Dams · Maharashtra

Dams and Equitable Water Distribution: Learnings from Maharashtra

Above: Placard proclaiming Ahmednagar’s claim over Mula Dam waters, protesting any downstream release Photo: Zee24 Taas

While largely unheard of in the country, bitter intrastate water conflicts are now routine to Maharashtra since the past few years. Come November or December, just as the state wearily puts behind one more sad monsoon, newspapers start carrying pictures of desperate farmers standing inside canals challenging dam authorities to release water. Politicians are quick to use this opportunity to deepen schisms between the state.

Drama unfolded during the night of Sunday and Monday, November 1 and 2, when a high level meeting was held at the collector’s residence camp office to discuss the decision over release of water from the Gangapur Dam as per the directions of the High Court.
Collector’s Meeting in Nashik on water release issue drowned in protests. Photo: DNA

As a country, India is not new to interstate water sharing conflicts. We have fiercely contested water sharing issues in rivers like Krishna, Cauvery, Narmada and Godavari. Internationally too, skirmishes around water-sharing raise their heads in transboundary rivers like Indus (Pakistan), Left Bank Ganga Tributaries (Nepal), Ganga and Teesta (Bangladesh) and recently Brahmaputra (China).

However, the emerging conundrum of conflicts within a single state of Maharashtra is new, disturbing and points towards a worrisome future. Since 2012, various authorities in the state have been ordering water releases from upstream dams for the downstream area dams. This conflict is concentrated in the most-dammed corner of the State, around Jayakwadi Dam in Aurangabad, which is the gateway of Marathwada and Ujani Dam in Solapur, also bordering Marathwada. Water release directions have been met with dissatisfaction, uproar and sharp protests from the upstream (because any release of water from upstream dams is seen as their loss) as well as the downstream (because they think water released is too meager than rightful share of downstream area dams).

jayakwadi dam copy
In 2013, politicians and farmers stopping flow of Nagar Dam waters for Jayakwadi Photo: IBN Lokmat

For now, water sharing conflicts in Maharashtra circle around its prosperous, powerful regions in Godavari and Upper Bhima Basins. Godavari, Bhima and Krishna originate in the Western Ghats, to the far west of the state and immediately flow down to Nashik, Ahmednagar and Pune Districts. The intensive agriculture, industrial estates and urban areas in these regions depend heavily on these rivers.

Maharashtra is the most dammed state in the country. It has built dams wherever it can. Engineers and administrators agree in private that there are hardly any dam sites left in the state to build new dams! As exposed by dam scam and other experiences, many of these dams are purely pork-barrel projects, pushed for political-engineer-bureaucrat lobby and contractor benefits. But these pork-barrels have intercepted lifelines of the state many times over, creating prosperous islands of urban centers, industries and sugarcane amidst a sea of scarcity and rain-fed agriculture.

Nashik and Nagar Districts have built several dams on tributaries of Godavari, including Mukane, Mula and Nilvande Dams. Nilvande or Upper Pravara Dam on Pravara River, built in Ahmednagar still does not have Techno-Economic clearance from the Central Water Commission.  In its recent 126th meeting in July 2015, the CWC sent this proposal back to Maharashtra for lack of sufficient information. CWC does not seem to know that the dam is already blocking Pravara for several years! More seriously, the project does not have statutory Environmental Clearance and violates the Environment (Protection) Act too: a punishable offense. [1]

Map of Jayakwadi Dam Catchment including upstream Dams Source: Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation, Government of Maharashtra
Map of Jayakwadi Dam (called Paithan Dam here) Catchment including upstream Dams Source: Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation, Government of Maharashtra

Maharashtra has been trying to address the recurrent conflicts though some of its institutional mechanisms. The effort is interesting and it deals with understanding and operationalizing principles of fairness and deficit sharing, at the heart of equitable water distribution. The recent processes and evolution of this mechanism would be of interest for anyone who is following the water discourse in the country.

The institutional mechanism trying to address water sharing issues is the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA). MWRRA itself is riddled with several serious flaws, but for now functions as an appellate authority in adjudicating water releases from upstream projects to the downstream in times of scarcity. This year, the Godavari Marathwada Irrigation Development Corporation (GMIDC) decided to release 12.85 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet) of water from upstream dams in Nashik and Nagar District in October for Jayakwadi dam which had barely 5% of its live storage then. GMIDC used an order issued by MWRRA in September 2014 for this decision.

Huge protest against water release (led by politician and sugar factory owner) in Ahmednagar Photo: Zee News

Since 2012, such water release orders have been issued by various bodies[2], but it has never been this early in the year, so soon after the monsoon. Volume wise too, 12.85 TMC is the highest release directed so far. All of the earlier release decisions were also highly contested, resulting in cases filed in High Court and even Supreme Court (2013[3]). Reasons of why so much water, why from this particular dam, why now, etc., were never in open domain. But this year, with MWRRA orders being put out on its website[4], we can see the nuts and bolts of how water sharing issues have been dealt with. And although a welcome move in itself, there are several basic problems which need to be addressed while addressing issues of Equitable Water Distribution.

Until 2013, MWRRA was dysfunctional (no members!) and could not take any water sharing decisions. When a farmers group from Mohol, Solapur filed a case against the Principle Secretary (Water Resources), GOM (Government of Maharashtra) and MWRRA in March 2013 for releasing water to Ujani dam from the upstream dams in Pune District, the High Court had to note in its order that “unfortunately, the Authority specifically constituted for this function is not functional”.  The High Court  (HC) itself ordered immediate release of water from upstream dams to Ujani but the process through which WRD (Water Resources Department) decided the amount and dam from where water was released remains unknown till date.

Farmers protesting water release from Gangapur Dam Photo: Mr. Waikul

In 2013, parties like Marathwada Janata Vikas Parishad and Aurangbad-based MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) filed a case in Bombay HC about releasing water from upstream dam to Jayakwadi. Here too, the MWRRA came in the ring only after several orders of the High Court, facilitating mode and purpose of water release.

Finally when MWRRA considered the appeal in May 2014 in its office, the Jayakwadi water release case had, in addition to petition and respondents, 5 Representations, 7 caveats and 4 interventions to contend with!

While some of the representers argued before MWRRA for release of water for Marathwada from upstream dams, other representers from Ahmednagar district, including Sugar factories (Padmashri Vikhe Patil Sahakari Sakhar Karkhana/Sugar Mill (SSK) and Pravaranagar SSK , Ahmednagar), opposed this release siting historical block irrigation privilege accorded by British. They stated that dead storage of Jayakwadi (bigger than combined live storages of all upstream dams) is itself enough to quench drinking water needs. The petitioner and interveners from Marathwada including Y. R. Jadhav, himself an erstwhile expert Member of MWWRA, firmly stated that primary duty of MWRRA is equitable water sharing under Section 11 and 12 and it should implement these sections in letter and spirit.

Rasta Roko, Road Blockde by Ahmednagar farmers against water release Photo: Zee News

The MWRRA on its part  stated then that as committed drinking and industry water demand of Jayakwadi command can be met with the a storage water and there is no provision for hot weather irrigation in Jayakwadi Project, no water should be released looking at meager storage in upstream dams.

After this order for 2013-14, the Authority heard the petitioners and others for five times in July and Aug 2014. They heard the Joint Secretary and Executive Director (ED) of GMIDC. Data put forward by water release supporters and the Government of Maharashtra, Water Resource Department (GOM WRD) stated that when Jayakwadi was planned in 1965, 196.5 TMC was considered as the virgin yield at dam site, of which 115.5 TMC was reserved for upstream use and 81 TMC was reserved for Jayakwadi to irrigate 2.78 Lakh hectares. But the upstream areas have built dams which take up about 160 TMC of water. The water yield of Jayakwadi itself has been recomputed and the dam has been found to be water deficit. The Central Design Organization of the WRD found that Annual Virgin Yield of Jayakwadi, assumed to be 196.5 TMC is in fact just 157.2 TMC, a shortfall of 39.3 TMC! In addition the upstream utilization has increased by 28.97 TMC, thus the total deficit is 68.27 (39.3 + 28.97) TMC. So the yield for Marathwada is just 12.73 (81 – 68.27) TMC!

Bandh and Protest March against water release Photo: Zee News

Caveaters raised a slew of points, even questioning MWRRA’s mandate stating that MWRRA Act does not come into force unless command is delineated and this does not happen unless Water User Associations (WUAs) are formed and that has not happened in Jayakwadi project, like many other dams in the state.

MD (Managing Director) of Pravara Sugar Mill said that older dams like Darna and Bhandardara in Nashik and Nagar built by British were specifically meant to provide perennial irrigation to rain shadow region in Nagar District and that Marathwada receives more rainfall than Nagar (It is an aside that the same rain shadow district of Nagar has high concentration of sugarcane and sugar industries).

Interestingly, an intervener from downstream of Jayakwadi stated that Jayakwadi Stage II, Mazalgaon dam was supposed to get 12 TMC of water from Jayakwadi, but has received water only 7 times in the past 37 years causing injustice to Mazalgaon famers by Jayakwadi!

On the part of the GOM, following the HC case of 2012 it appointed a Godavari Study Group (GSG), to formulate “principles of approximate equal distribution of water till the Jayakwadi Project”. The GSG constituted of the Director General of Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI), Chief Engineers of Nashik, Aurangabad and Pune and Chief Engineer, Hydrology and Executive Director, GMIDC, Aurangabad. Formed in January 2013, the GSG submitted its report in Aug 2013 and it was considered by the MWRRA. The GSG considered 6 scenarios for water sharing for Jayakwadi: in 100% dependable year, 75%, 50%, good year and average year. For each of these scenarios, GSG came up with step by step synchronizations for reservoirs upstream Jayakwadi during the filling period and different operating strategies. 

This report was provided to the parties for their comments. While Petitioner agreed broadly, some water release supporters did not accept it fully. The interveners from upstream flatly rejected the report. Vikhe Patil Sugar Mill said that the report was formulated to release water for Jayakwadi and was hence, biased.

Innovative forms of Protest! Photo: TV 9

The government took a convenient stand and said that GSG report can be implemented if there is an advanced Decision Support System in place to monitor water levels. As it is not in place, no decision on GSG can be taken and for now water release decisions will have to be taken in October as is the current practice!

GOM itself said that though water use in the upstream at the time of planning Jayakwadi was assumed to be 115 TMC, there was a subsequent increase in drinking and industrial needs and new dams like Gautami, Kashyapi, Valdevi were taken up with AA (Administrative Approval) from GOM, now the planned water use stands at 160.99 TMC.

Government submission was again followed by a flurry of submissions and representations from petitioner, interveners and caveaters. Many issues were raised, old and new including the fact that pumping of water from the backwaters of Jayakwadi reservoir, quite significant, was not regulated or monitored.

After all this discussion, MWRRA considered the issue.

While considering the problems, MWRRA states that public policy issues about water need to follow basic principles of holistic and integrative approach, equity and social justice. It should also follow Constitutional norm that operation of an economic system does not result in concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. About the historical permission for irrigating perennial block, MWRRA states that though the Act protects all old permissions, this does not apply when it is considering equitable water distribution in time of scarcity.

It considered the GSG Report and said that while it cannot accept the full report, it accepted the scenario-driven recommendations for reservoir operations upstream of Jayakwadi.

While considering water sharing principles, MWRRA states that upstream basic needs have to be met before any release for downstream can be done, releases have to be made in monsoon seasons so that river bed is saturated and prone to less losses. If water is to be released in monsoon itself, possibility of returning monsoon rainfall in  Jayakwadi catchment and in Marathwada has to be considered.

According to MWRRA:

  • Water is to be made available in all reservoirs in a basin for drinking water and maximum 2 rounds for food crops in the command and 80% industrial requirement. Jayakwadi provides for Sorghum and Gram rotations.
  • If level of water at Jayakwadi is more than 65% in first fortnight of October, there is no question of release from upstream.
  • In the upstream projects, monsoon irrigation through canals, Kharif irrigation outside the command, filling up of tanks, farm ponds etc., is to be done only after Jayakwadi Dam reaches its designed capacity. These operating principles are to be monitored every year and GMIDC ED (Executive Director) will be responsible for operating all upstream reservoir accordingly.
  • The role of canal advisory committee will begin after equitable water distribution in dams is completed. Share of tail enders should be decided first at the canal committee meeting and the minutes of this meeting should be put up on the website.
  • Canal systems should be well maintained.
  • Orders of the govt issued in Aril 2004 banning any new projects upstream of Jayakwadi should be strictly followed. All perennial crops in the upstream should be under drip. Unauthorized backwater lifting from Jayakwadi should be controlled as soon as possible. GOM should delineate command of Jayakwadi project and form WUAs within 8 weeks of MWRRAs order.

The GMIDC had to operationalise this order immediately in 2015. And the 2015 release order has been for the earliest and largest release so far. This was pushed due to huge resentment and protests in Marathwada. Based on the GSG report, the GMIDC ordered relese of 12.85 TMC water from upstream projects.[5]

As was expected, this was strongly contested by Nagar and Nashik Leaders. Marches, protest meetings were organised in these cities. Farmers protested at Dams like Gangapur. Just before water could be released, parties moved to High Court, demanding a stay on this order. The High Court on the other hand supported this decision and the sugar factory owners appealed before the Supreme Court, asking for a stay. In the SC, counsel for 7 such sugar factories and farmer groups from upstream was former Union Minister and Congress leader Kapil Sibal! But the SC too upheld MWRRA’s order and allowed release[6]. MWRRA has also accepted GMIDC’s release calculations.[7] In the meantime, there are several protests ongoing in Nashik and Nagar, largely fueled by politicians, sugar industries.

One more huge Rally against Water release Photo: TV 9

Similar is the case of Ujani where the MWRRA has ordered a release of 10 TMC from upstream dams in Pune District. While the order seems justified, the Authority has not even considered the diversion of water by the Tata Hydrpower Dams to the water rich Konkan in its calculation of water storage in upstream dams and has accepted Tata Dams offer of releasing 1 TMC as if Tata’s are doing “public service.” Nothing can be further from truth as Tata Dams transfer water from Bhima Basin into Konkan for running their business of generating electricity even during drought when even drinking water is scarce.[8] This is  Totally wrong and unacceptable from equity, social justice or even optimum use of available resource point of view and MWRRA and GOM must reconsider and reverse this. Similar is the case of water diversion by Koyna dam from Krishna basin. 

To conclude, along with largest number of dams, Maharashtra also has thriving and unique water sharing conflicts and an institution now attempting to decide water shares, supposedly equitably. This is a step forward. This sort of open-domain conflict-resolution mechanism was sorely needed in the state. It has put in public domain the issues and documents like the Godavari Study Group report or the fact that water availability at Jayakwadi has dropped by a whopping 40 TMC. Disagreements between upstream and downstream could not have got a platform.

However, all said and done, equitable water distribution does not mean only having comparative equal proportion of water in upstream and downstream reservoirs by October. Just like dams in Upstream are unplanned, dams in Marathwada are unplanned too, like the Godavari Barrages. If Nilwande in the upstream does not have Techno Economic Clearance, Lower Terna in Marathwada does not have TE Clearance either. If Upstream Nagar grows sugarcane, Marathwada too has a dense concentration of sugar and sugar industries. Ujani in Solapur supports more than 1.5 lakh hectares of sugarcane when it was not supposed to irrigate ANY perennial crop and is designed as an 8 monthly project! And now water from upstream Bhama Askhed Dam which has not provided any irrigation to the farmers in its command will go to sugar industries around Ujani only because water levels in Ujani are low. And Tata Dams are allowed to divert water from the water scarce Bhima basin to high rainfall Konkan region even in this season of drought. 

This is not equitable water sharing. This is a manipulated calculation without taking the context into account. MWRRA needs to work on Integrated State Water Plan, Integrated Basin Plans, take on the responsibility of Groundwater Authority, ensure environment flows, stop unjustified diversions by Tata & Koyna Dams, etc., before it is able to justify its role in ensuring equitable, just and sustainable water sharing. MWRRA needs to implement its direction that sugarcane will be irrigated only through drip. Water Users Associations need to be created and their commands delineated. For this, the government needs to bring canals and minors in good condition before handing over.  The Irrigation Act which has been Rule-less and hence largely un-implementable for the past 37 years needs to have rules. Equitable water sharing can be operationalized and be equitable only when we account for all sources, all uses and all users, including the environment.

All in all, a beginning has been made through which upstream dams release water for the downstream and don’t indulge in most blatant hydro-hegemony. But this is not equitable water distribution or management. Maharashtra will have to put in much more efforts for that.

Maharashtra’s experience also underlines that large unplanned dams are not only dens of corruption and skewed power equations, but they create, fuel and push conflicts between the regions too.

-Parineeta Dandekar, parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com


[1] https://sandrp.in/env_governance/EAC_meetings_Decisions_All_India_Apr_2007_to_Dec_2012.pdf

[2] In November 2012, aced with the severe dourght, CM ordered release of 6 TMC water for Jayakwadi, 3 TMC from Mla and 3 TMC from Darna. In April 2013, the High Court ordered release of  11.5 TMC water following a petition filed by ____. It is reported that of the volume released, about 6.5 TMC reached Jayakwadi. HC Orders/ In Dec 2014, at the orders of the cHief Minister,  7.89 TMC water was released from dams jn Nashik and Nagar of which 4.3 from Bhandaradara and Nilvande.

[3] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/aurangabad/SC-stays-HC-order-on-water-release-to-Jayakwadi/articleshow/19961432.cms

[4] http://www.mwrra.org/

[5] http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai/state-orders-release-of-godavari-waters-to-drought-hit-marathwada/story-7TqNOEXODFMuGs0k44IHqI.html

[6] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Water-war-No-SC-relief-for-farmers-sugar-units/articleshow/49650610.cms

[7] http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/mwwra-backs-gmidc-decision-to-release-water-to-jayakwadi-dam-115111200755_1.html

[8] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/op en-letter-to-tata-sustainability-group-to-stop-westward-diversion-of-bhima-basin-water-by-tata-hydro-projects/

4 thoughts on “Dams and Equitable Water Distribution: Learnings from Maharashtra

  1. very good article. congrats. Is it possible to make consolidated, integrated water distribution plan for Maharashtra by SANDRP, which will guide in drought like situation. If require I’ll contribute my suggestions. I think this is problem solving move.


  2. Mahatma Gandhi had said,’Nature can satisfy the need of all, not the greed.’ Politicians and rich farmers of the upstream want to retain their wealth and do not bother about hardship of the D/s people. The D/S people also want to amass wealth through the exploitation of nature. This is exactly happening in case of Mrathwada.

    Interstate water disputes were resolved through the intervention of GOI andshare of water in the interstate river valleys for each state was decided. The time has now come to decide the share of each region in the inter region river valleys.. Unless this is done the disputes will continue.

    Thanks for your excellent article .As I suggested in my earlier comments that MWRRA should become more active and make efforts to resolve equitable water distribution issue well in time and not wait for the crisis.



  3. Very good article. Thanks for study of problem upto it’s base. Now there is no crime that farmers from rain shadow areas of Nagar and Nasik district prospers in last century due to Dams built by British government . It is understandable that now Marathwada farmers want to follow them through sugarcane . That is the only crop which has prevented farmers suicide. So U/S and D/S farmers are fighting for their lives. Irrigation water through closed pipeline and micro irrigation is only solution.


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