Above: Water released from Bhama Askhed Dam for Ujani Dam, April 2013 Photo:Author
Today (14th January 2016) Maharashtra’s Marathi AgroDaily announces[i]: “ 3 TMC Water will be released from Bhama Askhed and Chaskaman Dam for Ujani Dam from tomorrow, 15th January 2016. Looking at the opposition to this by farmers in Pune district, the release will happen under strict police protection. Electricity to farm pumps near the river will be disconnected for 7 days between 15th-22nd January to avoid water theft”.
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.
2013 will remain a memorable year for Maharashtra’s water sector in many ways. The year saw several remarkable events, including country’s the biggest dam scam, a severe drought followed by floods, unprecedented intrastate water conflicts, court rulings in many hues, disaster management preparedness, push for urban and industrial water, etc. These issues have raised a question mark over institutions and governance mechanisms around water in the state. 2013 year has been a crucible of sorts through which the flaws and strengths of prevailing water management in Maharashtra can possibly be assessed. This is an attempt to give an overview of the important water happenings in Maharashtra during this year.
As the year 2012 ended, a White Paper on Irrigation Projects[i]was published by the Water Resources Department (WRD) Government of Maharashtra after much pressure from civil society and media following colossal corruption charges[ii] against the WRD, and also against the NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) which held the portfolio for more than 11 years. This was looked at primarily as a political move in the ongoing tussle between NCP and Congress. Immediately after its publication, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar who had resigned over corruption charges in WRD was reinstated, without clearing his name. Modus operandi of the dam scam included pushing and initiating multiple projects, incomplete works, unbelievable and irregular cost escalations post tendering: some to the tune of 300%, favoring a cartel of contractors, poor quality of construction, absence of essential studies like water availability, detailed designs, DPRs, absence of canal networks, etc. All this culminated into the fact that after spending Rs 70000 crores on irrigation projects in the past 10 years, the actual increase in irrigated area was extremely low.
The white paper provided a status report of projects under the WRD, the money spent, cost escalations and reasons, status of clearances, etc. As was predicted by many, the white paper has been a white wash. Not only has it presented false information about many projects, it has chosen not to report many controversial projects, and has not given any convincing reasons for delay and cost hikes. It nonchalantly reported illegalities like the on-going work without mandatory Forest and Environmental clearances.
One of the remarkable features of the dam scam and white paper has been that both issues were highlighted and pushed by the civil society and the media and also the CAG report. Parts of the Dam scam was unearthed after organizations like IAC (India Against Corruption), Shramik Mukti Sangathan, SANDRP, etc. which worked on individual projects, mainly of the Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC), strung together evidence to understand the scope and scale of the scam. One of the eloquent voices in this group has been that of Ms Anjali Damaniya, now with the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party), who joined the dots across Maharashtra and collected a body of evidence which irrefutably indicated the massive corruption and problems in the WRD. Equally remarkable was Chief Engineer Vijay Pandhare’s unshaking stand against the functioning of his own department. Not surprisingly, he was deemed as being mentally imbalanced by the Ministers.[iii]
In this entire episode, Chief Minister of Maharashtra and his government succumbed to the pressures of vested interests in the pro dam lobby, losing a golden opportunity to purge the irrigation sector of its collective corruption.
The White paper was followed by the constitution of a Special investigation Team (SIT) in December 2012 under the chairpersonship of Dr. Madhav Chitale, to investigate the corruption charges and to recommend further action to the WRD. Unfortunately, not only did the constitution of the SIT interfere with taking the WRD into the court, the members, including Chitale, are all known for toeing the government line. Chitale is also known for his pro-dam stance. On top of this, the SIT refused to accept any evidence about the scam from anyone outside the WRD. This move was criticized by many, after which the SIT started accepting such submissions. However, many view the constitution only for buying time and diluting and delaying actual strong action which is deserved by the WRD. [iv] This again shows how the Maharashtra government led by Chavan did not understand the issue and did not have the courage to provide transparent governance.
Massive Drought: Monsoon of 2012 had been poor in many regions across Maharashtra. End of 2012 itself saw severe water stress in many regions and increasing conflicts. The situation needed quick appraisal and strong, urgent measures. But the MWRRA (Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority), expressly constituted in 2005 to provide equitable water distribution in the state was busy holding meetings about water rates.[v] By December 2012 live storages of many projects, including Ujani, touched zero. Months that followed saw one of the most severe droughts experienced by Maharashtra. This was dubbed as a drought worse that 1972 by political leaders, to underline the “natural disaster” and escape responsibility. However, SANDRP’s analysis proved that rainfall in 2012 had been more than that of 1972 in almost all of the 17worse drought-affected districts in Maharashtra. This proved that 40 years after 1972 and after spending thousands of crores on dams and institutions, the impact of a drought less severe than that of 1972 was more severe, highlighting the mismanagement of water on a large scale.[vi]
Sugarcane concentrated in the worst drought hit regions There were many reasons behind this situation, including inequitable water allocation, pollution, dam scam, etc. One of the major culprits was wide spread cultivation of water intensive sugarcane, promoted by the politicians and the government. The water use efficiency of Maharashtra’s cane farming is dismally low, as compared to other states like Uttar Pradesh.[vii] Solapur region, worse hit by drought has the maximum concentration of sugar factories (28) and maximum area under sugarcane.[viii] It also includes Union Agricultural Minister’s (Shri Sharad Pawar) constituency of Madha. Water required for cultivating sugarcane on 155 864 ha area under sugarcane in Solapur works out to be 2630 Million Cubic Meters (MCM). This is 1.73 times the live storage capacity of Ujani Dam (Live Storage: 1517 MCM), the largest reservoir in Bhima basin and third largest reservoir of Maharashtra.[ix] All this cane was crushed when drought was at its worst. In regions like Osmanabad, all of the cane over 50,000 ha was crushed when all of the dams in the region were at dead storage! The same drought-hit region was also going to host several new (mostly private) sugar factories. SANDRP analysed the impact of sugarcane on drought and highlighted this at multiple fora[x]. Some, like Rural Minister Dhobale, promised that new factories will not come up in drought regions. But this has not been implemented.
Most of the water of Ujani Dam in Solapur was diverted for sugarcane, without any checks from anyone. As it reached dead storage, drinking water to villages was affected. The High Court, while hearing a case filed by Prabhakar Deshmukh of Solapur ordered in April 2013 that dams upstream Ujani should release water immediately for the downstream Ujani Dam and other areas. The rationale behind water releases to Ujani has been questioned. Importantly, even in the village of Prabhakar Deshmukh, sugar industries continued to crush cane using huge quantity of water every day, even when he was on fast.[xi] The government has been completely ineffective in dealing with this issue.
Marathwada was most severely hit by drought and was also at the receiving end of a complex upstream-downstream water conflict. After commissioning the massive Jayakwadi Dam near Aurangabad in this region, several (more than 11) dams have been built in the upstream Godavari Basin in Nashik and Ahmednagar Districts. These dams have reduced the water flow into Jayakwadi.[xii] In keeping with Section 11 and 12 of MWRRA, All dams within a basin should have approximately same percentage of water in October each year. However, in Godavari, upstream dams held upto 90% water, even when Jayakwadi was at Dead storage. Multiple cases were filed in Aurangabad bench of High Court which twice ordered release of water from upstream dams. How much water of it actually reached Jayakwadi remains an unanswered question.
Thus the year also saw complete ineffectiveness of MWRRA as an institution. It was shamed by the High Court. More than 13 posts, including the chairperson and expert members were not filled for several years and the authority was all together nonfunctional. Rules of the Act were not made 8 years after formulating the act. They were hastily made after HC orders and very significantly, tried to delete the same clauses which were significant for equitable water distribution. This again was and is being contested by civil society, especially in Marathwada. Now, the WRD has appointed a committee under the chairpersonship of Mr. Mendhegiri, Director WALMI, specifically tasked with making MWRRA “practicable”. Marathwada groups see this as a clear threat to Jayakwadi and have written to the government as well as Mendhegiri Committee. The road ahead seems long.[xiii]
Drought of 2013 was not without bright sparks, though. Collectors from places like Beed, Jalna and Osmanabad took some strong stands. Notable amongst these was Dr. Nagargoze from Osmanabad. Many of their recommendations were however ignored. Civil society groups became active and vocal about equitable water management. Many villages joined initiated desilting tanks and weirs. Several new watershed structures were erected. All this led to considerable storage in 2013 monsoons.
However, quick fix methods like Shirapur pattern which entail deepening and widening of streams and rivulets, was pushed indiscriminately for all, as was string of cement nallah bunds, but this again was contested for its impacts on groundwater and environment. It is now reported that Government has applied for a Rs 60,000 crores loan for drought proofing works, with support from the World Bank. Before such big ticket expenses, we need to check what happened to the thousands of crores spent on watershed management and specifically minor irrigation projects? Large number of minor irrigation projects are dysfunctional and poorly maintained, like their big counterparts. People’s participation in management is the key, but is entirely absent.[xiv] The year 2013 also saw tragic death of five engineers of the WRD, while inspecting a flawed minor irrigation project, which caved in during the inspection.
Unviable LIS also violate laws At the same time, many Lift Irrigation Schemes (LIS) of Maharashtra applied for TOR clearance or Environmental clearances with the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Central Government. SANDRP was following this closely and we were shocked to find that many projects which applied for clearances were already underway, some were nearly finished. All such work before clearance is in complete violation of the Environmental Protection Act 1986 and EIA Notification Sept 2006. All of these projects: Lower Dnyan Ganga, Ar kacheri and Alewadi nalla, Shirpaur Lift Irrigation Scheme and Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation scheme were rejected clearance by the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects after SANDRP wrote to the EAC about the violations. Though White paper stated Forest and Environmental clearances as hurdles to its work, we see that projects do not wait for these processes and WRD pushes on with illegal works.
2013 Monsoon 2013 monsoon (June-Sept) has been satisfactory for most of the state: Vidarbha got 1360.4 mm (43% above average) rainfall, Madhya Maharashtra got 880.1 mm (21% above average) rainfall, Konkan got 3502.6 mm (20% above average) rainfall and Marathawada got 747.3 mm (9% above average) rainfall. Thus Vidarbha, already stressed by water diversions for thermal power plants and farmers plight, faced severe floods this year. Standing crops of cotton and soyabean were destroyed and the impacts of soil erosion continue till date. Same is the case with Dhule and Jalgaon districts. Operation of Dams has been held responsible for compounding the flood losses in places like Wardha and Chandrapur. Compensation announced to the farmers is meager, with some receiving single digit checks.
The Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal announced its final verdict in November 2013, disallowing Maharashtra to make any further interbasin transfers, especially through the Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation project. The work on this project is already progressed to considerable extent. Mostly, this again will be money down the drain. The project also applied for environment clearance, but was denied that following SANDRP submission that work has already progressed before the clearance.
Western Ghats 2013 also saw a huge upheaval and public discourse surrounding the Western Ghats, following the Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP) Report by Prof. Madhav Gadgil and the problematic Kasturirangan Committee report, mainly to dilute WGEEP recommendations[xv]. The affidavit submitted by Principal Secretary Maharashtra on the WGEEP report is extremely flawed. Even when SANDRP and other organizations highlighted the gross violations in KIDC irrigation projects, the Forest and Irrigation department continued to ignore that[xvi]. The affidavit[xvii] says that interbasin water transfers in Western Ghats are necessary in Maharashtra for the water security of the drought affected region in the Deccan plateau, but ironically, all the current water transfers of more than 2000 MCM annually though Koyana HEP and TATA HEPs is transferring water FROM this very drought hit region TO the water surplus region of Konkan And this was not checked even when the 2012-13 drought was at its peak and organizations like SANDRP raised this issue during the drought.[xviii]
The dithering ways of Congress government at the centre and state are epitomsed in a recent event of appointing Veerapa Moily, a completely unsuitable candidate[xix], as the Union Environment Minister. One of the first persons Mr. Moily met after becoming the Minister of Environment was Mr. Prithviraj Chavan, along with Kerala CM, with the CMs advocating putting a hold on the ESAs in Western Ghats recommended by the Kasturirangan committee and Mr. Moily promptly obliging. In earlier meetings, which I attended, Mr. Chavan intentionally depicted WGEEP report in incorrect light. This may have something to do with entrenched interests another congress MLA, Narayan Rane, in mining and destructive activities in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra.
Looking at Rahul Gandhi’s absolutely incorrect depiction of Environment and Environmental clearances as hurdles at the FICCI meet, it looks like the congress establishment has just not got the message from the AAP episode in Delhi. People have indicated that they want clean, participatory and responsive governance and not just growth at any cost. The establishment seems to have no clue about the dependence of the poor on the environmental resources.
Dams around Mumbai, in the Western Ghats 2013 saw frenzied activity by the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) and Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) to push more and more drinking water supply dams in the tribal areas of Western Ghats MMR region. Around 12 dams are now in various stages of completion, construction and planning for the MMR Urban areas. They will together affect more than 100,000 tribals and submerge more than 22,000 hectares of land including over 7000 hectares of forests and protected areas. Looking at options that Mumbai has and its current water management, these dams are totally unjustified. Some dams like Kalu started even before statutory Forest clearance. Balganga dam is 90% complete without land acquisition! In Suseri Dam, the contractor secured permission for a farm house and built a site office instead. SANDRP and other organizations held a workshop focusing on these issues in Mumbai on the 18th December 2013.[xx]Here too, the fight for sustainable and equitable water management looks tough as the power equation is skewed in favour of the urban areas.
Significantly, it was at Mr. Chavan’s request letter to Union Environment Minister that Kalu Dam was considered again by the Forest Advisory Committee, MoEF in April 2013 and was given in-principle clearance a month later, after being categorically rejected just one year back. The dam will submerge 1000 hectares of forests in Western Ghats and will affect at least 18000 tribals. Mr. Chavan, in one of his meetings, had said that no project will go ahead without assessing its impact on the environment. I had then publicly reminded him there that no assessment has taken place for Kalu and he himself is pushing it without assessment.
The urban water scenario in Maharashtra is seriously problematic at the moment. Many urban areas are in a hurry to build new dams as the only option to their increasing water supply, but are not ready to harvest rain, or to treat and reuse any sewage they generate or to revive their rivers and other local water sources or achieve any participatory governance. Nashik, which receives additional funds from the National River Conservation Directorate for cleaning up Godavari is converting the river into a drain, while hankering for a new dam called Kikvi. SANDRP raised objections about this proposal and it is yet to receive final Forest Clearance from the MoEF.[xxi]Godavari Gatarikaran Virodhi manch, a civil society group in Nashik has filed 3 petitions against the Municipal Corporation and MIDC for polluting Godavari. The corporation is actually releasing untreated sewage in the river, just a few hundred meters upstream the holy Ramkund in which devotees take a dip and consume teerth, especially during Kumbh Mela.
All in all, 2013 exposed the gaping holes in Maharashtra’s water governance. Events which happened this year are not one-off accidents but underline systemic flaws. Some of the main factors include blind push for big dams, no post facto analysis of existing projects, absence of equitable water distribution, exclusion of communities in decision making and management, absence of transparency and accountability in management and corruption and arrogance linked to powerful vested interests.
As the year 2013 closes, Chief Minister, Union Agriculture Minister and all the dignitaries so very linked with sugar sector again came together at the Vasantdada Sugar Institute’s Annual General Meeting in December 2013. The same leaders had met at the same forum in March 2013 in the middle of the drought, when the Union Agriculture Minister had said that from next year flow irrigation to sugarcane will be stopped and drip will be made compulsory.[xxii] But just after 9 months from the “worse drought in 40 years”, these promises seem to have been forgotten. The same Minister did not even mention drip in his December 2013 address.
In conclusion 2013 ends in India on a historical note, with the Aam Admi Party taking over the reins of the government in Delhi, riding to power on the promise of clean, corruption free, pro-people and hence pro-environment governance. The key operative term here is transparent and democratic governance.
In Maharashtra, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan assumed office on a similar promise of clean governance, but the CM and his government has completely lost this claim. It was shocking to see that the Chavan government rejected the Adarsh Scam report hat indicting the ruling Cong and NCP leaders, highlighting the misguided, dishonest and weak governance in the State. Political opposition has also completely failed here. In the dam scam or other episodes described above, neither the BJP, nor the Shiv Sena nor any other party could play an effective pro-people role.
Thus, as far as current political set up in the state is concerned, the writing is clearly on the wall. Rural poor who do not receive irrigation, farmers whose water is stolen by industries, urban poor and the middle class who do not get assured water despite the city spending thousands of crores on water supply projects, rivers which are drying up, they all need alternatives and pro people governance.
Let us hope and work to ensure that 2014 will be a different year. It is a tough road ahead.
On 9 April, 2013, the Bombay High Court, in response to a PIL filed by Mohol Taluka Shetkari Sangh ordered the Water Resources Department (WRD) of the Government of Maharashtra to release ‘sufficient’ water to Ujani Dam (the largest dam in the Bhima Basin) within 24 hours to meet the drinking water needs of drought-stricken villages downstream Ujani.
In the 24 hours that followed, WRD zeroed in on the release of 3 TMC (Thousand Million Cubic Feet) water from Bhama Askhed and 1 TMC from Andra. The water releases from both the dams were ongoing as on 1 May 2013, when I visited the Bhama Askhed dam. By then, 2 TMC water had already been released. There are no credible reports about how much water from this release has reached Ujani, or how much will eventually reach. When the water was released on 10 April 2013, the Chief Engineer, Bhima Basin had reportedly said that it will take 6-7 days to reach Ujani backwaters, without mentioning the rate of release. 26 days later, the release is still on.
While water releases from a distance of over 205 kilometers for a region like Solapur, which has mismanaged its water to the hilt by using all its water for sugarcane and sugar factories even in this severe drought year, as well as the merits of the High Court decision can be debated, it is important to see the implications of such decisions from the perspective of those at the source: around Bhama Askhed Dam. The choice of Bhama Askhed and Andra Dams was not based on any participatory process, but was a closed-doors decision taken by the WRD, allegedly because it will be politically impossible to release water from dams reserved for Pune’s drinking water (Although Pune dams are still releasing water for downstream sugarcane).
How come the Bhama Askhed dam had 124 million cubic metres (57 per cent of live storage capacity) on April 8, 2013 (practically the end of the irrigation season) in a drought year? In fact, the live storage of the dam was filled up to 66 per cent on the same date in 2012 and 74 per cent in 2011. It seems the dam remains hugely underutilized. One key reason is that Bhama Askhed has no canals built for irrigation, as per the original plans even after 18 years of construction initiation.
Away from the media attention, the project-affected people of Bhama Askhed Dam were on a protest fast at the Dam wall for four days after the release of water from it for Ujani started. Their demand: they have not been rehabilitated even after 13 years of initiating dam filling in the dam. They should be rehabilitated first, should receive water for drinking and irrigation on priority and only then should the water be released for the downstream.
Let us take a look at Bhama Askhed as a representative of dam-centered water management in Maharashtra, a state with maximum dams in the country, to see the extent of fulfilment of the stated objectives of a dam and other underlying realities.
Bhama Askhed Dam on Bhama River, a short tributary of Bhima River, received administrative sanction in 1992 with the explicit objective of providing irrigation to 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. It was to have two canals: a right bank canal (RBC) of 105 kilometres and a left bank canal (LBC) of 14 kilometres. Construction on the dam started in 1995.
According to its last administrative sanction in 2012, the cost of the dam has now risen to Rs. 575.84 crore from its initial Rs 112.96 crores in 1992. The dam has a live storage capacity of 7.6 TMC. Canal-work has not been done even according to the claims of the WRD. Right Bank Canal is barely 18 kilometres complete, in patches. Left Bank Canal work is not even initiated. Of the intended 30,000 hectares to be irrigated, not a single hectare receives irrigation through canals, since the RBC work stops just about 200 mts from the dam site, before resuming after a distance, but this discontinuity means water cannot be taken to any of the command area.
Tragedy of the displaced
Bhama Askhed Dam submerged 2,259 hectares of land, affecting three villages completely and nearly 20 villages partially, displacing 1414 landholders, approximately 7000 people in all. When we had a meeting with some of these affected people, the Sarpanch of Roundhalwadi (a fully affected village) said that of the 1414 landholders, till date only 56 landholders have been rehabilitated in the command area of the dam. When affected people were paid compensation, there was a clause that they have to pay back 65 per cent of the compensation amount within 40 days to be eligible later for land in the command area of Bhama Askhed. When a majority among the people signed the compensation papers, this clause was not pointed out to them and most of them being uneducated were unable to read this.
Even among the 111 landholders who paid 65 per cent of the amount, only 56 received land in the command. In every village, there are nearly 20 per cent people who neither received land, nor money for the land and livelihoods that they lost. They eventually moved to the High Court in 2007 and the case is still pending. We met farmers who had lost all their land: fields as well as homes without receiving land compensation till now, and have sent rehabilitation claims four times or more, but have received no response.
As in the case of most dam projects, the rehabilitated villages such as Roundhalwadi, Parale, Anawale, Waki lack basic amenities, do not have fully functional drinking water sources, irrigation schemes, assured electricity or proper roads. Some villages like Kasari are surrounded by water on three sides without a proper road.
Affected villages also supported 25-30 settlements of landless tribals: Thakars and Katkaris who mainly depended on the forests and fishing for survival, without owning any land. They received no compensation for losing their livelihoods from fishing and forests. Once the dam was built, fishing contracts were awarded to a city-based contractor in five-year cycles and locals were not allowed to fish in the dam. No one knows what happened to these tribal settlements; they just vanished in thin air!
18 years from initiation of dam construction, the problems of project-affected communities are far from solved. Local farmers have organised protests in 2009, 2010, 2012 and now in 2013. Every time they are given assurances, but the problems remain. In the words of Devidas Bandal, an affected villager fighting the HC case, “We do not say no to releasing water to Ujani, we only ask that we, who lost our lands and livelihoods, also be given water for drinking and irrigation and basic amenities in rehabilitated villages. Is that too much to ask for?”
Water to the industries
In 2005, Chakan MIDC started coming up in a part of the command area of Bhama Askhed Dam, we were told. This was also the same land promised to farmers for resettlement. Now, the land prices here have skyrocketed and affected farmers say that administration will never resettle them here, though this area lies in the command. Letting MIDC encroach upon the command area of a dam already underway, that too on land which has been promised for rehabilitation, is unjustifiable. In addition, Chakan MIDC lifts water directly from Bhama Askhed Dam. This water allocation was never planned. Now, with expanding MIDC and a huge real estate boom in Chakan, the development moves closer and closer to the land reserved for the canals, which should have been ready many years back.
So, for whom has this dam been built?
When quizzed about canals, the WRD officials say that there is resistance for land acquisition for building canals. Some of the farmers in the downstream are lifting water from 26 KT weirs built by the WRD on Bhama and Bhima Rivers for utilising water releases from Bhama Askhed Dam. They seemed to have been encouraged to use the water from the weirs built by the same irrigation department that has not built the canals. Now some of them are naturally resisting land acquisition for canals, since they already have irrigation from the KT weirs, and the irrigation department is using this as a reason for not building canals in the planned command area. In the regions irrigated by weirs, sugarcane flourishes, increasing inequity again. A large part of the area now irrigated thus was not even part of the original command area.
Water for Pune Municipal Corporation
A huge reservoir storing 7.6 TMC water without canals is an attractive proposition for many. According to a Government Resolution (GR) dated December 2011, 1.2 TMC water from Bhama Askhed has been allocated to Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for drinking water purposes. In its explosive growth, Pune city wastes and pollutes water with impunity, has unchecked leakages and huge inequity in water supply. But having a source like Bhama Askhed makes it easy for Pune to forget these worries and simply buy water from the water resource department.
According to the same GR, PMC is supposed to pay Rs. 48.76 crore to WRD for re-establishing irrigation infrastructure. This is at the rate of 1 lakh rupees per hectare, which means that irrigation for 4876 hectares of command area is losing this water. Again, this has been an entirely non transparent and non-participatory decision. While the White Paper laments the funds crunch to take up canal work, it does not mention these unplanned diversions or this added revenue and how it plans to use this for either rehabilitation or the command area.
A dam, which was sanctioned on its claimed potential to irrigate nearly 30,000 hectares in a semi-arid area, is already built at a huge economic and social cost and is storing water earmarked for the command area that should receive this water. But the reasons behind the delay in starting canal works of Bhama Askhed are incomprehensible. The contractors, engineers, politicians, industrialists and even fish contractor have profited, but no benefits accrue to recognised or unrecognised affected population or intended beneficiaries as per the original plans. While unplanned sugarcane, Pune Municipal Corporation and Chakan MIDC have emerged as the unplanned beneficiaries of these dams, the farmers in command, for whom the dam was justified, and the project-affected people have been the losers in this game.
Bhama Askhed is not an isolated example showing water diversions from irrigation projects to non-irrigation uses. Notable examples are Hetawane Dam in Pen and Surya Dam in Dahanu, among many others.
It seems as if the dams have become pawns in the hands of engineers, bureaucrats and politicians, to be used as and when required for whatever ulterior motive they might serve – anything but their stated purpose. It is not a coincidence then that despite spending 70,000 crore rupees on irrigation in Maharashtra for ten years, the irrigated area is showing no net increase and thousands of villages are parched despite building multiple dams in the vicinity.
While participatory, transparent and accountable water management is crucial in all years, its importance is particularly highlighted in a drought year like 2012-13. Let us hope that all concerned, including farmers, media, civil society as well as the High Court look at the complete picture and are able to take collective action on this.⊕