects underway to transfer water from Krishna to Godavari!( Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation Project).

The situation only highlights the fallacies of labeling river basins “Surplus”  or “Deficit”. Maharashtra is in fact already transferring water from west flowing basins into Godavari, in a very unscientific manner.

Sedimentation of the river upstream Sri Ram Sagar Project. Dams trap sediments, decreasing their live storage capacities, while starving the river downstream and killing the delta Photo from: The Hindu
Sedimentation of the river upstream Sri Ram Sagar Project. Dams trap sediments, decreasing their live storage capacities, while starving the river downstream and killing the delta Photo from: The Hindu

2. Upcoming projects and Major Struggles:

The basins is also witnessing massive conflicts over water. Perhaps Godavari is the first basin in the country to witness a long drawn and oft repeated intrastate water conflict between stakeholders upstream of Jayakwadi and those downstream. The conflict does not seem to subside with entrenched positions, proliferation of water intensive crops like sugarcane and lack of open communication and transparency from the administration. Lower Penganga project, which is set to displace more than 20 villages in the fertile belt of Yavatmal is also witnessing a huge protest against the dam project. Gosikhurd project on Wainganga too is witnessing massive struggle not only from the farmers upstream, but also fisherfolk who fish in the rich Wainganga at present. The upcoming Pranahita-Chevella link, a part of the Jalyagnam project in the present Telanagana is likely to see conflicts as Maharashtra appears to be the loser, losing forest lands, protected area and tribals villages for no tangible gains. Already, water sharing conflicts between newly formed Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are on the anvil.

Protest against Gosikhurd dam Photo from sruti.org.in
Protest against Gosikhurd dam Photo from sruti.org.in
Tribals from Odishna, Andhra and Chattisgarh oppose Polavaram Photo: The Hindu
Tribals from Odishna, Andhra and Chattisgarh oppose Polavaram Photo: The Hindu

Jalyagnam project,  an intricate plan of over 78 dam projects and lift irrigation schemes mostly on Godavari has also been in the eye of the storm for huge corruption charges, massive displacement and contractor-friendly nature, ignoring the deep impacts on the river and its people.

Other planned projects include: Polavaram, a project which can submerge 276 villages in Telangana, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh, displacing nearly 1,50,000 people! The EIA of the project was majorly flawed, the Public Hearing was rigged and there is huge local opposition to the project. Hydel projects like Bhopalpatanam and Ichampalli projects on Indravati River can submerge near nearly 2 lakh acres of land, mostly forest land[2].

3. Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal: In April 1969, the Central Government constituted the Godavari Water Disputes Tribunal (GWDT) to address water sharing disputes between Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. While the disputes were before the Tribunal, the party States themselves, after  negotiations  entered into  agreements  from  time  to  time  on  the  utilisation  of  the  waters  of  the  Godavari and its tributaries. Incorporating these agreements in the final adjudication GWDT gave the final verdict in the year 1980 and ordered that the agreements should be observed and carried out by all concerned. Different sub-basins from the catchments  intercepted  by  major/medium  projects  proposed  on  various  tributaries by  the  States  have  been  generally allocated  among  the  respective  States. However GWDT verdict lacks actual water use monitoring mechanism to implement the agreements in true spirit[i]

4. Water Quality and Pollution:

Like all rivers across India, Godavari too faces severe pollution from urban and rural sewage, agricultural runoff, and industrial effluents. In Maharashtra upper stretch of Godavari from Nashik District to Paithan has been declared as priority I critically polluted stretch by CPCB with BOD ranging from 6 mg/l to 36 mg/l[ii]. A petition has been filed in the high court by few activists from the city against Nashik Municipal Corporation (NMC), Municipal Commissioner, Government of India (GoI), Government of Maharashtra (GoM), and Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) for failure on their part to clean the pollution of the river[iii].

Godavari polluted at the source in Nashik Photo: Tripadvisor
Godavari polluted at the source in Nashik Photo: Tripadvisor

In Andhra Pradesh stretch flowing from District of Rajamundry has been declared as priority-IV critically polluted stretch with BOD 6 mg/l.

Water quality of Manjara from Latur city in Maharashtra to Karnataka border and also at Sangareddy, at Wardha’s confluence with river Pangangato downstream of Sirpur in Maharashtra and of Indravati at Bodhghat in Madhya Pradesh has been deteriorated.In Vidarbha, the several thermal power plant, including the ones run by the state discharge fly ash and highly contaminated wastes right into the tributaries of the basin.

5. Subsiding Delta due to upstream dams:

The Godavari and Krishna rivers, which are the second and third largest river systems in India after the Ganga, have built their deltas adjacent to each other almost merging into one large delta complex in the central part of the east coast of India.This delta is one of the most fertile and is a densely populated zone of intense economic activity. Delta plain of the river Godavari occupies an area of 1700 sq.km. River Godavari gets divided into two main distributaries, viz. Gautami and Vasishta.

Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary is situated on the deltaic branches of Gouthami and Godavari rivers at Kakinada Bay. It has extensive marshes and mangroves extending in an area of about 235.Sq.Kms

There  has  been  almost  a  three-fold  reduction  in  suspended sediment  loads  entering the delta due to trapping from upstream dams. This is leading into coatsla erosion, Effective Sea Level Rise, more flood risks, fisheries reduction, etc. Sediment load at the delat has reduced from  150·2  million  tons  during  1970–1979  to  57·2  million  tons  by  2000–2006. Experts like Syvistki et al classify Godavari delta as  “Deltas in greater risk: reduction in aggradation where rates no  longer  exceed  relative  sea-level  rise”.    Decline  in  historic sediments of Godavari post damming has been as high as 74%!

Children and Godavari Photo with thanks from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/32835899@N07/3855165595
Children and Godavari Photo with thanks from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/32835899@N07/3855165595

Winding up

From the origin in Western Ghats to its mouth at the Eastern coast, Godavari traverses a major part of Peninsular India and nourishes several rich cultures and social milieus: from Marathi in Deccan plateau to ancient tribal culture in central India to a vibrant delta system near Rajamundhry. The River is fettered in many dams all along its length and across its basin which have been responsible for human sufferings, ecological impacts, livelihood struggles and conflicts.

The basin is facing several major issues, but the river is also resilient. Let us hope that inhabitants of the Godavari basin are empowered to solve the problems of their river.

-Parineeta Dandekar ( parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com)

Amruta Pradhan (amrutapradhan@gmail.com)

Both of us are from Nashik, the origin of Godavari!


The Profile is largely based on data from following sources:

India WRIS Wiki: Godavari (http://india-wris.nrsc.gov.in/wrpinfo/index.php?title=Godavari)

Major Water Resources Development Projects in the Godavari Basin (http://www.nih.ernet.in/rbis/india_information/GODAVARI_projects.htm)


End Notes:

[1] http://nptel.ac.in/courses/105106114/pdfs/Unit41/41_2.pdf

[2] http://www.narmada.org/AMTE/vanaprastha3.html


[ii] Annual Report 2009-2010 of Central Pollution Control Board

[iii] Bombay High Court order issued on 07/03/2014 for PIl-176.12

Further Reading:

Ecology of the river by Infochange News & Features, November  2010 (http://infochangeindia.org/environment/fishing-in-troubled-waters/ecology-of-the-river.html)

Nagpur 24×7 water supply at the cost of irrigation potential? by Amruta Pradhan (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/nagpur-24×7-water-supply-at-the-cost-of-irrigation-potential/)

Goda Park Riverfront Development Project: Violation of court order and destruction of fertile riparian zone by Amruta Pradhan (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/goda-park-riverfront-development-project-violation-of-court-order-and-destruction-of-fertile-riparian-zone/)

One state, but divergent demands by Parineeta Dandekar (http://indiatogether.org/share-environment)

Dam’ned: A Film on Polavaram Dam Give Voice to the Unheard By Parag Jyoti Saikia (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/damned-a-film-on-polavaram-dam-give-voice-to-the-unheard/)

Agitation against Polavaram by SANDRP (https://sandrp.in/dams/polavrm_article.pdf)

Hydropower Generation Performance in Godavari Basin by SANDRP (https://sandrp.in/HEP_Performance/HEP_Performance_in_Godavari_River_Basin_Dec_2011.pdf)