Dams · Mumbai · Urban Water Sector

Are Large Dams a Smart option for cities?

Above: Polluted, encroached and neglected water sources of Mumbai Source: visualwhiplash.com

The total dependency of urban areas on dams in faraway regions is a fairly recent phenomenon. Till the middle of nineteenth century, even important urban centers like Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai used local water sources like shallow wells, tanks and rivers to quench the thirst of a concentrated population. British administration pushed dam building and long distance transfers in many cities like Mumbai. While dam building did quench the thirst of a growing population, and some of it spurred from acute water crisis like in the case of Mumbai in 1845, distant water sources and dams were instrumental in cutting the connection of the local residents with their water sources, which were revered and well maintained till then. In no time, wells in Mumbai were reclaimed, tanks in Chennai and Bangalore were encroached and Boalies and wetlands of Delhi disappeared. Urban centres became hopelessly dependent on large dams, away from the cities. Water supply and sanitation became someone else’s responsibility. The vestiges of a more independent water management can still be seen lying defunct and dilapidated in form of wells and tanks like Banganga in Mumbai, water channels of Pune, several tanks of Bangalore, Nugambakkam Lake of Chennai, Baolis of Delhi, etc.

Mumbai: Mumbai currently receives a supply of 3,750 MLD (million litres per day), while its usage is around 2,400 MLD. However, the requirement is projected as 4,200 MLD by officials and media based on an inflated figure of 240 liters per capita per day – used to justify construction of new dams. The requirement is projected to reach 6,680 MLD by 2041.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has proposed 4 dams to increase the water supply to Mumbai. Two of the proposed dams are the Gargai and Pinjal dams which are awaiting clearances. The dams are together expected to submerge 17 villages and 2850 ha forest land in a predominantly tribal region, with many areas falling under Schedule 5 of the Constitution. All the tribals from the affected villages are strongly against the project. More than 12 dams in close proximity are in various stages of construction in the same region and no cumulative impact assessment or even options assessment has been conducted so far. The Gargai and Pinjal dams will cost about Rs 16,000 crore and take 8 years for construction. They are expected to supply 440 and 865 MLD respectively to Mumbai. Read more about the projects here.

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Watersupply lines for Mumbai Source: footage.framepool.com

The other proposed dams are part of the Damanganga-Pinjal river linking project which is being pushed by the union water resources ministry. The Union water resources minister Uma Bharati announced that the project is to be a national project, making it eligible for 90% funding from the Centre. The project is expected to cost around Rs 800 crore. It includes construction of a dam on the Damanganga River in Nashik district close to the Gujarat border and another dam across Vagh river in Mokhada taluka, Thane district. It proposes to direct surplus water from the Damanganga River in Gujarat via the 2 reservoirs to the Pinjal reservoir which is to be constructed by the BMC. The project is expected to bring 2,450 MLD to Mumbai.

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Valley to be submerged by Bhugad Dam, part of Damanganga Pinjal Link Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

The project has been stalled as of Feb 2016 as the Gujarat government wants a greater share of water from the Tapi River in return for increased share of water to supply to Mumbai. Maharashtra is already facing regional disputes over water in water starved Nashik, Ahmednagar and Marathwada. The Chief Minister had to promise the Assembly in March 2015 that not a drop of water from Maharashtra will go to Gujarat. Activists have objected that these regions would be adversely affected by the river linking project. The river linking proposals are already creating new conflicts.

Bangalore: To meet the growing demands of Bangalore city, Karnataka has proposed two dam projects across Cauvery near Mekedatu, in Kanakapura taluka in Ramanagaram district. The project is expected to help the state store 48 TMC (thousand million cubic feet) of water. Mekedatu is located about 110 km from Bangalore.

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Near the site of Mekedatu Dam Source: The Hindu

In the March 2015 budget of Karnataka, the chief minister proposed preparing a detailed project report (DPR) for the project and Rs 25 crore was allotted for the same triggering a new round of conflict over sharing Cauvery water with Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu says that the project is in violation of the final award of the Cauvery Water Disputes Tribunal. Tamil Nadu adopted a resolution urging the Centre to stop Karnataka from going ahead with the project and a bandh was observed. It has also moved the Supreme Court arguing that the reservoirs would result in ‘impounding of the flows’ of Tamil Nadu.

However Karnataka claims that the dams are within the rights of Karnataka and that the project would act as a balancing reservoir and harness water otherwise flowing into the sea. The CM informed that his government was committed to implementing the Mekedatu dam project and it would face the issue legally. Similar show of political will in preserving wetlands of Bangalore city and implementing steps for water conservation would go far in improving water security of the city.

On June 18, 2015, the Karnataka Water Resources minister said that the Mekedatu project was being expedited and the DPR for the implementation of the project will be readied within three months (as opposed to the usual period of one year). The projects would be right in the middle of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. About 2,500 acres of forest area will be submerged. As the project is for potable purpose, it does not require environment clearance from the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF).

Hyderabad: Hyderabad is going to draw drinking water from Yellampally barrage in Adilabad district on the Godavari River. It is an ambitious project for the Telangana government bringing approximately 680 MLD of water to the city of Hyderabad. While the Godavari flows toward Eastern Ghats before draining into the Bay of Bengal, Hyderabad is located in another river basin, namely Krishna basin. Such water transfers can have many impacts, including floods and land sliding. A 186 km long pipeline would route the water from the Yellampally barrage.

Delhi: The Renuka dam project was proposed on the Giri River, a tributary of Yamuna, in Sirmaur district of Himachal Pradesh in 2008. The project was expected to supply 1,240 MLD water to Delhi and its surrounding areas.

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Protests against Renuka Dam Source: SANDRP Partners

After a prolonged controversy, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Feb 2, 2016 passed judgement in a case challenging the environmental clearance to the Renuka project, basically since Supreme Court in an earlier case had made some remarks about the project, as one can see from reading of the NGT order. The tribunal took grounds of national importance of the project and amount already spent on the project to allow it. Under the UPA government, the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh denied forest clearance to the project saying that the national capital should first fix its water distribution losses of over 45 %. “Delhi must learn to use the tougher options that are available. It cannot be a parasite on the rest of the country”, he said. The project is yet to receive forest clearance.

The NGT declined to stall the land acquisition proceedings for the dam by the State government since the Centre had declared the project as one of “national importance”. To execute the project, Himachal has acquired about 2,950 ha, including private agricultural and forest land despite protests of the locals. The state claimed that until Oct 2015, the Centre had not released any money to compensate farmers whose plots were taken over. 90% of the funding of the project is to be borne by the Centre as the project was declared a national project.

The project has been delayed for lack of clearances, support and funds. The total project cost which was initially estimated at Rs 3498.86 crore as in March, 2009 is likely to go beyond Rs 5,200 crore with delay in the execution of the project.  In Nov 2015, Delhi Water Minister declared at India Rivers Day function that Delhi does not need water from Renuka dam, but very strangely, neither Delhi govt filed an affidavit to that effect before NGT, nor did NGT take cognizance of this public stand of Delhi Government.

Srinagar:  Protests erupted in Chadoora area of Kashmir’s Budgam district on Dec 18, 2015 against a proposed water supply scheme sourced from Doodh Ganga River for Srinagar. People from twin constituencies of Chrar-e-Sharief and Chadoora fear the scheme will dry up half-a-dozen water supply schemes, already fed on Doodh Ganga. The protestors were worried that the projects would deprive them of irrigation and drinking water and also put them under risk of flooding.  The protesters alleged that they had approached the officials to put forth their reservations, but nobody heeded their concerns.

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Dudh Ganga River Source: triphills.com

The executive agency, Jammu and Kashmir Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA) claimed that the scheme will benefit 3.5 lakh people and that there are no risks associated with it. The ERA said that more than Rs. 10 crore had been invested by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and that the state would lose out future investment from ADB if Dhoodhganga water scheme were stopped.

Hundreds of protestors held demonstrations for a week. The protesters allegedly clashed with government forces while the forces retaliated by firing teargas shells and pepper gas. After days of massive protests and clashes, on Dec 24, 2015, the Jammu and Kashmir Government ordered temporary suspension of the work on the scheme.

Big dams come at a huge social and environmental cost. Recurring costs of repair and maintenance are so much that they far outweigh the benefits. Urban areas can and should explore low cost local solutions and conserve water than solely rely on dams. Recent happenings bear witness to the drawbacks of building dams to supply water to cities.

Drought of 2015-16: As of Jan 2016, water levels are already very low in dams at many places across the country because of deficient rains in 2015. Water usage has to be rationed until the monsoons. Even in such times, urban usage is often not regulated and urban water supply is prioritized and comes at the cost of irrigation water for agriculture.

As of Jan 2016, reservoir levels in Gujarat are at a 10 year low. Rains last year were 23% less than normal and the state’s 202 reservoirs have only 24% usable water as compared to the usual 48% around this time of the year. The CM has declared that the water would only be used for drinking purposes for the next 5 months and no water would be spared for agriculture until monsoons. In Porbandar town, water is provided once a week in several areas. Two main reservoirs that provide water to the area may go dry in a month. Drinking water crisis is expected to hit Saurashtra and Kutch badly.

The depletion of water table at the Lower Manair Dam on the Godavari basin in Karimanagar district, Telangana raised alarm in Jan 2016 as the reservoir provides drinking water to Karimnagar, Warangal and other places located close to the reservoir. The drought in the region has cast concerns over availability of drinking water for the coming summer season.

Water levels, as of late Feb 2016 have hit a record low in reservoirs on Krishna and Cauvery Rivers threatening drinking water supply to Bengaluru and other places in Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Reservoirs in the Krishna basin have never been in such bad shape. The worst hit is Tungabhadra dam which has a storage capacity of 100.86 TMC while the available water at present is a mere 9.23 TMC. Cities like Hubli-Dharwad are getting water once in eight days, owing to the alarmingly low level in Malaprabha dam in Krishna basin. Farmers have been alerted in both Krishna and Cauvery basins that there will be no water release for irrigation, this summer. Despite the austerity measure, meeting drinking water needs will be difficult until monsoons fill up the reservoirs. Storage as of late Feb 2016 in the KRS reservoir supplying water from the Cauvery River is only 18.69 TMC compared to last year’s level of 32.84 TMC.  While 2 TMC is dead storage (water which cannot be utilised), another 2 TMC of water will be lost due to evaporation over the next five months. Bengaluru alone requires 1.5 TMC water every month.

With no rainfall in the latter part of Jan 2016 and release of water for irrigation, storage in the Vaigai reservoir in Theni district, Tamil Nadu is fast depleting and has slipped below 50 feet (maximum level is 71 feet). The Vaigai dam provides drinking water to Madurai and it is anticipated that shortages might be experienced during April-May 2016.

Prior to the monsoons in 2015, it was reported that Panvel was facing massive water cuts for 4 months, until rains came in the end of June 2015, as the Dehrang dam, the city’s primary source of water had dried up. The dam was constructed in 1964 and at present the city has a population over 1.11 lakh. 

Reliance of urban areas solely on dam based water supply exposes them to seasonal shortages. As the summers are becoming hotter, longer and drier, dams lose greater amount of water to evaporation. Climate change is changing the rainfall pattern and has increased occurrences of intensely heavy rainfall and prolonged periods of drought. Dams also increase risk of flooding during heavy rains.

Flooding: More than 1,500 people, including 500 people from Ahmedabad city, were evacuated due to sudden floods in the Sabarmati River after water was released from the Dharoi dam in Mehsana district, Gujarat, on July 30, 2015. Sabarmati water level dramatically rose after huge volume of water was released into the river from the dam due to heavy rainfall in the catchment.

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Sabarmati Floods Source: Indian Express

Flooding is frequently seen during heavy rains when the rivers are already overflowing and surplus water also has to be released from dams. During 2015 monsoons, flooding also occurred in West Bengal after release of water from the Damodar Valley project and in Punjab after authorities opened the flood gates of the Pong dam in Himachal Pradesh.

The floods in Chennai in Dec 2015 were made worse by negligent operation of the Chembarambakkam reservoir in the outskirts of the city. Meteorological agencies had predicted heavy rains and advised the PWD and other bureaucrats to bring down the water level in the reservoir. However the proposal to release water was caught in bureaucratic red tape. From Nov 24 to Nov 30, when the city experienced little rainfall, outflow from the reservoir was limited, while storage levels were maintained at 85-88%. Orders to open the Chembarambakkam sluice gates were received only after the city was pounded with rain and the reservoir started overflowing.  On Dec 1, following heavy rainfall, approximately 29,000 cusecs (cubic feet per second) was released in a short span of time into the already constricted Adyar River and into the waterlogged city. Much of the flooding and subsequent waterlogging was a consequence of these outflows and water level in many areas went up even after the rains stopped.

Accumulation of silt is another recurring problem with dams. The dam’s storage capacity reduces with silt accumulation. Removal of silt is economically unviable – desilting a dam might be as expensive as constructing multiple new dams. However, the structure itself is endangered due to silt accumulation – necessitating removal or increasing the storage level of the dam. Deterioration over time of material used to build the dam also necessitates repair.

Khadakwasla dam which had 4 TMC storage capacity and supplied water to 80,000 Punekars when it was constructed, was left with 2 TMC water storage capacity as of June 2015.

Environmental NGOs and socially aware groups have been working on desilting the dam removing a lakh truckloads of silt in the last 3 years. The Temghar, Panshet dams in Pune are also prone to loss of capacity from silting. While periodic silting by civic agencies is called for, it is also observed that the reason behind increased silting is deforestation and catchment destruction. An environmentalist working on Khadakwasla explained that over time the area around the dam has lost its green cover leading to a rise in the rate of silting.

The Central Water Commission (CWC) with assistance from the World Bank has initiated the Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project (DRIP) at an estimated cost of Rs. 2100 crore and progress was reviewed on Feb 10, 2016. The project across seven states of India (Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, and Jharkhand) targets rehabilitation of about 225 dam projects and preparatory activities have been completed for 207 dams in collaboration with states.

Land acquisition and rehabilitation: The Thumbe vented dam on the Nethravati River is the primary source of water for Mangalore city. A new dam is being constructed at Thumbe to increase the height of stored water from present 4m to 7m. An estimated 386 acre of additional land would be submerged if water is stored up to that level. The construction of the new dam has been almost completed and the process of land acquisition would be initiated soon.  Strangely, the process of land acquisition is being initiated when the dam is almost completed.

In Jan. 2016, it was reported that Pune district has at least 800 pending cases of rehabilitation for the dam-affected that the district aims to clear during the year. The district has 25 dams. Besides rehabilitation and compensation, provision of civic amenities and basic infrastructure is also pending.

The rehabilitation process is often fraught with corruption. For instance, in the case of rehabilitation of Narmada dam oustees, activists have claimed that thousands of oustees have faced serious corruption in the rehabilitation process, thereby depriving them of their rights and rehabilitation benefits. The soon to be released report of the Jha Commission set up by the Madhya Pradesh HC to investigate corruption in the rehabilitation process is expected to reveal misappropriation to the tune of Rs 1,000 to 1,500 crore.

The recently reported issues related to dams reveal that they are an inefficient approach to urban water supply. Dams come at a high cost and the final expenditure is almost always in excess of what is predicted at the outset. Dam building also offers potential for embezzlement of huge amounts of money. Maintenance is again an expensive affair and is indispensable as they could otherwise lead to major disasters. They come at a huge social and environmental cost submerging agricultural lands, villages, forests and habitats of other species often against the will of the people they displace whose livelihoods are lost and life is altered permanently. Diversion of water is also at the cost of competing local demands for irrigation and domestic use. The burdens and benefits of such projects are distributed inequitably and cleave along the urban-rural, rich-poor social divide.

There is little appreciation of the huge costs involved and there is no incentive to conserve water among urban residents who are beneficiaries of the project. Often there is also lack of information regarding shortages on the supply side. Urban water supply can benefit more at lower costs and greater reliability from developing better water managing techniques such as rainwater harvesting, conserving and developing aquifers, protecting local water bodies and rivers, treated and recycling sewage and recharging groundwater. Groundwater is a much better storage option in times of drought, as it is not lost by evaporation. These require way less infrastructure and work along with nature than destroy it. However making sustainable use of groundwater requires disciplined planning and might not present chances for corruption that major dam projects do. It is sincerely hoped that the planners make this paradigm shift sooner than later.

Unless all available low cost and low impact options are exhausted, Dams are not water smart, climate smart or economically smart option for urban areas. Such projects should not be part of smart cities scheme.

Anuradha uv.anuradha@gmail.com, SANDRP

 

Agriculture · Climate Change · Dams · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Farmers, Rivers and the Environment in Union Budget 2016-17

Above: Canals of Tillari Project, on of the AIBP Project supported in Union Budget 2016-17, unused and derelict Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

Massive expenditure on Large Dams will only help contractors

The Union Budget 2016-17 presented by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Feb 29, 2016 seems to be promising in its thrust and focus towards farmers and the farming sector of the country. For a sector which employs about 55% of the work force of the country, this priority is much needed and one which holds a promise of a number of multiplier effects. He stated, “We are grateful to our farmers for being the backbone of our food security. We need to move beyond food security and give our farmers a sense of “Income Security”.” This is particularly required when the farmers are in dire states as they are today, many of them facing four consecutive crop failures, Kharif 2014, Rabi 2015, Kharif 2015 and Rabi 2016.  In 2015, on average 52 farmers committed suicide every single day in India.[1]

And hence, focus on farming is indeed a positive step. As Maharashtra State Water Resources Minister for State Vijay Shivtare once told me, “We are not very bothered about the high costs of Lift Irrigation Schemes per se. If they work well, and result in prosperous farmers, it would mean more agricultural implements, more Tractors, more vehicles, better homes etc., increasing the government’s revenue at the end of the day.” (“If they work well” was the operative part here, which has seldom materialized in Maharashtra). A Prosperous Farmer and strong farming economy can help all sectors.

Mr. Jaitley opened his budget speech with an Agenda to “Transform India”, based on nine pillars. Foremost pillar is ‘Agriculture and farmers’ welfare, with a focus on doubling farmers’ income in five years, by 2022. The total allocation for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare is Rs 35, 984 Crores.

Finance Minister rightly diagnosed that “Irrigation is the critical input for increasing agricultural production and productivity.” Out of 141 million hectares of net cultivated area, only 46% is covered with irrigation and that there is a “need to address optimal utilization of water resources, create new irrigation infrastructure, conserve soil fertility, value addition and connectivity from farm to markets.”

For ensuring this, “Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana” will be implemented in mission mode through which 28.5 lakh hectares will be brought under irrigation”. A major part of this will be through “Fast tracking and Implementation of 89 irrigation projects under AIBP (Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Program) which have been languishing. These will help irrigate 80.6 Lakh hectares. These projects will need Rs 17,000 Crores next year and 86,500 Crores in next five years. 23 of these will be completed before 31st March 2017.”

So, in the coming 5 years, a whopping Rs 86,500 Crores of the taxes collected from all Indians and at least a part of the Krishi Kalyan Cess at 0.5% all taxable services will go into AIBP Projects, with over Rs 17,000 Crores being allocated in 2016-17 itself. This is highly problematic. AIBP was started by P. Chidambaram in 1996 and in two decades since then, it has not delivered anything susbstantial except huge bank balances for contractors, as also for the engineers, bureaucrats and politicians,hand in glove with the contractors. CAG reports have repeatedly highlighted this reality  in case of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and now possibly Madhya Pradesh. In fact, this was the very plank on which BJP came to power in Maharashtra. But Arun Jaitely seems to have no new ideas to offer here, except treading on the same path.

While it is clear that the government cannot abandon all incomplete projects, before it decides to spend more good money after already sunk costs on incomplete projects, it needs to halt more Major and Medium irrigation projects and undertake a credible, independent review of why the projects were incomplete for so long, what were the loop holes, what are the lessons learned from past mistakes, which projects are worth going ahead, in what form. And finally, which need  to be abandoned. Without doing such an exercise, the money allocated for incomplete projects is not going to help the farmers.

  1. Massive Support for AIBP Projects in Union Budget 2016 17 is unwarranted

Rs 86,500 Crores over 5 years is a massive amount. Will it be able to ensure promised Irrigation? Which are these AIBP Projects? Why do they need so much support from the Center? How have they performed till now? Where are they located? Is this expenditure wise?

Here is a snapshot of some of the 89 AIBP Projects, maximum of which, 13, come from Maharashtra. Maharashtra has had enough bad publicity following the Dam Scam but more importantly, it now has a Chief Minister, also from BJP, who openly stated in the State Assembly on July 21, 2015 that “We have built Large dams everywhere without thinking of feasibility or water availability” and that “Large Dams are not the road ahead”. Devendra Fadanvis wisely separated Large Dams from actual Irrigation and said: “We pushed large dams, not irrigation, this has to change”.[2] He has spearheaded a considerably successful program that focuses on small scale interventions for harvesting and recharging water known as Jal Yukta Shivar Yojana.

With this context, it is ironic and deeply troubling that maximum Large Irrigation Projects under AIBP come from Maharashtra. The name “Accelerated Irrigation Benefit” is also ironic as many of these projects have been going on for over 2-3 decades, have seen huge costs escalations, corruption charges, question marks about their viability, desirability, optimality, quality and final effectiveness.

Out of 149 AIBP Projects across the country, 89 projects are active, out of which 46 projects have been prioritized in the Union Budget. 23 Priority I Projects are to be completed by 2016-17 and additional 23 Priority II Projects are to be completed by 2019-20. Of these 46 Projects, maximum 13 projects come from Maharashtra.

A brief snapshot of some AIBP Projects in Maharashtra:

No. Project District Issue
1.                      Tillari Interstate Project Sindhudurg Based in hilly tracts of Western Ghats, highly unviable project, very low irrigation efficiency, terrain not suitable for large dams, Protests, Land Acquisition problems, 
2.                      Bembla Major Project[3] Yavatmal Huge Corruption Charges, Work ongoing since last 24 years. High cost escalations. Cracked canal Lining due to poor quality work. Enquiry ordered against Contractor for substandard work.
3.                      Tarali Major Irrigation Project Satara Whistle Blower of Maharashtra Dam Scam, then-Serving Chief Engineer Mr. Vijay Pandhare inspected construction of Tarali Project and stated that compressive strength of all 66 cores of the dam is as low as 42% when a difference in core strength by 1-2% is considered serious. This indicates corruption, use of less cement and institutionalised ill-intent. He officially wrote letter against these happenings. No action taken.
4.                      Dhom Balkawadi Satara Contract of Canal works given to a close relative of Ajit Pawar, Former Deputy CM and Minister of Water Resources. Several tendering lacuna exposed by officials.
5.                      Arjuna Medium Project Ratnagiri Massive cost and time escalations, unviable project in hilly terrain, corruption charges, rehabilitation issues not settled.

In addition to these, cost escalations of Lower Wardha, Lower Panzara, Nandur Madhyameshwar II (which will need 3 dams in the upstream) are also well known. (Link to  all projects in References below)

Across the country, but more sharply so in Maharashtra, Large Irrigation Projects have not automatically meant increased irrigated area, which is what the farmer needs. 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.[4] There are several reasons for this.

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Above: Canal irrigated area declining in the country Source: SANDRP

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 Above: Groundwater dominates Irrigation in India, not dams and canals Source: IWMI

If Large Dam approach delivered all that it promised, then Maharashtra, with the largest number of large dams in the country would have had the highest irrigated area.  The actual picture is the opposite. Maharashtra has the lowest irrigated area in the country at about 18%. This is not a coincidence. As the dam scam highlighted, more large projects with complicated, ever-changing plans, far away offices and opaque funding mechanisms meant that local people had no clue about what was happening, leaving doors open for the unholy nexus of Babus, Contractors and Engineers to eat away public funds, without ensuring irrigation. Recent example is when the Maharashtra Government told the Hon High Court that they have resolved all of the financial backlog in areas like Marathwada and Vidarbha,  but the PHYSICAL backlog remains nearly the same. So is money for large irrigation projects an answer in this scenario?

While three major projects from Vidarbha (Bawanthadi, Bembla and Lower Wardha) included in AIBP will receive huge support from the Center, the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) faces some of the most serious charges of corruption, cost and time escalations, as highlighted by a series of government appointed committees and even CAG. Jan Manch, an NGO from  Vidarbha which was instrumental in exposing the scam clearly stated that problems of projects here run deeper. Money is not an easy fix.

So why are the same projects being pushed in the name of farmers when it is demonstrated in Maharashtra that farmers are NOT benefiting from these projects? Cynics would point this out as another Jumlaa! Again, in the same state, the power of small scale water harvesting structures and people’s participation have shown how quickly things can change. Maharashtra still needs to complete Anti-Corruption Bureau Inquiry against several Large Dams, it needs to work on an Integrated State Water Plan and, as per orders of the Hon High Court, it can undertake new Projects only as per the provisions of this plan, it needs to take transparent and credible action regarding its own enquiry reports, which includes Special Investigation Team Report, CAG Report on Irrigation Projects dated 2013, etc. Unless all these steps are taken, and when small scale interventions are demonstrating their impacts, what is the logic behind putting huge public resources on the same approach?

Projects in other states like Sardar Sarovar, Narmada Sagar, Omkareshwar and Maheshwar Projects in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have not resettled the oustees and has used repressive mechanism to still fill the dams. It has been rapped by the Courts. Local communities in Manipur have been opposing dams there and have gone to the National Green Tribunal against Thaubal Dam.

In this context, maximum allocation of funds for Large Irrigation Projects in the Union Budget is clearly, neither convincing nor beneficial to farmers.

Other Schemes included under PMKSY with budgeted expenses for 2016-17 are

  • Har Khet ko Pani: Rs 500 Crores
  • Per Drop more crop: Rs 2340 Crores
  • Integrated Watershed Management: Rs 1500 Crores
  1. Some Positive water related steps in the Budget:
  • A major program for sustainable management of GW with allocation of Rs 6000 Crores and proposed for multilateral finding: Although the amount budgeted is hardly comparable to AIBP Projects, when contribution of groundwater in irrigation is much larger than surface water! We do not really need World Bank funding for this, we should be able to do this on our own.
  • A dedicated Long -term Irrigation Fund will be created in NABARD with initial corpus of Rs 20,000 Cores. Unfortunately, NABARD has no specific social and environmental policies and has been funding projects without attention to the key governance issues.
  • 5 lakh farm ponds and dug wells in rain fed areas and 10 lakh compost pits through MNEREGA.
  • Allocation for MNREGA is Rs 38500 crores, in reality this is much less than the actual demand and also less than what was actually spent last year. Last year, the actual spending on the programme was Rs 41,169 crore. The additional spending of Rs 6,470 crore is the pending liability and if adjusted the actual allocation in 2016-17 drops to Rs 32,030 crore—less than what was allocated in 2015-16. MNREGA allocation should have been higher.
  • Organic farming to be promoted: Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana 5 lakh acres under organic farming in 3 years with allocation of around Rs 412 crores. While more areas under organic farming is welcome, the target is more un-ambitious and allocation most meager. As Jayapal Reddy (Secy, confederation of kisan organisations) says we need aid for increasing carbon content in soil all across India.
  • Incentives for enhancement of Pulse production. Rs 500 Crores under National Food Security Mission to pulses. Districts covered increased to 622. This is a specifically encouraging step taken as Pulse Farming is mostly rainfed, require low fertilizer inputs, contributes to protein security, is climate friendly. We spent about Rs 15,000 Crores this year to import pulses and a focused plan for procurement and assured MSP will be of a great help. But the FM could have been much more ambitious here. A similar scheme was needed for oilseeds too.
  • Access to markets is critical for farmer incomes. Unified Agri Marketing Scheme has been announced where a common e-platform will be developed for 585 regulated wholesale markets. Amendments in APMC Acts are a prerequisite for joining. On the 14th April Birthday of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Unified Platform dedicated to Nation.
  • Revised norms of assistance under National Disaster Response Fund in April 2015.
  • Special focus on adequate and timely flow of credit to farmers. Against target of 8.5 Lakh Crores in 2015 16, the target of agri credit 2016-17 will be Rs 9 lakh Crores.
  • Prime Minister Fasal Bima Yojana providing greater cover against natural calamities at a low premium. Provision of Rs 5500 Crores in Budget 2016-17. However, the amount originally estimated to cover all farmers was Rs 17,600 crore. Why this lower allocation?
  1. Where are the Rivers?

In NDA’s first budget in 2014-15, when Ganga Arati and rhetoric on Ganga cleaning were at their peak, the Finance Minister had said during his budget speech: “ Rivers form the lifeline of our country. They provide water not only for producing food for the multitudes but also drinking water.” [5]

This year however, there is no mention of Rivers, not even Ganga. However, Namami Gange Plan/ National Ganga Plan has been allocated Rs 2250 Crores in the year 2016-17. The plan itself remains unclear. A plan based on Sewage Treatment Plants alone does not hold promise for Ganga with Rs 2000 Crores budgetary support, or Rs 20,000 Crores, like the money we have spent in the past years, corresponding to declining water quality of the river.

Inland Waterways Plan: The much-talked about Plan pushed by Minister for Road Transport and Highways and Shipping Mr. Nitin Gadkari would be getting around 350 Crores in 2016-17 as the combined budget for Sagaramala (Ports project) and Inland Waterways is pitched at 800 Crores and Sagarmala is budgeted at 450 Crores. Inland Waterways Program is being pushed without a thought being given to rivers in which they will operate. It is raising some very crucial questions, elaborated here: Digging Our Rivers’ Graves?[6]

Interlinking of Rivers Plan: The Plan has not been mentioned in the budget and the scheme does not feature in the further discussions. However, the Center is pursuing the project, disregarding ecological cost, social costs, financial costs and interstate conflicts.

It looks like Budget 2016-17 has no special announcements for rivers. However, plans like 100 Urban Rejuvenation Mission (Amrut and 100 Smart Cities) have been allocated a massive Rs 7296 Crores this FY. Projects like Smart Cities, Highways Project, Inland Waterways all have a strong link and impact on life support systems like rivers and these needed to be seriously addressed. India has no policy for Urban Rivers, and this has meant that rivers are common grounds for encroachment, pollution and extraction, leading to their destruction, like the Ganga, among others.

  1. Environment in Union Budget 2016-17

While the Environment Minister was one of the first Ministers to official hail Union Budget as “Visionary”, it is a bit sad to see that Ministry of Environment Forests and Climate Change (MoEF and CC) does not feature in the list of Important Ministries annexed to Finance Minister’s Speech, nor does a single Scheme from MoEF and CC feature in the list of Important schemes.

MoEF and CC gets a slightly higher budget than the massively slashed budget for the past two years. However, as Down to Earth has pointed out, there is a hitch here: “The Budget document shows that allocations to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) have continued to rise, from Rs 1,681.60 crore in last year’s budget to Rs 2,250.34 crore in 2016-17. But most of this Rs 570-crore increase has come in the form of planned revenue expenditure (salary and other operational expenses), which has risen by Rs 540 crore to Rs 1,944.75 crore this year. This leaves an increase of only Rs 30 crore divided between planned capital expenditure estimates (expenditure on schemes and programmes) and non-planned estimates. In fact, planned capital expenditure saw a dip in comparison to actual expenditure undertaken during fiscal year 2014-15.”[7]

Some Climate Change initiates like National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), have seen an increased allocation. Of the Rs 180 Crores for Climate Change initiatives, Climate Change Action Programme (CCAP) has been allotted Rs 30 crore, the National Mission on Himalayan Studies Rs 50 crore and the National Adaptation Fund Rs 100 crore. According to Down to Earth, “While this is more than the Rs 160 crore allocated last year, there is no provision to cover the revised estimates of total expenditure of Rs 136.79 crore for the CCAP and Rs 115 crore for the National Adaptation Fund.”

There has been an upward spike in the National Clean Energy Fund, constituted mainly by Coal  Peat & lignite Cess, which has seen increase from Rs 50 to 100 Rs/tonne in 2014-15, further to 200 Rs/tonne is 2015-16 to 400 Rs/tonne in 2016-17. It is reported that it is this fund which will be support Inland Waterways Project, which is likely to destroy our remaining rivers. It will be hugely ironical if Clean Energy Fund levied on coal because of its environmental impact is used for Inland transport of Flyash and Coal from Rivers, as envisioned in the Inland Waterways Plan!

Budget of Ministry of New and Renewable Energy has also been increased considerably from Actual 2014-15: Rs 515 Crores, Revised Estimates 2015-16: Rs 262 Crores and Budgeted Expenditure of 2016-17 at 5036 Crores.

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All in all, the massive thrust and support for large dam and canal network which has not delivered in past remains one of the most problematic parts of the Budget. The focus of farmers, encouragement to pulse farmers, increased decentralized procurement, increased Clean Environment Cess, increased allocations (marginal) to MoEF and CC and CC initiatives are welcome steps. Finally, a budget is as good as its implementation. A look at achievements of the last year indicates that that several schemes are still listed as under progress. While the aim of increasing farmers’ incomes by double in 2022 sounds very strong and positive, it does remind one of the BJP’s election promised of ensuring 50% profit over costs to farmers, unmet till date and now abandoned. Agricultural growth rate has not achieved more than 4% in any five year plans, and this target will need about 15% Compound Annnual Growth rate in farmers’ income, that looks nearly impossible.

It is also sobering to note, as Devinder Sharma says, that in 17 states of the country, farmers average monthly income is 1666 Rs. Doubling it in five years would mean 3332 Rs a month, nearly the same as five years back, if adjusted against inflation!

  • Parineeta Dandekar, Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP

 END NOTES:

State-wise details on AIBP Projects here: http://mowr.gov.in/writereaddata/1-1-1_Completing%20priority%20projects.pdf

[1] http://thewire.in/2016/03/01/agriculture-sector-needs-more-than-just-income-security-for-farmers-23273/

[2] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/07/26/we-pushed-large-dams-not-irrigation-cm-fadnavis-assembly-speech/

[3] http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/proposed-in-1992-bembla-irrigation-project-still-incomplete-112101802012_1.html

[4] https://sandrp.in/irrigation/Failure_of_Big_Irrigation_Projects_and_Rainfed_Agriculture_0510.pdf

[5] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/rivers-and-water-in-union-budget-2014-15/

[6] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/digging-our-rivers-graves/

[7] http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/budget-2016-17-loose-change-for-climate-change-52973

Maharashtra · Mumbai

Water Smart Mumbai is possible without river links and big dams! Open Letter to CM Devendra Fadnavis

Above: Forested Valley, now lost forever for the Middle Vaitarna Dam Photo: Parineeta Dandekar 

Respected Chief Minister,

At the outset we congratulate you for leading some progressive changes in the Water Resources Department of the State. These include decisions about continuing only with those dam projects which are more than 75% complete[1], appointment of independent people with a clean image like Shri. H.T. Mendhegiri as CADA Chief Secretary, changing norms of Economic Survey Report[2], stating that only hoarding water will not be counted towards increase in irrigation potential, etc. Continue reading “Water Smart Mumbai is possible without river links and big dams! Open Letter to CM Devendra Fadnavis”