ByÂ Ignatius Joseph:
The state of Maharashtra is reeling under one of its worst droughts in 40 years. But even during this socio-economic crisis, water meant for drinking and irrigation is reserved for coal power plants by the state government. On May 30, a Greenpeace analysis exposed cases of wrong prioritization of water resources to thermal power plants over drinking water requirements. The report reveals that even during the drought, the government has been favouring power plants in the drought affected regions instead of drinking water for the people.
In an effort to demand that the Chief Minister, Prithviraj Chavan change these allocations, on May 22, Greenpeace activist climbers unfurled a 250 foot banner on the Upper Wardha dam in Amravati. The banner read: ‘Water for Farmers not Power Plants’.
As of 2012, more than 80,000 Megawatt of power plants are proposed in Maharashtra, most of them in the interior districts of the state. This creates a massive demand for water from rivers and reservoirs in these districts. One such coal fired power plant is the Indiabulls plant in Amravati which sucks out about 87 million cubic meters of water from the Upper Wardha dam. This water can irrigate about 23,219 hectares of agricultural land according to the government’s own estimates.
Farmers in the region who are affected by water diversion to the controversial Indiabulls power plant joined Greenpeace activists in calling on the Maharashtra government to prioritise water for agriculture over industry. Sadly, Maharashtra has the dubious distinction of being the only state in the country to favour water access for industry over agriculture till as recently as 2011.
It is estimated that the total volume of bulk water allocations for thermal power plants made by the High Powered Committee on water allocations is about 760 Million cubic metres.
When these allocations took place the committee was headed by then Water Resources Minister, Ajit Pawar, now infamous for his urinating in dam’s remark. Furthermore, the Committee allocated water without any public consultations, in violation of the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority’s procedures.
In Maharashtra, a large majority of people are employed in agriculture and allied activities and currently about 11,800 villages are facing the drought. Driven by the government’s insensitivity, Sanjay Kolhe, a farmer from Amravati started an online petition in April demanding that the Chief Minister, Prithviraj Chavan ensure the return of the water that was meant for irrigation.
Kolhe says, “This government doesn’t care about farmers’ welfare. They build irrigation projects in the name of providing water to farmers while in reality they act like partners in a business venture with the companies and hand over the water to industries on a platter. This is despite the fact that the Prime Minister has identified irrigation as one of the most important needs to address farmer distress in Vidarbha.”
Greenpeace India stresses that a cumulative assessment of the water availability and use in the region be conducted immediately. This assessment must ensure that water allocations are not made in violation of the water policy that prioritises drinking and agriculture requirements over industry. Besides this, all previous allocations should be suspended and an immediate moratorium should be imposed on any new allocations till these assessments are completed.
Bhagwan Kesbhat, Campaigner with Greenpeace India says, “The future energy demands of Maharashtra cannot be planned without taking water use into account. The current coal power addition will require massive quantities of water, which might not even be available, especially in drought situations. We believe that the Chief Minister needs to reconsider the allocations that result in the diversion of water away from irrigation to thermal power plants, keeping in mind that lakhs of farmers depend on it for their livelihoods.”
To support the farmers in Maharashtra and help farmer Sanjay Kolhe succeed in his campaign for the right to water visit us here.