When the Chief Minister of Maharashtra told the state Assembly on July 21, 2015, “We pushed large dams, not irrigation” he had raised much hopes for the state with a fresh memory of worst ever dam scam and drought termed as “worse than 1972”.
Even though the CM unequivocally said in the state Assembly “Large Dams are not the road ahead”, looking back at year 2016 reveals that the approach of the new government remained as large dam centric. Year 2016 in Maharashtra has been all about reviving the corruption ridden controversial irrigation projects.
In 2016 (till monsoon) the state saw one of the worst ever droughts. Marathwada emerged as a new epicenter in agrarian crisis outnumbering Vidarbha in farmers’ suicide. It was more than obvious how the dam centric irrigation infrastructure, in Marathwada and also rest of the state, failed to provide any respite to the farmers. If at all, they only compounded water inequality, water conflicts and mismanagement.
But the year reveals that the state has chosen to uncritically go ahead with the large irrigation projects rife with corruption, poor quality and violations of environmental laws. The state also intently sought more and more funding to feed these white elephants. The revival of the controversial projects, consistent throughout the year, had nothing to do with the drought ridden reality around. It ran parallel to background of worsening drought, increasing water conflicts and remained almost disconnected to the reality.
A lot could have been done to prevent the drought in terms of regulating the water use and strengthening the local, small scale participatory water conservation. But the state largely failed to regulate the water intensive industries like sugar factories, liquor industries, breweries or the westward diversion of Krishna River water from Koyna Dam and Tata hydropower dams. It also did not come up with a policy to regularize urban water use. Rainwater harvesting, demand side management never featured in the drought discourse.
Important state institutions like Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA), Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) or Maharashtra State Environmental Impact Assessment Authority and State Environment Appraisal Committee failed to perform their duties. When the state was seeing simmering water conflicts MWRRA was non-existent. MPCB failed to curb the mounting pollution of the state’s rivers. Many of the important decisions that the state reluctantly took were due to the whip of High Court.
In the mounting agrarian and hydrological crisis, the year has seen dismal performance of the state in terms of water governance.
Here we attempt a review of Maharashtra’s water sector.
Year began with carryover of irrigation scam: Year began in the dark shadow of drought. Year 2015 had seen a monsoon deficit of nearly 50% in many parts of the state. Despite the evident poor monsoon the state had failed to arrest the sugar crushing which further emptied the reservoirs. Water levels in state’s reservoirs were just over 30% of full capacity in the first week of January and had been falling steadily. Conflicts over water sharing were already at the High Court’s doorstep. This was the time to gear up for the tough summer which lay ahead. It was a time to draw some long term policy measures to cater to the water shortage that the state would face in few months.
The year instead began with a carryover of the irrigation scam that the state had been dealing with for last three years.
On corruption in Large Dams, the Water Resources Department (WRD) of Maharashtra has been facing three petitions. One filed by activist Anjali Damaniya in April 2012 against corruption in 15 dams in Konkan region, second filed by Jan Manch, a voluntary organization from Nagpur, in Aug 2012, against cost irregularities in dams of Vidarbh region and third filed by water expert Pradeep Purandare in Oct 2014 for implementation of Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority Act 2005.
PIL by Jan Manch was disposed off by high court in Dec 2015 after the ACB inquiry into the scam was announced by the state government. The court had granted liberty to Jan Manch to approach the court again if they were not satisfied with the probe.
Not happy at the ACB investigation of the scam proceeding with a snail’s pace, NGO Jan Manch in January 2016 once again knocked the judiciary’s doors, this time demanding CBI probe. Not a single FIR had been registered in the ACB inquiry which had been ongoing since Dec 2014. This was evidence, if any was required of the state government’s reluctance to take any strong action against those involved in the scam. First FIR was registered towards the end of February after court passed severe strictures on laxity in the ACB probe.
In early February yet another probe had to be ordered by State Government this time into irregularities of all the 189 irrigation projects- totaling upto more than Rs 5,600 crore- cleared during the tenure of former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and former minister Sunil Tatkare, between 2007 and 2013. The state government appointed a four-member inquiry committee following an order by the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court in December 2015, in response to the PIL filed by Pradeep Purandare. The court was of the opinion that the 189 projects have violated MWRRA Act, 2005 since they were sanctioned before MWRRA finalizing the Integrated State Water Plan.
Scam ridden Maharashtra dams get the highest share of budgetary allocation: Even as the controversial realities of the irrigation scam were coming to light, Maharashtra State received the highest share of budgetary allocation for large dams under Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP). Of the 99 AIBP projects for which Union Budget proposed to spend Rs 86,500 in next five years, maximum number, 13, came from Maharashtra. Rs 17,000 crore were allocated in 2016-17 budget at the national level.
In the early March when the water levels in the dams were plummeting at an alarming pace the State Govt busied itself with revival of controversial konkan projects. Minister of Water Resources Vijay Shivtare talked about “dams that are essential to meet water requirements”. In March the state also granted official consent to Telangana’s five interstate projects some of which are already in progress illegally at the state border.
Ironically, by the end of March State government decided to raise loans amounting to Rs 80000 cr from JAICA & other financial institutions to complete irrigation projects across the state. The govt budget allocation of Rs. 7272 cr was “insufficient” to complete all the projects.
As Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP pointed out after the budget “Before the government spends more money it should undertake a credible, independent review of why the projects are incomplete for so long, why they are not delivering promised benefits, ensure accountable governance and drop unviable projects.” SANDRP has shown with official data that even after spending over Rs 600,000 crores on major and medium dam and canal network between 1993-2010-11, net national canal irrigated area has been decreasing and not increasing.
Nitin Gadkari, was quoted saying Maharashtra is hugely under-investing in developing its irrigation cover, Rs 7,000 crore compared to Rs 25,000 crore in Telangana. Studies however show that the cumulative public expenditure for irrigation in Maharashtra for last decade works out to Rs 1,18,235 crore and the cost of Irrigation Potential Utilized is Rs 20 lakh/ ha.
Failure to tackle drought: Drought which had been darkening steadily worsened as February went by. The drought-hit districts of Latur, Osmanabad and Beed in Maharashtra witnessed the highest-ever migration of labourers and villagers. Large number of industries, shops and establishments were forced to shut down due to acute water scarcity.
Live storage of seven Marathwada dams including Jayakwadi, Manjra, Majalgaon dam hit zero. As temperatures already crossing well over 40 degrees Celsius, Beed, Latur and Osmanabad districts were hanging on with daily per capita ration of 20 litres of water. By Mid March 244 farmers had committed suicide in Marathwada alone. Latur was the first district in Marathwada where Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code was imposed banning assembly of five or more persons near the tanker-filling areas. By the end of the month Maharashtra government declared drought in 11,962 villages in Vidarbha region, taking the total number of villages to be declared drought-hit to 27,723, over 65% of the 43,000 villages in the state.
By April drought was approaching peak. ‘Ramkund’ the sacred bathing ghat on Godavari and the epicenter of the Kumbh Mela in Mahrashtra, dried up first time in 139 years, after 1877. Marathwada saw a distress sale of cattle by farmers to cope with acute shortage of fodder and water. Section 144 had to be imposed in some more parts of the states like Parbhani and Ahmednagar.
Instead of taking concrete policy decision to regulate water guzzling industries such as breweries, sugar factories, wineries etc. the state govt resorted to a number of less credible firefighting measures. One of the measures was giving drought packages to the affected farmers from the drought assistance of 3,050 crore provided by the Centre. The amount has been the highest-ever central assistance given to Maharashtra.
Most celebrated of the efforts was water supply to Latur by train. ‘Jaldoot’, was commissioned by the railway ministry in collaboration with the Maharashtra government. Starting from April 11 train made its trips from Miraj to Latur covering a distance of 342 km and transported half million lt of water per trip. However per capita water delivered was just 1.5 lt. The situation could have been avoided had there been pro-active steps taken by the state govt in advance.
Govt also banned digging of borewells below 200 feet to arrest further depletion of ground water under ‘Maharashtra Groundwater Development and Management Act of 2009. But the order remained mostly on paper with little or no implementation. Since the start of April, the clamor for water cuts for breweries turned shriller. After protests by farmers and directions by Bombay High Court, water supply to distilleries and breweries in Aurangabad was gradually cut to 50%. Maharashtra government also mulled over bringing in a law that will make it mandatory for industries to use recycled water. (It remains unclear if and when this will see credible implementation). All these were clearly end of pipe solutions and not long term measures to address drought.
State Govt took no lessons from the success stories of drought proof villages: Even in this distress situation few examples shone through the drought demonstrating how participatory small scale water conservation measures can help curb effects of drought. Hiware Bazar village for example, felt no need to call tankers as water table was just 20-40 feet below.
Solapur district is another example of how proactive and well in time efforts by government can successfully tackle drought. SANDRP in fact published a detailed story about Solapur after a field visit and talking with officials. This chronically drought-hit district in Maharashtra needed only 16 tankers in drought of 2016 as against more than 200 tankers required in 2013-14 even when the monsoon was good. Drinking water sources were secured. Under Collector Tukaram Mundhe the district led the way in appropriately implementing Jal Yukta Shivar (JYS) Program in the state.
There have been several concerns raised about the way in which and the scale at which the JYS was being implemented. But Solapur is a standing example of what this govt program focusing on small scale measures for soil and water conservation can achieve.
In Solapur more than 26,000 works of the 28,000+ planned on farm small scale soil and water conservation works were completed by April! Remarkably, 29,926 wells have been recharged so far combining JYS and other schemes.
Collector Tukaram Mundhe who drove the JYS also took a strong stand against water release from the Ujani Dam in Solapur for irrigating sugarcane in Rabi, stating that no release can be made for a perennial crop like sugarcane in the face of a severe water crisis looming over Solapur. He also invested in developing options to sugar cane, exploring new avenues of Agricultural credit, options to sugarcane are being developed, and fined errant sugar factories for polluting drinking water sources.
Refusing to acknowledge these success stories the state government however continued to push more and more problematic projects like interlinking of rivers and raising height of dams in the name of tackling drought.
Failure to stop westward diversion of Krishna River water: Even during the peak drought, the state government did not any action against westward diversion of Krishna water to water surplus basins of Konkan, in spite of repeated letters from SANDRP.
Tata hydropower dams have been annually diverting nearly 50 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) water from Krishna basin (Bhima river) to water surplus basins of Konkan. The diversion continued in drought of 2012-13 as well as 2014-15 and 2015-16. Similarly Koyna dam after power generation annually diverts more than 67 TMC of water from Krishna basin to water-rich Konkan region.
Though the state government had decided at the end of January to cut down water usage for hydropower generation from Koyna dam by 15 TMC it was too little & too late since the downstream Karnataka had already declared a Rabi failure and all cities downstream Koyana Dam: Satara, parts of Sangli and Kolhapur were facing water shortage. Also when 33 TMC was available the decision limited only to 15 TMC in such a serious situation of drought and scarcity.
SANDRP has been consistently following up this issue since 2013. Owning to failure of Tatas, MWRRA or the Maharashtra Government’s part to take any stand on this issue, after raising this issue several times at many platforms, SANDRP sent a letter to the Prime Minister as well as to the National Human Rights Commission on this issue.
During the peak of summer in early May the opposition started to build against these dams which continued to divert the water to surplus basins of konkan. Tata Dharangrast Sangharsh Samiti, Mulshi Dharan Samiti and Lonavala Sajan Nagrik group staged a Jal Satyagraha in May, demanding the nationalisation of six dams owned by the Tata hydropower, so that their water can be thrown open for the general public. Members from drought-affected Solapur district and Marathwada joined the protest.
Finally, towards the end of the month, Hon. Bombay High Court vacation bench of Justices Bhushan Gavai and Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi, while hearing multiple clubbed petitions about drought and the state’s response, passed a strong order recommending release of water stored in “Private Dams” and sources for drinking water purposes of drought hit region.
MWRRA remained as non-existent: While MWRRA should have been in the forefront of taking action against Tata dams, the MWRRA remained as non functional. Much before onset of summer the MWRRA was smacked by High Court for failing to ensure equitable distribution of water.
In absence of members the Authority has not been functional since much before the start of the year. Like in drought year of 2012-13, when the state was in dire need of impartial quasi-judicial authority to look into the equitable water distribution, MWRRA which carries the onus was defunct.
The state of the authority was so bad that a proposal sent by the Telangana government to Maharashtra government in May for new dams on the Godavari and Pranahita rivers was sent back with a one-line reply: “We are currently without an authority”. MWRRA was supposed to approve the proposal only after conforming that it is in line with the Integrated State Water Plan. But the defunct MWRRA returned the proposal as it did not have a chairperson or expert members. Two similar proposals that landed at the MWRRA office since April 22, 2016 have also been sent back with the same response.
The Bombay High Court on May 25 directed the state government to either appoint new members to MWRRA within a week or extend the term of old members so that the body could start working immediately. Despite this the authority remained non-functional.
Problematic amendments to MWRRA: Following protests, PILs from experts like Pradeep Purandare, increasing public awareness about this authority, an Ordinance was passed on June 17th, 2016 to amend the MWRRA Act, specifically the constitution of the Authority.
As the SANDRP analysis of the ordinance highlights “The current Ordinance limits all amendments to the Constitution of the Authority, when the Act itself needs important amendments. Apart from expanding the ambit of the Authority, including Retired High Court Judges as MWRRA Chair and a new temporary committee when the Authority does not have members, the Ordinance does not make any major changes to the Act. All of this is limited to the constitution of the Authority. The temporary committee includes Secretary of the Water Resources Department as one of the members. This is specifically problematic as MWRRA has to hear cases where WRD is a respondent. In almost all of the cases heard by MWRRA so far, WRD was implicated by petitioners. The objectivity and unbiased stand of MWRRA is directly in conflict with having WRD Secretary as its member and any interference of WRD should be unacceptable for MWRRA….Repeating the old mistakes, the Ordinance again gears up for a bureaucrat and government-heavy authority.”
The amendment made no effort to plug the serious loopholes of the act like composition of Authority, River Basin Agency (RBA), the State Water Council as well as the State Water Board to reduce the political and bureaucratic pressures and to make it participatory, accountable and transparent. In the current form of MWRRA Act, there is no scope for participation at all as the RB plan is made by RBA, Integrated State Water Plan is made by State Water Board and approved by State Water Council. There is also no discussion further on environmental water requirements or environmental flows (e-flows) in the entire Act.
Jalyukt Shivar Yojana fell prey to severe criticism: For the first time in 45 years, water level massive Jayakwadi dam in Godavari basin reached lowest ever, 1.75 m below dead storage level when monsoon was still a few weeks away. Reservoirs were at 10% in Pune and 12 in Nashik. Sugar belt of western Maharashtra felt the tremors of rising violence over water release to Jaikwadi dam from dams in upper Godavari basin. Water release from Nilwande dam was met with farmers pelting stones and attacking irrigation officials. Cases were registered against 250 farmers of Ahmemdnagar District for violating prohibitory orders, blocking the flow of Nilwande dam’s water in Pravara River.
The monsoon started off on a shaky note with a 22% rainfall deficit in mid-June. India Meteorological Department (IMD) advised farmers in Maharashtra to postpone sowing seeds until the rains reach the state in third week of June.
With a hope to capture monsoon waters, the JYS, which was till date meant for the 25,000 drought affected villages, was extended to the remaining 15,000 villages in Early June. Launched in December 2014, soon after the BJP was voted to power, the scheme aims to bring together existing central and state water conservation schemes under one umbrella, and even ropes in villagers and corporations in what the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has called the “save water campaign”.
Unfortunately the flagship program of Govt of Maharashtra which was claimed to be ‘free of corruption’ ended up being ‘hijacked by JCB owners’. The program with reliance on heavy machinery fell prey to severe criticism for unscientific approach, ad-hoc manner in which the projects were taken up in non-transparent manner, using JCBs and not employing local people and without public participation.
Several water and ecology groups including SANDRP raised alarm over rampant River Widening, Deepening and Straightening Works undertaken under Jalyukta Shivar. SANDRP also wrote to the CM of Maharashtra in this regard. A petition was also filed in NGT against unauthorised river excavation. Latur resident and advocate Shriram Kulkarni filed a petition in May 2016 with the Western Zone Bench of the NGT against malpractices in the Manjra river work at Latur. And in another PIL filed by water and economy expert H.M. Desarda, Bombay High Court has instructed the state government to reconsider the Jal Yukt Shivar Scheme.
From easing sand mining laws to collapse of bridge on Savitri: A bridge on Savitri River in Mahad made headlines in early August 2016 as it got washed away at night, leading to death of large number of people. According to the local activists the illegal sand mining eroded Savitri bridge foundation & led to the collapse of the bridge. Nexus between the sand mafia and govt departments and role of illegal sand dredging affecting other bridges in Mumbai region were also highlighted.
Though sand mining came to much light after this incidence, the issue had actually surfaced multiple times through the year. Illegal sand mining across different parts of the state like creek of Kharghar and Mansarovar in Navi Mumbai, Vaitarna, Khaniwade, Kanher and Chikhaldongri creek or Alibaugh were making headlines. News reports also highlighted that large portion of mangroves and the natural flow of the Taloja River in Mumbai had fallen prey to illegal mining. Similarly course of Waitarna River is also affected by sand mining.
The State Govt. on 24 Feb 2016 relaxed the environmental clearance process for sand mining, making it possible to get permissions for area up to five ha at the district level. While the government has called it an effort to decentralise and speed up the process, activists fear that the decision may work in favour of sand mafias, who have already gone out of state’s control. Earlier State Expert Appraisal Committee & State Environment Impact Assessment Authority were given the responsibility of sanctioning environmental clearance to sand mining from all parts of the state. As per the new policy changes, the state level committees will be replaced by district committees and mining leases for land measuring less than five ha will be cleared by these committees and only proposals for land over five ha will come to state committees.
While the state chose to go ahead with easing the norms, it is yet to comply with the directions of NGT issued on May 15, 2015, to ensure that all sand mining is done manually. State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), department of revenue and forest, principal secretary of environment department are also facing a petition filed in NGT over their failure to curb use of excavator machines used for sand mining.
Mah-Telangana Water Sharing agreement in violation of laws: On August 23, 2016 Maharashtra & Telangana governments signed a pact for three irrigation projects to be constructed on River Godavari. Under the agreement, the two states would take up Tummidihatti, Medigadda (Kaleswaram) and Chanaka–Korata projects. Chief Minister of Telangana K Chandrasekhar Rao has reportedly said that “this would herald a new era in the relations between the two states and would be a standing example of how the states can resolve inter-state disputes without the Centre’s intervention.”
This pact which has been looked at as ‘historical victory’ for Telangana for convincing the neighbouring states is in fact one of the most blatant violation of India’s environmental laws. Tummidihetti Project & Medigadda Project featured in the agreement have long history of gross irregularities and violations exposed by several apex agencies as well as media. SANDRP has studied and written extensively about the projects and also repeatedly sent submissions to Chief Minister of Maharashtra pointing out the violations. The agreement was also signed, keeping the affected people and also people in the Godavari river basin in two states completely in the dark.
Though the pact was signed in August, the projects had advanced steadily through the year. Silent consent of Maharashtra Government to the Pranahita-Chevella project being constructed illegally by Telangana on the border of Maharashtra continued when the project underwent major redesign in January 2016 owning to lack of water availability in the Godavari.
Revival of the controversial dam projects: While the state has taken no concrete action on irrigation scam, it has been prompt on reviving multiple dams which were rife with controversies ranging from irregular cost hikes to violation of environmental laws to violation of forest rights to technical infeasibility. These included dams in konkan region, Shai dam, Gargai dam, Human dam, Jigaon dam, Tapi River Recharge Scheme just to name a few. The state has also pushed some newer projects like interlinking dams of Marathwada into a water grid. (Details of some of these projects are annexed at the end.) It is worth mentioning that Gosikhurd project still remains more than half incomplete even after 33 years of construction.
And by the end of the year revised administrative approvals have been granted to 144 projects.
In November the state in fact made a significant shift in its policy regarding reviving the pending irrigation projects. As a news report in the Hindustan Times informs, “The state cabinet in November passed proposals for suggesting major changes in its policy for clearing projects pending revised administrative approval (RAA). It gave its consent to not include the increase in cost of land acquisition and rehabilitation of the project-affected families in the project cost while computing cost escalation. It also decided that cost escalation up to 15% of a project’s approved cost will not need RAA now. This means majority of the irrigation projects pending with the government will no more require RAA as all these things are considered major reasons for cost escalation. Not only this, the RAA will also not be needed in cases where the technical changes have amounted to change in irrigation potential of the dam beyond 10% and increase in water storage potential beyond one per cent.”
Such dam revival is in conflict with two legal obligations that state needs to fulfill.
Firstly, during proceedings of the PIL filed by Jan Manch demanding CBI probe in the cost escalations of 38 VIDC projects, the petitioner had demanded technical audit of all the ongoing irrigation projects. Accordingly in July the state govt made a promise in the High Court to conduct technical audit of all the completed as well as ongoing projects. Accordingly a Government Resolution was passed on 25th July, 2016 by the WRD which admitted that systemic provision for conducting technical audits of the irrigation projects is presently nonexistent. It also admits that such audits are necessary. Dam safety departments have been given the responsibility of conducting technical audits and quality control departments are given the responsibility to conduct work audits.
For one, the GR has been passed too late as the ACB inquiry into irrigation scam has been going on since two years. Secondly even after six months there has been no progress over GR’s implementation. No committee has been formed to look after the implementation.
Secondly, during PIL filed by Pradeep Purandare, on the directions of the High Court had appointed a committee led by R W Panse, chief engineer with hydroelectric projects and quality control, Pune, to examine if the 189 projects cleared during the tenure of two NCP leaders, former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and former minister Sunil Tatkare, between 2007 and 2013 as they were in violation of MWRRA Act. The committee has submitted its report to the government. Now government is supposed to convey its stand to the HC. HC will then refer the report to the committee on Integrated State Water Plan, chaired by K P Bakshi, additional chief secretary. This committee will take a call on final validity of these projects and decide whether to include these projects in the Integrated State Water Plan. Till then the legality of the projects is in question.
In such case the state government’s move to go ahead with the revised administrative approval bypassing these processes will not stand legal scrutiny.
Funding dams at any cost: All in all, when there has been no credible review of how the dams built in the name of irrigation projects have performed in terms of promised irrigation, the state government has decided to uncritically go ahead with pouring more money into these languishing projects.
The Water Resources Minister recently explained that Rs 90,000 crore is required to complete all ongoing irrigation projects in State. Of this, Rs 37,190 crore required to complete 157 projects in Vidarbha alone. Thus the State has sought assistance of Rs 11,000 crore from Centre. Central Government had included 27 irrigation projects in Maharashtra in Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana. Also, National Bank of Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) is providing loan to the tune of Rs 18,000 crore, and the first instalment of this aid was released on Dec 26, 2016. A Ministry of Water Resources, Govt of India press release from PIB on that date says: “Sushri Bharti also handed over a cheque of Rs. 830 crore issued by NABARD to irrigation Minister of Maharashtra Shri Gireesh Dattatreya Mahajan… as financial assistance for various irrigation projects. The Minister said 26 irrigation projects of Maharashtra will be completed by the year 2018. Most of these are in drought prone districts of the State.”
In conclusion: While the year began with carryover of irrigation scam there has been no concrete action on that front. H T Mendhegiri, a retired secretary of the state water resources department who was handpicked by the chief minister in January as adviser for dealing with irrigation scam, quit early in March 2016, expressing discontentment with the functioning of the state administration.
State however acting as if no scam has ever happened, continued to pursue more and more irrigation projects with a new zeal. It has been exploring all possible revenues to fund these projects without assessing if it would indeed help.
Even when the year saw one of the worst drought with law and order problem like never before, the state failed to come up with any long term policies for regulating water use especially for water guzzling industries like sugar, liquor etc. Instead it resorted to firefighting measures with little long term impact or relevance. Policy response to the drought started and stopped at Jal Yukt Shivar, which at the end faced flawed implementation.
The state government has thought of irrigation solely in terms of large dams. Even for drought the state has come up with remedy of interlinking Marathwada dams! One question that comes to mind is, how could the Chief Minister forget so easily what he said during elections and on July 21, 2015?
Amruta Pradhan (email@example.com), SANDRP
Annexure: List of revived dam projects
- Year began with state seeking Central Govt funds for Tapi River Recharge Irrigation Project worth Rs. 6000 Cr, touted as Asia’s biggest water recharge project. The scheme involves directing 2.27 BCM (80 TMC) flood water from the Tapi River into a 25 km-wide seismic fault-line that runs between the river and the Satpura mountain chain through flood channels. The project clearly seems to be floated without assessing feasibility or impacts.
- In the beginning of the year the state also decided to go ahead with the three proposed projects in the ecologically-rich Konkan coastline viz— a port which will also include a thermal power plant among other industries, the contentious 9,900-MW Jaitapur nuclear power plant and one of the biggest oil refineries in the world —almost adjacent to each other, within a 50-km radius. Community groups have been crying foul over these projects for last more than five years.
- In early March 2016, when the water levels in the dams were plummeting at an alarming pace the State Govt busied itself with revival of controversial konkan projects. The state government took a policy decision to ‘get the controversial irrigation projects Balganga, Kondhane, Kalu and Shai, planned in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region back on track’, even as the ACB probe into these dams is far from complete. These dams are among the 12 projects from Konkan under the ACB scanner following a Bombay high court order.
- By the end of summer, in June, state govt came to an absurd conclusion that the solution to drought ridden region of Marathwad lies in interlinking the dams of this region. Claiming that it will result in effective use of water the State Govt proposed to constitute a separate water grid for Marathwada to manage the water. The budget proposed for the project is Rs 2500 cr. Dams proposed to be linked are Jayakwadi, Ujjani, Terna, Vishnupuri, Manjara, Yellara & Siddheshwari. The primary feasibility report of the ambitious water grid for Marathwada project was ready by September and the detailed project report for the Rs15,000 crore project was to be ready by December.
According to the news reports, Maharashtra’s ambitious 15000 Crore+ Water Grid project involves transferring water from Ujani Dam in Solapur to Manjara Dam in Beed/Latur in phase I. Himanshu Thakkar of SANDRP has highlighted “In the past several years, Ujani has been below dead storage. It does not have water enough to cater to its command, it has a slew of illegal projects and backwater irrigation based on it. How can it serve one more additional use? When Ujani is nearly full today, Manjara is also full! So how is the Grid supposed to work? Compare these long distance transfers with Solapur’s model of reviving local water sources, which was cheaper, faster and much more effective even in one of the worst droughts!”
- In July 2016 the State Govt decided to revive controversial Shai dam in Thane District. The dam will submerge 494.1455 ha of forest in eco sensitive region of Western Ghats (over 43,000 trees to be cut!). The 52 affected villages fall in the Scheduled Area. Thus forest clearance for the project can be obtained only after getting consent of from Gram Sabhas which have passed resolution against the dam.
- In Oct 2016 the state planned to revive Human River Project, a major irrigation project proposed on the Human River (Godavari basin) near Sirkada Village of Sindewahi Taluka, Dist. Chandrapur. Human dam with storage capacity of about 247 MCM (Million Cubic Meters) plans to irrigate 46,117.00 ha. for which it will submerge 7651.11 ha of land. The project has been vehemently opposed by wildlife experts and environmentalists as the submergence of 1925.55 Ha. of forest land, includes submerging the only effective wildlife corridor connecting Chandrapur Division with Brahmapuri Division. The project was tabled before State Wildlife Board for clearance in October 2016.
- In November 2016, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation decided to start the construction of the Gargai dam in the next two years. The estimated cost of the project is Rs1,900 crore and set an ambitious target to complete in five years. Process of DPR preparation has been started. Gargai dam will submerge 850 Ha of forest including 750 Ha of Tansa Wildlife Sanctuary. 6 tribal villages and 12 hamlets which are a part of Schedule I area will be affected.
- In December 2016, Maharashtra government decided to hand over 1,055.64 hectares of forest land to state Water Resources Department for the Jigaon dam project in Buldhana district. The dam will have total water storage capacity of around 25 TMC and is estimated to cost about Rs 500 crore. The project, conceived in 2000, has been under ACB scanner for allegations of corruption.
 Comment by Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP
 The Hans India (2016): “Historic water pact with Maharashtra on Aug 23”, The Hans India, August 21, 2016: