Above: A girl from the Par Basin. With drinking water problems plaguing her village and the impending diversion project either from Gujarat or Maharashtra, her hardships will only increase. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
Even as the second meeting of the Special Committee for Interlinking of Rivers was held on the 6th January 2015[i], the Union Minister of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Sushri Uma Bharti sought “co-operation of various States in this project” and said that “States can discuss their apprehensions if any, in the next meeting of the committee.” She informed the meeting that on 07 January 2015, she will meet Chief Minister of Maharashtra Shri. Devendra Fadnavis to discuss Damanganga-Pinjal and Par-Tapi-Narmada link projects.
This gambit from Ms. Bharti looks like an evidence (one more!) that all is not well on the interlinking front. As predicted by many, there are major issues being raised by states opposing diversion of any water outside their territories. The ILR Agenda is fraught with conflicts and, as we will see here, bad and hastily planned projects just to spite any chance of diverting waters to other states!
Ken-Betwa, Damanganga-Pinjal and Par-Tapi-Narmada were supposed to be the initials projects to be taken up for interlinking[ii]. In all these projects, what is seen is repeated protests and conflicts, not only by the people but also by participating states. The quality of studies for these supposed ‘flagship’ projects of the government is shockingly poor. For the first ILR Project to be flagged, the EIA of Ken Betwa Link[iii], its TORs and the actual public hearing had fundamental flaws.
In case of Damanganga-Pinjal Link, there is a possibility that there will be no Environment Impact Assessment, no public hearing and no Environment Management Plan. This is entirely unacceptable, especially as it was declared by none other than Ms. Bharti (at the valedictory function of India Rivers Week) that “If environmental impacts of ILR projects are foreseen to be high, projects will not be taken up.” [iv] But if there is not even an EIA, how can we even grasp what the environmental ( and social) impacts are? Especially for a project that can submerge more than 3500 hectares forest land in Western Ghats..
But coming back to our main point, the bone of contention and the reason for Ms. Bharti seeking an urgent meeting with Mr. Fadnavis at this time seems to be the Par-Tapi-Narmada Link project which is aimed at diverting the supposed surplus from west flowing rivers like Par, Nar, Ambika and Auranga Basins of Maharashtra into the Narmada basin of Gujarat.
However, just before this meeting, Maharashtra is strongly contending that it does not have ANY water to spare for Gujarat as all waters from Maharashtra part of these west flowing basins will need to utilized by the drought-affected Girna sub-basin of the Tapi basin in Maharashtra and also transferred into the drought-affected parts of Godavari basin in Aurangabad.
Whether Maharashtra Chief Minister, also from BJP, will have the courage and fortitude to say this clearly and unambiguously remains to be seen.
Before the meeting of CM with WRD Minister, Tapi Irrigation Development Corporation (TIDC) of Maharashtra has come up with a detailed Plan consisting of 22 dams to transfer all the surplus water from the four west flowing basins into eastern Maharashtra, leaving no water for diversion onto Gujarat. This plan has been formulated, we are told, under instructions from the highest leaders in the state. (Please see schematic representation of 3 schemes of the project at the end of the blog)
Official Document with SANDRP which is as latest as 1st January 2015 spells out this Master Plan which is supposed to consist of 22 dams, hundreds of kilometers of links, canals, tunnels, sumps and barrages.
It may be recalled that in May 2010 a tripartite agreement was signed between Gujarat and Maharashtra Governments and the Union Ministry of Water Resources for preparation of Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) of Damanganga Pinjal and Par Tapi Narmada Link projects .One of the clause (Para 3) of the MoU, which is now being upheld by Maharashtra Government was that: “The feasibility of utilization of water by state in their territory by lifting water over the western divide will also be examined during preparation of DPR…….”[v].
NWDA Link Project: Accordingly, National Water Development Agency (NWDA) under Ministry of Water Resources, Government of India completed a Prefeasibility Report (PFR) of Par-Nar-Girna Valley Link project to transfer waters from west flowing rivers to eastern parts of Maharashtra itself and submitted this to Government of Maharashtra (GOM) in April 2011. According to the PFR, the cost of this intra state river linking project is slightly more than Rs 10053.1 Crores, Benefit Cost Ratio (BC ratio) is 0.54 and Internal Rate of Return (IRR) is 3.16. The link project envisages diversion of 534 MCM (Million Cubic Meters) water from Auranga-Ambika-Nar-Par basin through 20 Dams. However, Government of Maharashtra was not happy with the NWDA study and felt that it was made to seem their plans unviable.
Tapi Irrigation Development Corporation (TIDC) Modified Link Project: So NWDA PFR was modified by TIDC of Government of Maharashtra (GoM) and submitted to GoM in September 2011. According to this Modified PFR, the cost of the project will be close to Rs 6866.09 Crores with a BC Ratio of 1.73 and IRR of 15.11, much higher than the NWDA proposal. This project aims to divert 549 MCM water from Auranga-Ambika-Nar-Par basins through 22 Dams. The project is made up of three schemes of 22 projects inter connected through tunnels, canals, rising mains, barrages, etc. Water stored in these dams is envisaged to be pumped up across the ridge line and transferred into the Girna Sub basin through proposed Manjarpada 2 diversion scheme in Dindori, Nashik.
According to CWC study in March 2012, the Par-Tapi-Narmada link envisaged to transfer 598 MCM or 21.11 TMC from Maharashtra catchment. However, the Par-Nar-Girna proposal by State of Maharashtra of transferring 549 MCM (19.38 TMC) water at 75% Dependability into eastern parts of the state makes it clear that Maharashtra has no water to spare for Gujarat.
It is claimed that Maharashtra’s transfer will create a total command area of 95,760 Ha of which 53,626 Ha will be in Nashik, 38,304 Ha in Jalgaon and 3,830 Ha in Aurangabad district of Godavari Basin. In addition, there will be 146 MCM reserved for domestic and industrial use. Aurangabad is a part of Marathwada which infamous for recurrent drought. This falls in Godavari Basin, which is supposed to be a surplus basin according to NWDA!
The scheme of pumps, sumps, tunnels, canals and rising mains will require 195 MW electricity and the rising main itself will be 84.5 Kms long. The project has a construction period of 7 years. It will also need at least 10 barrages on Girna for Nashik & Jalgaon districts.
Strong opposition in Maharashtra to Par Tapi Narmada Project and diverting water to Gujarat Par Tapi Narmada Link has created a furor in the political circles of Maharashtra. In winter assembly, a special meeting was held between Maharashtra Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan and MLAs from the Par, Nar, Ambika and Tapi regions which include Baglan, Chanwad, Devala, Malegaon, Surgana-Kalvan etc.,[vi]. This meeting was to discuss strategy before interstate meeting between officials from Maharashtra and Gujarat on the interlinking projects in March 2015. It has been urgently decided that the government will come up with master plan for using waters of these rivers for Maharashtra itself rather than diverting it to Gujarat through the Par Tapi Narmada Link.
It was reported in June 2014[vii] that in a meeting in Vadodara organized by NWDA, there was an appeal to give immediate permission for the Par Tapi Narmada Link project, but officials of the Tapi Irrigation Development Corporation from Maharashtra opposed this. Locals have organized fasts and protests[viii] opposing transfer of water from Maharashtra and there is tremendous opposition to these plans in the affected regions & the proposed beneficiary region of the Par-Nar-Girna Link.
In Conclusion: A competition for unviable and destructive large dam projects
Par-Nar-Girna Link Project by Maharashtra is a costly, unviable and destructive project. The resounding failure, stalemate in work, protests, corruption charges and lack of promised benefits of Manjarpada I Project, just adjacent to proposed Manjarpada II project is enough to prove this point. Manjarpada I project was also supposed to transfer waters from West to East: a grand design by WRD, Maharashtra: it lies defunct now, incomplete and overgrown, whereas local village suffer impacts like cracked homes, collapsed wells due to its blasting. SANDRP has visited and analysed this project and the so-called diversion dams which are supposed to divert waters from west flowing basin into the Godavari Basin.[ix] One more such project seems nearly unbelievable at this time.
In addition to its impracticality, the project will submerge more than 2000 hectares of forest in Western Ghats and more than 1000 hectares of private lands inhabited by tribals. These figures are in any case very conservative estimates considering the massive nature of scheme with 22 large dams and the related structures. Water transfer in this region has been always fraught in conflicts. In 2013, just 78 kms transfer from Palkhed dam to Manmad Town, with no ‘interbasin’ tag attached, could not happen due to en-route thefts, canals leaks etc.
Long distance transfers to places like Aurangabad is a bad pipe dream which simply cannot materialize. In any case, Aurangabad has many simpler options rather than depending on a fallacious, vacillating project. Even in Girna basin, with all the rainfall and local streams, there are local options which need to be explored before thinking of interlinking.
Having said that, the Maharashtra project is no more impractical than the Par-Tapi-Narmada Link Project[x], which envisages 7 huge reservoirs and a canal which is more than 400 kms long. The Par Tapi Narmada Link would submerge nearly 7500 hectares of land, including 3572 ha forestland. It would also affect more than 35,000 tribals.
It seems the Government of Maharashtra and Tapi Irrigation Development Corporation have hastily proposed Par-Nar-Girna project only to stop Gujarat from taking Maharashtra waters, alleviate public concerns, opposition of local MLAs and leaders.
This tragically looks like a competition for pushing bad projects. It has to be noted that this region belongs to the Northern-most range of the Global Biodiversity Hotspot of Western Ghats. Most of the region falls in Eco-sensitive Zone 1 (ESZ1) as per the Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel Report under the Chairperson ship of Dr. Madhav Gadgil. The Report restricts any large dams and interbasin transfers in this region. The region also falls in ESA (Eco Sensitive Areas) as per the Kasturirangan Committee Report (High Level Working Group Report on Western Ghats) which lays down strict regulations for Interbasin Transfers as well as large dams in ESAs.
The current race to the bottom is a direct fallout of pushing Inter-linking of rivers as a political agenda, rather than looking for saner solutions. There is BJP Government in Maharashtra, Gujarat as well as Centre. Despite this, opposition to Par-Tapi-Narmada Project is simmering across the borders and Government of Maharashtra is finding it impossible to support the project. This highlights the latent conflicts that are part of the Interlinking Agenda.
As Climate Change is skewing up water availability and affecting crops, as water-related disasters are increasing, as dams are increasingly seen neither as a solution, nor a respite to these issues, the last thing India needs is more interstate conflicts fuelled by Interlinking of Rivers. The last thing our rivers and riverine communities need is more bad projects only to spite the other set of bad projects.
Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP (firstname.lastname@example.org)