Central Water Commission is the only agency doing flood forecasting in India. As per CWC’s Flood Forecasting website[i] the Data Flow Map has information about 226 Flood Forecast Sites in the country comprising of 166 Level Forecast Sites and 60 Inflow Forecast Sites. It also monitors 700 other sites, information is made available through List Based Exploration and Hydrograph View, but no flood forecasting is done for these sites.
Above:Red arrows indicate diversion of water from Tata Dams into surplus basin. Source: Google earth images and SANDRP
Since past three years, SANDRP has been raising the issue of West-ward water transfer during drought years by hydropower dams. Maharashtra annually diverts 3324 Million Cubic Meters of water from its water deficit Bhima and Krishna basins into the water surplus Konkan basin for hydropower generation. This happens though 6 dams on Bhima Basin privately owned by Tata Power and the Koyana Hydropower Project. Although drinking water is the first priority for any society and this is enshrined in the National and State Water Policies, there is no system in place to allocate the waters of these dams to the downstream, when there is dire need. During this drought, which is possibly Independent India’s worst droughts, Tata Dams have released nearly no water to the Bhima Basin and Maharashtra Government on its part has taken no stand on this issue.
Solapur, a chronically drought-hit district in Maharashtra was serviced with more than 200 tankers in 2013-14, even when the monsoon was good. In this drought, there are only 16 tankers plying in Solapur. Drinking water sources have been secured. The district leads the way in Jal Yukta Shivar Program in the state, new avenues of Agricultural credit are opening, options to sugarcane are being developed, errant sugar factories are being fined for polluting drinking water sources…
Above: A huge protest march against water release to Marathwada Photo: Zee 24 Taas
In 2015, with the change in the ruling party after 15 long years, Maharashtra had a massive opportunity to break free from the crisis-ridden and scam-ridden image of its water sector. Water and dams have been central behind the embarrassing loss of Congress-NCP government in the 2014 Loksabha elections. But could the ruling BJP government actually deliver such a “Paradigm Shift” as it likes to call it? Is there light at the end of the tunnel for the state that is facing not only management scams, but repeated droughts and extreme weather events?
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”.
Above: Placard proclaiming Ahmednagar’s claim over Mula Dam waters, protesting any downstream release Photo: Zee24 Taas
While largely unheard of in the country, bitter intrastate water conflicts are now routine to Maharashtra since the past few years. Come November or December, just as the state wearily puts behind one more sad monsoon, newspapers start carrying pictures of desperate farmers standing inside canals challenging dam authorities to release water. Politicians are quick to use this opportunity to deepen schisms between the state.Continue reading “Dams and Equitable Water Distribution: Learnings from Maharashtra”→
Sugarcane Crushing is set to start at any moment now in Maharashtra[i]. About 164 Sugar factories[ii] have put up proposals for securing Crushing Licenses with the Sugar Commissionerate of Maharashtra. With crushing, will begin debates, protests and demands for well deserved Fair Remunerative Price (FRP) for farmers and soft loans, subsidies, debt waivers and monetary help for sugar factories from state and Center. Sugar factories will put up justifications on why they cannot afford FRP (yet again) this year, how financially sick they are and, at the same time, how they are the only option for drought affected Maharashtra.Continue reading “Water and Sugarcane Crushing in Maharashtra: In search of sustainability”→
Above: Ashok Pawar’s motorbike cruises right inside his dry field, even after recent showers in Marathwada Photo: Ashok Pawar
After a heartbreaking gap, retreating monsoon is now blessing Marathwada with some showers. Small water harvesting structures and those built under the Jal Yukta Shivar Abhiyan, a flagship project of CM Devendra Fadnavis, are clocking an increase in water levels. 96.3% of average September rains in just the first 10 days of September (Dept of Agriculture, Govt of Maharashtra) is indeed a respite for a region that stands at the doorstep of an epic drought. What is lost in June-July-August in terms of crops failures, water scarcity, dismal dam storages etc., cannot be compensated by September rains, which are a fraction of total monsoon (June-July-Aug-Sept) rainfall. But if the rains continue, they can help drinking water situation and possibly Rabi crops. It is heartening to see the farmers celebrating this downpour.Continue reading “Sugarcane in Marathwada: A Syrupy debate amidst Lowest June-Aug Rainfall in the Century”→
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.
We are encouraged to write to you on this subject, thinking that considering the name, objective of the TSG and also the various statements on the TSG website, you will take prompt and necessary action on this subject.
We are writing to you in the context of Bhima basin in Maharashtra and Krishna river basin in general facing the worst monsoon deficit, crop loss and water scarcity. Millions of farmers are facing crop loss, livelihood loss and worst. Ujani dam on Bhima River is below its live storage level now and in the downstream Telangana, Nagarjunsagar is at zero live storage level and Srisailam has just 9% water in its live storage. Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have said they have no water to save farmers’ crops; they are reserving the available water for drinking water. Continue reading “Open letter to Tata Sustainability Group to stop westward diversion of Bhima basin water by Tata Hydro projects”→