Water woes to intensify Vidarbha agrarian crises, warns report

Diversion of water to thermal power plants in the belt being cited by Greenpeace report as a cause for concern in this water-deficient area

geetanjali

Geetanjali Minhas | December 31, 2012


The cover of the Greenpeace report, titled titled ‘Endangered waters: impacts of coal- fired power plants on water supply’.
The cover of the Greenpeace report, titled titled ‘Endangered waters: impacts of coal- fired power plants on water supply’.

In an alarming report, the NGO Greenpeace has revealed that conditions are expected to become much worse for the water-starved Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, with over 55,000 MW coal-based power plants being proposed in the belt as of 2010.

Deeply affected by the agrarian crisis and an unreasonably high number of farmer suicides, the region is also highly underdeveloped in areas of irrigation, electrification and infrastructure. Water demands of the proposed thermal power plants is only expected to make things worse for this already hard-hit region, with plants putting an additional pressure for already scarce water resources in the region, according to the report.

The Greenpeace report, titled ‘Endangered waters: impacts of coal- fired power plants on water supply’, throws light on water availability of Wardha and Wainganga rivers of the region and the impact of thermal power plants on these rivers. The rivers, which are a part of the Godavari basin, are the key source of water for eight of Vidarbha’s 11 districts.

“The study conducted by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, analysed the present and future water demands to be placed on the rivers, including 1,700 million cubic meters (MCM) of water per year required by the coal-based thermal power plants proposed in the region,” the report says.

Stating that there will be additional freshwater demands of about 2,050 MCM, or about 72 TMC ft, it says nearly 1,700 MCM of water is proposed to be taken from these river basins, which would otherwise have irrigated about 3.4 lakh hectares of farmland.

‘Preference given to industries’

Accusing the Maharashtra State Policy, 2003, of giving priority for water to industrial and commercial use over irrigation, the report says, “This legislation remained (in force) until May 2012, when a government resolution mentioning farmer suicides gave priority to agricultural use over those of industrial and commercial (se of water). However in the eight years, from 2003 to 2011, the high-powered committee chaired by (the) minister of water resources alone diverted about 4,000 MCM of water  to thermal power plants from various reservoirs in Vidarbha.

“Apart from this, the Vidarbha Irrigation Department Corporation directly provided numerous water allocations from rivers.”

In another damning report for the state government, the Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India says, “The way Maharashtra has gone out of its) way in the last 10 years or so in reallocating water from irrigation to urban and industrial use would have disastrous consequences for farmers. Nearly 1,500 MCM of water has already been diverted from irrigation to urban and industrial use behind the backs of people, without any due process, and now has been retrospectively given legal protection. This is equivalent to denying irrigation to more than 3 lakh hectares and consequent denial of livelihoods to thousands of farming households.”

The report also says the government’s allegedly partisan decisions are triggering more “conflicts” across the country. “What is happening today is basically the expropriation of water from farmers by the industries as a wider process of ‘accumulation through dispossession’,” the forum’s report says.

‘The government’s white paper on the status of irrigation in Maharashtra states 28 percent increase in irrigation potential of the state. However, it is certain that if all these power plants are commissioned water availability for irrigation will reduce in Vidarbha, which might escalate the agrarian distress and irrigation backlog of the region,” says Jai Krishna of Greenpeace.

One of the top five states with high energy potential and comparably high solar radiation levels (almost 6KW/Sq.m) as per recent reports, Maharashtra’s total  wind energy potential could be  well above 2,00,000 MW, even at  80m hub heights, the Greenpeace report says.

Demanding a complete halt to all water diversions and allocations to coal-based power plants in Vidarbha and an assessment of water impact and availability in river basins of state, Greenpeace suggests use of renewable energy technologies that save water for irrigation and other needs, otherwise wasted by thermal power plants.

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