Farm ponds dotting the agricultural fields immediately grab your attention as you enter Hiwargaon Pawasa – a small village of about 1500 population in Sangamner Taluka of Ahmadnagar District. The village is located just off NH-50, the national highway connecting Pune and Nashik. Farm ponds start to appear as soon as you turn east from NH-50 (which broadly runs North South) to head towards Hiwargaon. Nearly every farm, small or big, has a plastic lined farm pond. Hiwargaon Pawasa village alone has some 300 odd farm ponds.
Above: Illegal Sand Mining in Pune (Photo: Indian Express)
At State level the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) is the regulatory authority for granting environmental clearance to the projects falling under Category ‘B’ in Schedule of EIA notification, 2006, which receives projects recommended by State level Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC). SEAC is constituted for the purpose of assisting the SEIAA. Both SEAC and SEIAA are constituted under the EIA notification. For Maharashtra there are three SEACs. SEAC-I looks after appraisal of all the projects related to Industries, Mining, Irrigation and others, excluding building projects. SEAC-II looks appraises all the building projects falling under Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and SEAC-III appraises the building projects falling under Non-MMR region.
SANDRP looked at the decisions of SEAC-I (hereafter referred to as SEAC) for 17 meetings (of year 2015-16) specifically for projects which involve rivers, water bodies and also which have large water footprint e.g. sugarcane. The projects related to rivers and water bodies mainly consisted of sand mining projects, medium irrigation projects, dredging of rivers for proposed waterways, newly proposed or capacity enhancement of sugar factories and few other specific projects such as solid waste dumping site proposed by Kalyan Dombivali Municipal Corporation (KDMC) which is close to the river etc.
At the outset it has to be said that the minutes for all the meetings are highly generic with little or no project specific elaboration especially of the environmental impacts. For most of the projects especially sand mining the remarks and conditions are standard. If one is trying to understand the rationale behind sanctioning some projects it finds no mention. Many of the projects like sand mining, river dredging or solid waste management sites near flood lines have been approved despite of evident grave risk. ‘No project’ does not seem to be an option at all.
Minutes of the meetings reflect how the project proponents (PP) have taken rivers for granted. Despite repeated violations SEAC has bestowed tremendous faith in PP that the conditions it stipulates will be complied with.
Remarks made by the committee give an impression of inadequate impact assessment of the projects. There is enough room to question if any serious impact assessment happened at all.
Above: Pipelines which supply water to Pune City from Khadakwasla Dam (Photo: Amruta Pradhan, SANDRP)
Urban narrative of Maharashtra revolves predominantly around cities of Mumbai (along with the Mumbai Metropolitan Region i.e. MMR), Pune, Nagpur and Nashik. Dominance of these large urban centres or the big cities over raw water sources is apparent. These cities have per capita water supply much more than the prescribed norms and continue to seek more water allocations. As Maharashtra gears up to fund more and more dams tapping finances from different sources, big cities with growing footprint of water consumption are all set to claim more water from these dams.Continue reading “Maharashtra Urban water sector in 2016: Big cities eyeing big dams”→
Above: Pandhapur wari, the yearly pilgrimage on Bhima banks (Source: pandharpurwari.com)
Bhima River, the largest tributary of Krishna River holds a special significance for the state of Maharashtra. The river is closely woven with the spiritual fabric of the state. The river is also referred to as Chandrabhaga River, especially at Pandharpur- the famous pilgrimage city, as it resembles the shape of the Moon. Bhima basin occupies nearly 70% area of the Krishna Basin falling in Maharashtra. Though the river originates in Maharashtra, it merges with Krishna river in Karnataka state, thus can be viewed as an independent basin.
In recent years Bhima basin has been subjected to excessive pressure of anthropogenic activities such as religious festivals attracting millions of pilgrims through the year, growing pollution by urban centres, growing sugarcane cultivation and over extraction of the river water to feed the water guzzling crop. These activities are taking toll in the river’s health and its water availability. Maharashtra state’s haste of building more and more dams in Krishna basin is most prominently visible in Bhima basin.
In this sense this sub-basin of Krishna River Basin, is its perfect miniature.
In a welcome move Western Zone Bench of National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued an interim stay on the proposed portion of the metro route passing through the Mutha river bed in the Pune city.[i] This directive was passed in an Environmental Interest Litigation (EIL) filed in the NGT on May 26 last year by a group of citizens contending that in the proposed metro rail alignment, a 1.7 km stretch passing through the left bank of the Mutha river could cause an irreversible damage to riverbank ecosystem along that route.
In the first phase two corridors of metro have been proposed in Pune. Corridor-I is of 16.59 km length from Pimpri-Chinchwad to Swargate and Corridor-II is of 14.6 km from Vanaz to Ramwadi. The petition before NGT Pune bench is against the 1.7 km stretch of Vanaz-Ramwadi corridor proposed through left bank of river Mutha. The metro route is proposed to enter the Mutha riverbed behind Savarkar memorial on Karve Road and proceed towards Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) Bhavan and further to Food Corporation of India godowns behind Shivaji Nagar District Court.[ii] Two Metro stations are also proposed on the riverbed, one near Deccan Bus Stand and the other behind Sambhaji Park. Presently soil testing work for the project is in progress.
It certainly seems a good news for Pune’s rivers which have routinely made headlines for their pollution and poor state in general. Closer look towards the details however would cast a shadow on this development. The alignment through the river bed has been proposed despite PMC recently facing and losing a petition in NGT against 2.3 km long (and 24 m wide) road from Vitthalwadi to NH-4 bypass which was being constructed illegally right in the Mutha Riverbed. In its final judgment in July 2013 NGT ordered the road to be realigned. Subsequently a contempt petition was filed when PMC failed to comply with the orders where the NGT in January 2015 again ordered removal of the constructed road.[iii]Continue reading “NGT stays work of Pune Metro affecting rivers: Another violation of the river floodplain”→
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”.
Above: Menawali Ghat at Wai, Satara Dist (Photo: Sanket Deshpande)
The mighty Krishna River bears the name of Lord Krishna; the beloved dark and dusky lord worshipped throughout the country. Originating but a few kilometers from Arabian Sea, the river has chosen to flow towards Bay of Bengal becoming a lifeline of four states viz. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In its journey of thousands of kilometers and thousands of years, the river witnesses an amazing diversity in language, lifestyle, food and culture.
Maharashtra is blessed to be an upper riparian state in the Krishna Basin. Sahyadri ranges of Western Ghats falling in Maharashtra are abode to early flows of Krishna River. In Maharashtra the river is perceived in a feminine form called ‘Krishna Mai’ meaning ‘Mother Krishna’. The River Krishna is one of the important rivers flowing through Maharashtra and has a tremendous religious and cultural significance. Agriculture and economy of districts like Satara, Sangli and Kolhapur thrive on Krishna mainstream.
Above: Retaining wall of Gosikhurd RBC slid down from its location Photo: Jan Manch
Aftermath of the irrigation scam exposed in 2012 in Maharashtra still continues. Roots of the scam were pointed out time and again by Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG) and also by several other committees set up by the Government. The scam was finally unveiled in May 2012 with a combined effort of several whistle blowers from inside & outside the government as civil society groups including SANDRP. Unjustified cost overruns, forged tenders, tweaking the norms of tendering process, incomplete projects laden with inferior quality work were brought to light and the unholy nexus of corrupt leaders, government officials and contractors became visible like never before. Continue reading “Tracing the Maharashtra Irrigation Scam: From 2012 to 2016”→
Above: Irrigation official confronting the angry farmer from Asolamendha village in Chandrapur District of Maharashtra Photo: Amruta Pradhan
“Farmers are dying… but your procedures have to be complete…”
Sight of an angry farmer saying this to an irrigation official has stayed with me long after I returned from visit to Gosikhurd Right Bank Canal (RBC). More often than not, I, like many others have read and written about mighty Gosikhurd- that multi thousand crore irrigation project languishing incomplete for last 32 years. I was now seeing personification of the havoc wrecked by this poorly planned and even more poorly implemented project.
I was at the Asolamendha dam, tail end of Gosikhurd RBC. 30-40 farmers from nearby villages suffering because of the shoddy work of RBC had gathered with complaints at tip of their tongue. Nature of complaints was serious. This incomplete canal running a total length of 99.53 km from Gosikhurd Dam in Pauni Tehsil of Bhandara District to Asolamendha Dam in Nagbhid tehsil of Chandrapur District has not only failed to provide irrigation but is also destroying the catchment of the local water sources.
I was visiting Gosikhurd RBC as a part of Sinchan Shodh Yatra- a series of fact finding tours started since May 2015 by Jan Manch– a voluntary organization from Nagpur to uncover the shocking ground reality of corruption laden incomplete irrigation projects of Vidarbha region. The yatra that has visited 18 projects so far is being joined by more and more farmers who have suffered due to the poorly implemented, half done irrigation projects. It is becoming a platform for affected people to raise their voices and slowly emerging as a pressure group on irrigation officials. (Read more about Sinchan Shodh Yatra at https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/public-audits-of-corruption-ridden-irrigation-projects-in-vidarbha-sinchan-shodh-yatra/#more-15917)
Shodh yatra consisting of about 70 people had taken an inspection tour of Gosikhurd RBC which was proposed to irrigate command area of 64,362 Ha but has been incomplete since last decade. During its journey of 50 km length of RBC (from 45 km from Gosikhurd dam to Asolamendha)Shodh yatra witnessed stalled work of the main canal which has not resumed for past more than three years, farmers agitating over host of issues from incomplete branch canals to crop damage caused by breach of canals and irrigation officials offering more and more excuses. Continue reading “Sinchan Shodh Yatra finds Gosikhurd Right Bank Canal incomplete even after a decade of construction”→