Above: A board at the dam site proclaims: “Beware, dam work ahead”. The warning pretty much sums up the situation of Krishna Marathwada Project Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
It was a blazing hot afternoon, made hotter by the subconscious association of Marathwada with all things dry, parched and drought-stricken. I was standing on the half completed dam wall of the Khuntephal Storage Tank in Beed, along with Macchindra Thorave and his colleagues. I’ve seen many dams and many dam walls, but it was impossible to believe this was a dam wall, supposed to impound 5.68 TMC of water (TMC=Thousand Million Cubic Feet. 1 TMC=28.317 billion liters). Primarily because there was no water in sight on either sides of the dam! There was no river in sight either! It actually looked like an under-construction road connecting two hills.
But as I realized later, being a part of the Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation Scheme and Krishna Bhima Stabilisation Project, issues like water were inconsequential. This was Dam for Dam’s sake.
Macchindra Thorave, from Ashti, Beed, came to our office one day, with familiar tales of land grab, forced survey, police action, thrashing of villagers etc. for the Khuntehal Storage Tank which was a part of Ashti Lift Irrigation Scheme (LIS). He had filed a writ petition against the LIS. As I listened to him, I was ticking boxes mentally. It was an old story, which happens with a depressing monotony in Maharashtra. Recent struggles against Gosekhurd, Lower Painganga, Jigaon in Vidarbha, Lower Dudhna, Sahasrakund in Marathwada, Nardawe, Talambe, Kalu, Shai, Pinjal in Western Ghats, etc., stand testimony to this. The grit and fortitude of the young storyteller was also familiar. He had brought with himself a photocopied bundle of about 600 pages for me to read: RTI (Applications under Right to Information Act) responses, carefully put together over 6 years. He would tell me later how scared he was to file his first RTI and how eventually he checked the project document file sitting right in the Mantralaya. It has been a long journey for him.
Macchindra and his advocate Mr. Sonawane knew we were working on this project. SANDRP monitors Environment and Forest clearance of dams, Hydro, Irrigation & River Valley Projects in India. We had brought to notice of the MoEF in August 2014 that the project they are considering for Environment Clearance (EC), the Krishna Marathwada LIS, was already in advanced stage of construction. This was a violation of Environment Protection Act (1986) and this was hidden from the MoEF by the project officials who attended the EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee) meeting.
The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of the project was done by Science and Technology Park (STP), fully funded by Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, but this EIA or EIA agency did not protest the fact the basic foundation of their responsibility, the EPA 1986 itself had been violated by the project!
Following our submission, the EAC in a rare strong move asked the proponent (Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation (GMIDC) and the Water Resources Department (WRD), Government of Maharashtra) to respond to our application, stop work and file an affidavit stating such violation will not be repeated. The resultant resolution of GMIDC said: “It is hereby resolved that status quo will be maintained and violation shall not be repeated in future and the suggestions/observations of MoEF will be scrupulously followed”. This was signed by no less than Suneel Tatkare, the then-Water Resource Minister and Chairman of GMIDC. The project authorities had already spent about Rs 417 crores on the project without securing EC! This was also covered by the media. (http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-we-ve-violated-green-laws-confess-maharashtra-karnataka-2008971)
We thought our work was done to an extent. But we were clearly mistaken.
The Khuntephal Storage tank and Ashti LIS which are a part of this Krishna Marathawada LIS project against which Macchindra has filed a case threatens to submerge five villages and an area of more than 1000 hectares under water, storing about 5.68 TMC water.
The tank is supposed to be built on the Mehekari River, which is a tributary of Seena River. Seena is a tributary of Bhima and part of the Krishna Basin (K5 according to Krishna Water Dispute Tribunal (KWDT) Parlance). As I described above, the tank was dry and the river Mehekari was dry. I was told even in rains, it has the size of small stream. So if there is no water in Mehekari, how will the the tank store 158.6 billion litres of water?
Macchindra’s involvement with the project started in 2009. He was in Pune when a forced survey, without issuing notices under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act was conducted by WRD for the storage tank which would submerge 1068 hectares of farmland. When the villagers opposed the survey, there was heavy lathi charge. Many were injured and false cases were filed against many by the WRD. In Macchindra’s words, “I was shaken. My village was always peaceful, we had our conflicts, but we were together, we were kin. This was unbelievable, that there was lathi charge, that there were Goondas beating up my elders. Something had to be done.”
The something started with trying to get information about the project, which proved to be a herculean task. Some villagers who initially opposed the project gave in, possibly under duress or favors. In a remote, closely knit village of Marathwada, suspicion about each other filled the air. No officials came to the village to explain the scheme.
Macchindra asks: “Why is it so difficult for the WRD officials to hold a meeting and tell us, inform us about a project for which they are asking our land. Can’t we think? Shouldn’t we make an informed decision? Don’t we have a choice?”
So how will Khuntephal tank hold water? It’s supposed to come from Ujani Dam over Bhima River about 100 kms away, in as many of 6 stages of water lifts involving pumping water to higher elevation in each stage..
Ujani Dam itself faces water shortage and some would remember High Court decision in 2013 actually ordering release of water from upstream dams for Ujani. So, there is no spare or reliable water in Ujani. This is not surprising looking at over 1,50,000 hectares of sugarcane plantation irrigated by the dam. 11 Lift Irrigation Schemes are functioning or are under construction to further use Ujani dam water, even as main canals of the dam are not complete 34 years after dam construction. Though we have repeatedly asked, the water balance of Ujani has not been made public. (http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-we-ve-violated-green-laws-confess-maharashtra-karnataka-2008971)
But, brace yourself, after 11 Lift Irrigation Schemes, Ashti LIS is not the only scheme that is waiting for water form Ujani. There are in all THREE such Lift Irrigation schemes which together form the Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation Scheme (KMLIS), which are claiming 23.66 TMC water, about 45% of the Live Storage of Ujani Dam. The project is in multiple stages. LIS I and II will serve Osmanabad District and take about 17 TMC water, while LIS III, which is Ashti LIS is meant of Beed.
The Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation Project will need a massive 4845 hectares of land and its cost according to 2007-8 rates stands at Rs 4645 Crores. The cost according to current prices would be much higher. Rs 417 Crores have been spent on the scheme till date according to White Paper.
But if Ujani Dam itself has no water to spare, how will KMLIS get 23.66 TMC that it needs?
This is to come to Ujani from several rivers which are nearly 300 kms away, through the Krishna Bhima Stabilisation Project.
Getting complicated? You haven’t heard the whole story yet..
This gargantuan Krishna Bhima Stabilisation Project which costs more than Rs 13000 crores as per 2011 timeline, aims at transferring 115 TMC water from the Krishna basin rivers arising in the Western Ghats of Kolhapur and Sangli like Kumbhi, Kasari, Warna, Panchaganga, Neera through a series of lifts and tunnels to the Ujani Dam. Of this 115 TMC, 23.66 TMC has been reserved for KMLIS.
So why are you opposing the project? I ask Macchindra. It’s clear that the case is a huge stress on his pocket, he has not found too many allies in his village, he is chided for getting into trouble everyday by his family, he has had cases filed against him. He says, “I looked at all papers. At first I did not understand a word from the RTI responses. There was reluctance; I had to go to far off offices to only read the files. I educated myself. I saw for myself that officers consider common citizens as fools (He used a choicest colloquial word). I saw the driving force behind the projects: it was not water or irrigation, it was money and power and contracts. This has become my battle now.”
The trail of Krishna Marathwada and the bigger Krishna Bhima Stabilisation Project (KBSP) is littered with political muscle flexing, selling dreams for catching votes during elections, big contracts and money. Krishna Bhima Stabilisation scheme involves diverting 115 TMC water from Krishna I basin, to different parts of Krishna Basin, but it still does not have permission from the KWDT (Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal, a statutory body for water distribution among Krishna Basin states) or Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA), both statutory bodies, besides having any environment or forest clearances! When I spoke to Superintendent Engineer of the KWDT Cell of Maharashtra Mr. Ghanekar, he told me point blank “There is no way Krishna Bhima Stabilisation Project or the Krishna Marathwada LIS can get a clearance from KWDT”.
According to Concise Note of the project by WRD, Maharashtra, the KBSP involves 201 kilometers long tunnels and a command of 5,50,290 hectares. It involves transferring waters of rivers like Kumbhi (3 TMC), Kasari (7TMC), Warna (37 TMC), Krishna-Koyana (51 TMC) Panchanganga (10 TMC) and Neera (7 TMC). Of this 115 TMC, 42 TMC will be used at Ujani project, 16.2 TMC at Neera Project, 13.25 TMC at Tembhu LIS, 3 TMC at Takari LIS, 10 TMC at Mhaisal LIS, 7.50 TMC for Mann, Khatav and Koregaon projects, 2.05 TMC for Dhakale LIC and 23.66TMC for Krishna Marathwada LIS. Only for transfer upto Neera River, which is the first stage of the project, as many as 6 barrages, 5 tunnels and 6 canals will have to be built. A brief introduction can be seen here: http://cewrdaurangabad.org/KM.asp
The Prefeasibility Study of Krishna Bhima Stabilisation Project done by NWDA (National Water Development Agency, a Ministry of Water Resources Organisation under Govt of India) in 2011 pegs the cost of this project at Rs 13,576 Crores. According to MKVDC (Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation), although in 2012 Maharashtra got permission from the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal (KWDT) to use excess water for some projects, Krishna Bhima Stabilisation project was not a part of this list.
So, it is logical that work on the scheme does not start as there is no assurance of any water being allocated for this scheme. But not only has work started, it has started in Marathwada first, which is in fact the last leg of the project!
Mr. Vijay Pandhare, the whistle blower in the 2012-13 Maharashtra Irrigation Scam told me a bit too bluntly “No water is going to reach Marathwada from Krishna Bhima Stabilisation Project in the next 200 years. The scheme is for contractors, not for farmers.”
Even otherwise sensible people from Marathwada turn dreamy-eyed when Krishna Bhima Stabilisation and Krishna Marathwada LIS are mentioned. Many think that these projects and distant water transfers are the only way for this parched region. Indeed Marathwada is dry and suffering from a poor monsoon for several years, it also has 2.5 lakh hectares under sugarcane this year. This area under sugarcane used up the live storage of nearly two Jayakwadi dams in a single year. (https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/thirsty-sugarcane-in-dry-marathwada-means-a-loss-of-2-million-farmer-livelihoods/) Water required for crushing is separate. Discouraging, disincentivising or stopping sugarcane is urgently required in this drought prone region. This is not the only solution or the only problem, but one of the steps to more holistic solutions.
The Letter Trail
No administrative approval for components of KMLIS! While the Krishna Bhima Stabilisation Project received an in principle approval from Maharashtra government in 2004, Krishna Marathwada LIS received an Administrative Approval (AA) in 24.8.2007 when it included only 2 Lift Irrigation Schemes. (AA: An approval for a water resource project which is issued in conjunction with various state departments like WRD, Finance and Planning after careful perusal of the project. This approval is a prerequisite for tendering, work sanction, land acquisition and so on.) That approval itself is questionable considering that the project did not have environment clearance or hydrological clearance. However, the Ashti Lift Irrigation Scheme, which was LIS III as part of the KMLIS, did not have the Administrative Approval and hence could not start work.
It is very interesting to analyze the paper trail of this project in a chronological sequence. This analysis indicates a number of things: How rules were broken, how responsibility was shrugged, how action was taken at the behest of contractors and politicians, how public money was wasted, how letter ping pongs often gave references of letters which in fact stated contrary to what was claimed. In many ways, this letter trail mirrors the modus operandi of the dam scam that unfurled in Maharashtra in 2012.
In a letter dated 4.11.2008, Secretary of Water Resources Department (WRD) Mr. Gayakwad added Ashti Lift Irrigation Scheme in the project and allocated 6 TMC water for it but his letter also said that this would need a new Administrative Approval.
Immediately after this, on 15.11.2008, the Executive Engineer of GMIDC wrote to the Secy, requesting AA for Ashti LIS, , based only on topographic desk survey, not real ground survey.
To this, the Executive Director wrote back in a month, asking the GMIDC to prove the feasibility of this scheme.
However, in January 2009, without giving any explanation or without getting administrative approval for Ashti LIS, the WRD accepted the pre tendering proposal for the project and a forced land survey, which Khuntephal village remembers so vividly took place on the 13.1.2009!
Immediately after this, in February 2009, Tender notices for Ashti LIS were published in various newspapers!
At the time of publishing a tender notice, the project did not have a water availability certificate, reliable water supply, or detailed cross sections and drawings approved by the Central Design Organisation, or required funds to start the project, or detailed survey, or Administrative approval or Environment Clearance! The tender notice requires stating its AA reference and this one used the AA for 2007 KMLIS which did not include LIS III (Ashti-Khuntephal) at all!
This indeed has been the modus operandi of the scam: To publish and approve tenders without any clearances, to fudge the facts and then keep projects dangling midway without funds or clearances… And blame it all of pending Environment and Forest clearances and land acquisition! In fact this has been exposed by the CAG report on Irrigation Projects in Maharashtra dated 2013. The report states: “There was no well-defined system of granting administrative approvals and revised administrative approvals to the irrigation projects by the Irrigation Development Corporations (IDC). Three IDCs granted administrative approvals to 63 projects worth Rs 2,468 crore in violation of the governor’s directives. Further, in 100 ongoing projects an expenditure of Rs 2,368 crore was incurred without approval from the competent authority.
Contractor asks for Administrative Approval! Then came the master stroke. In May 2009, Raj Promoters and Developers, a contractor firm based in Pune with alleged links with ruling party at the time (the Nationalist Congress Party, NCP, party of the ruling coalition then) and then WRD Minister wrote directly to Minister Ajit Pawar. This letter from the contractor (a copy with SANDRP) was straight forward, it simply said that they know the file of Ashti LIS has come in the Mantralaya from Revised Administrative Approval (RAA) and requested the Minister to process it soon, so that tendering can happen rapidly. The WRD sent orders to other departments based on this letter from a contractor!
On 7.7.2009, the Secy Mr. Gayakawad wrote again to GMIDC stating clearly that there is no assurance of water for this project because of KWDT. The project should hence be downscaled and planned only for 7 TMC water and not 23.66 TMC water. Ironically, the source of this 7 TMC water is also unclear. Khuntephal would get only 1.68 TMC, not 5.68 TMC. So importantly, all work should be undertaken only for this stage and not more. This direction was utterly ignored and the work undertaken was for the full 23.66 TMC allocation, without even any interstate clearances.
While this was going on, the officials at GMIDC are busy making life easier for the contractor and RAJ promoters tender is being considered as final, based on non-existent Administrative Approval.
At this time, a sane voice comes from the Governor’s office. In a letter dated 25.08.2009 (remember this date), Secy (to governor?) Suneel Soni writes clearly in a letter to GMIDC, MKVDC as well as Minister of Finance and WRD that “Governor has ordered not to undertake new schemes currently, that Ashti LIS cannot be included in Revised Administrative approval for KMLIS as it was not a part of the initial Administrative Approval at all, that RAA should NOT be given to Ashti LIS as it will be in GROSS VIOLATION of Governor’s order.”
As a response to this strong worded letter, Tender of Raj Promoters was accepted on the very same day (25.8.2009)!
In addition, the Executive Engineer of GMIDC issued a work order to contractor also on the same day (25.8.2009)!.
In just two days following this, Revised Administrative Approval was issued to KMLIS and Ashti was added in it without any explanation, overriding the strict instructions from Hon. Governor’s office. This approval was only for 7 TMC for KMLIS, so only 1.68 TMC for Ashti LIS.
Immediately after the work was started, Secy P.M. Abnave wrote to EE GMIDC with some plain questions. The letter asked:
- How was Ashti LIS added in RAA when it was not present in AA?
- Is the project KWDT Compliant?
- Does it have a Water Availability Certificate?
- Is Detailed Ground Survey for the entire project done?
- Is the contractor aware about dependency of the project on KWDT Award?
- What will happen after the decision of KWD Award, if it is not in favour of the project?
- Where is the letter stating 7 TMC has been kept aside foe KMLIS from Polavaram?
- It would have been better of this work was started after the water crossed 92 kms of tunnel and reached at least Neera River. Thus work was started before this was done and also work undertaken was for all of 25 TMC without permission.
- Where is the complete BC (Benefit Cost) ratio of KB Stabilisation project?
- How was MKVDC project shifted to GMIDC?
There were no satisfactory answers.
Unauthorised designs and passing the blame! There was one more bomb, again typical of dam scam and pointed out by CAG. The tender for Ashti LIS was passed based not on approved cross sectional drawings by the Central Design Organization (CDO), a statutory requirement. In fact they were not sent to CDO at all! Later when the drawings were indeed sent to CDO, they were found to be faulty and CDO suggested changes which meant additional cost of about Rs 85 crores. The GMIDC tried to blame this price escalation on CDO. But thankfully, there was a heavy backlash from this organization whichin a letter stated bluntly that “Ashti Khuntephal Tank is 40.5 mts high and is a large dam as suh, but its design was not sent to us while requesting AA, as is the norm. The drawing was based on rough estimates, incomplete survey and investigation and all this was done for a hasty AA. It is these problems which led to cost hike, not CDOs design.” What can be worse admonishment?
And for such a project, the public hearing was held in 2012 and EIA Agency like STP happily worked on an EIA… In 2013, MWRRA responded to an RTI stating that the project had not come for an approval and hence does not have MWRRA approval.
So for now, the Khuntephal Tank sits there, half complete, waiting for Environmental clearance that it does not have and water that may never come. The Special Investigation Team Report under the chairpersonhip of Madhavrao Chitale has singled out Krishna Marathwada Project for multiple irregularities and has recommended close investigation. Funnily enough, the SIT Report does not mention the Krishna Bhima Stabilisation Project!
I met the officials in charge of the project who were wiling away time at a stalled project, sitting in the contractor’s premises. They say all this “comes from the top” and that they are only “following orders”. They can’t talk back to senior officials, but have to bear the brunt of construction hitches, local issues, political pressures… And despite all this, When Mr. Pandhare was raising issues about a sick WRD at great professional and personal risk, hardly any officials came out to back him publicly.
That Marathwada is in dire need of water is beyond doubt. But projects like Krishna Bhima Stabilisation or Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation project are too steeped in corruption, hydrological uncertainties, political interferences, illegalities, inefficiencies and cost escalations to be an answer. Such projects can never be a reliable option that Marathwada can fall back on. Fortunately or unfortunately, Marathwada will have to find its own answers in its own soil (and water).
Meanwhile, Macchindra calls me nearly everyday to ask what can be done further. Is there any way we can stop this selling of false dreams. I have no clear answers..
-Parineeta Dandekar email@example.com