Writing about drought in Marathwada can give a feeling of deja vu. But, what makes drought this year different is that we are writing about drought not in December or March or April, but in August, bang in the monsoon. Last monsoon wasn’t very generous to Marathwada, but the picture was much better than what it is today with dam storages at dismal 8% this year as against 26% this time last year. Marathwada had 344.5 mm rainfall as on Sept 3, 2014 (deficit of 37%) compared to 250.9 mm on Aug 28, 2015, with much higher deficit of 50%. (Our detailed analysis of Marathwada drought: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/drought-and-marathwada-an-oft-repeated-tragedy/)
On the 28th of August 2015, reservoir storages in Marathwada stand at 8%, with the largest Jayakwadi Dam at 5%, 4 dams at 0% (Mazalgaon, Majara, Lower Terna and Seena Kolegaon) and 3 more at less than 5% storages (Purna Siddheshwar at 1%, Yeldari at 3% and Manar at 3%). Of the average June-August rainfall of 525.2 mm, Marathwada has received only 250.9 mm, 50% of the average so far. Kharif crop is lost for most and Rabi is under cloud.
By now, the issue is not only about irrigation, but drinking water for humans and cattle. How can this situation improve? Where can the region get water from? It seems even retreating monsoon will help only to an extent now. Dams in Nashik and Nagar districts which are upstream of Marathwada, themselves have low storages, with Nashik region at 45% as against 69% storage last year. Still, Bhandardara Hydroelectric project in Ahmednagar District, which is about 74% full with about 224 MCM of water and can afford releasing some to the downstream Jayakwadi and areas beyond. (It is not clear if the Ghatghar pump storage project, upstream from Bhandardara HEP, is actually operating in pump storage mode or generation mode and releasing water to the west, in which case it needs to be stopped). It will be better to take the decision about such releases soon, without waiting for a major conflict to arise. MWRRA needs to proactively perform its main duty of equitable water distribution, without waiting for October end, till which time any releases will become hugely contentious.
Similarly, dam storages in Pune Division are generally low at 52% as against 89% last year. However, there are a few dams which are literally sitting idle with a lot of water.
One such Dam is Bhama Askhed, which has a whopping 86% storage now at 187 MCM.
In April 2013, based on an order from Hon. High Court of Mumbai, 84.9 MCM (3 TMC) water from this very same Bhama Askhed Dam for the parched Ujani in the downstream. Back then, MWRRA was dysfunctional. The Authority could not take any decision on water releases from upstream dams even on court orders as it was simply non-functional then, with almost all of its posts vacant! (Read our detailed piece on Bhama Askhed: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/dams-as-pawns-bhama-askhed-pune/)
Why water release from Bhama Askhed makes sense now
Bhama Askhed Dam on Bhama River, tributary of Bhima River, epitomizes nearly all the problems of Maharashtra Water Resources Department. It has seen huge costs escalations, delays in its construction, it has not rehabilitated the 7000+ people that it has displaced. Most of the oustees are today without a reliable source of drinking water, irrigation or land based rehabilitation.
But the most damming fact is that it has absolutely no canal network.
The dam with live storage capacity of 217 MCM (7.5 TMC) was to have two canals: a right bank canal (RBC) of 105 kilometers and a left bank canal (LBC) of 14 kilometers. Construction on the dam started in 1995. When I visited the site in May 2013 to observe the impacts of High Court order, I saw that canal-work has not been undertaken even according to the claims of the WRD in the White Paper.
Right Bank Canal is barely 18 kilometers complete that too, in disjoint patches, making any use impossible. Left Bank Canal work is not even initiated. The 18 kms of Right Bank Canal is a dead investment as the canal is not even connected to the dam: that part is still not constructed.
In short, Bhama Asked dam does not irrigate a single hectare of its envisioned command till date. It has not used an inch of canals.
Bhama Askhed received administrative sanction in 1992 and was to irrigate 37 villages in Khed, 18 villages in Haveli and 9 villages in Daund talukas of Pune district with a total command area of 29,465 hectares, as per the White Paper on Irrigation Projects brought out by the WRD. All of its original command remain unirrigated, 20 years after undertaking the project.
I talked with the Deputy Engineer of Bhama Askhed on Aug 28, 2015 and he told me that the situation I saw in 2013 still prevails. No irrigation in command, no new work on canals initiated, no progress in canal work. The reason being that according to a Government Resolution (GR) of 2011, about 1.3 TMC water from Bhama Askhed has been allocated to Pune Municipal Corporations. Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation also wants roughly same quantity of water share from the dam. There are many issues with the GR and this allocation. But leaving that discussion aside for now, the fact remains that none of these Municipal Corporations are taking water from this dam at this moment and will not do so this year. Pune’s ambitious scheme of getting water from Bhama Askehd, funded by the erstwhile Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) remains unrealized and incomplete.
Deputy Engineer of Bhama Askhed Division told me that it will take at least 2-3 years more before these schemes materialize. He says “What’s the point of making canals if the water is anyway to be allocated to cities? As it is the first priority is for Drinking Water.” There is a huge irony in equating the unsatiated water demand of these metros with protective, livelihood irrigation needs of the downstream region. Pune or Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Coporations waste and pollute water with impunity and have not taken any credible steps for using available water effectively. But this is not the time to raise all this with the officer.
When I ask him why water is not being released from this idle dam to the downstream which is suffering right now? “In any case, City allocations will not happen this year as you say”. He brushed this off saying that it needs to be a policy decision.
While touring Marathwada, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has publicly accepted that water needs to be released from the upstream dams for the region now. But theer are very few dams in the upstream which can do this. At the same time, a simple mention of sending water trains from Pandharpur (in Solapur district, on the boundaries of, but not in Marathwada) to the parched Latur District has sparked a political conflict in Solapur with one group saying they will not allow a drop of water to go from Solapur. It is understandable to an extent as the largest dam in Bhima Basin, the Ujani Dam in Solapur, is below dead storage already and the prospect of a whole year with severely rationed water availability is prompting aggressive reactions.
At such a critical time, any release from Bhama Askhed, if carefully monitored, can reach Ujani directly and help to a considerable extent. There needs to be very strict monitoring of this release, ensuring that it is not siphoned off enroute or once it reaches Ujani. Any groundwater recharge that may happen along the way need not be grudged. It will help someone, rather than that water sitting idle in Bhama Askhed reservoir, open to evaporation losses.
From Ujani Dam, water can reach fringes of Marathwada through Seena-Madha Link Tunnel, which reaches Paranda Taluk of Osmanabad. Water from Ujani will also reach parched cities of Osmanabad and Latur for drinking water through pipeline supply. If only the half-completed Shirala Lift Irrigation scheme was completed by now, this water could have helped a different part of Osmanabad. But Shirala is a part of the Dam Scam. If at all trains need to be deployed for sending water to Latur, or water needs to be reserved in Ujani for drinking water needs of Solapur like 2013, additional water in Ujani from Bhama Askhed will be invaluable.
But for this to be effective, we need the will and discipline from both the politicians and the communities along the river. We simply cannot afford this water being siphoned off for water hungry sugarcane cultivation, as is happening with Pune division dams, in collusion with some officials.
So the water sitting idle in the Bhama Askhed, if released, right now can ameliorate the problems of a deeply troubled region. If water is not released now, but is released closer to cane crushing season in Oct-Nov-December, we will know that the real beneficiaries are not thirsty people, but sugar factories.
We request the Government of Maharashtra and the Maharashtra Water Resource Regulatory Authority to order releases from Bhama Askhed urgently along with stoppage of westward diversion of Krishna basin water by Tata and Koyna dams and to devise a plan to monitor and utilize these releases most effectively for this drought hit region.