Nearly 64% of the water from the state’s dams that was diverted from irrigation to industry has been used up by power companies in the past eight years, a yet to be published report by Prayas, a Pune-based NGO has stated.
The big beneficiaries of the diversion are 15 thermal power plants, of which 13 are run by private companies. The rest of the water has gone mainly to the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation units (19%) and Special Economic Zones (SEZ) (14%).
The decision to divert the water, in view of growing urbanisation, was taken by a High Powered Committee (HPC) that the state set up in 2003, which was chaired by the then water resources minister Ajit Pawar.
Prayas had sought information from the state government’s water resources department under the Right to Information Act. The report reveals that urbanisation and the state’s flawed policies may have tipped scales against farmers, with nearly 1,983 million cubic metres of water meant for irrigation being sent elsewhere. Between 2003 and 2011, 54% of this went towards drinking water and household purposes to big cities such as Mumbai and Pune, while 46% went to industry.
The HPC of 5 ministers was to approve the diversion of more than 25% of water from irrigation to non-irrigation uses and was in line with the water policy of the state. But, as the report points out, the state government ignored its own law, the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) Act of 2005, while taking these decisions. According to the MWRRA, the regulatory authority has the power to decide on equitable distribution of water in the state, but the committee did not consult it.
And while the state collected nearly Rs851 crore as recovery charges from civic bodies and industries for the diversion, this money was not spent on the farmers who lost out on the irrigation benefit. An estimated 3.23 lakh hectares of irrigated area has been reduced in the process.
“The entire process adopted by the HPC to divert waters was opaque, and had no framework of rules. The MWRRA was ignored, as were complaints by large sections of farmers who filed litigations,’’ said Mandar Sathe, senior research associate with Prayas.