The Kuntephal storage tank under the Ashti lift irrigation scheme is expected to store 5.68 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet) of water for drought prone Beed district in Marathwada and irrigate nearly 27,543 hectares.
For a district that survives on just 400mm of rainfall on an average, this project could be a dream come true. That is, if the water can be brought to the dry Mehekari river, on which the storage tank will stand.
The scheme, part of the bigger Krishna Marathwada project, envisages taking 23.66 tmcft of water, nearly 45 % of the live storage of Ujani dam in Solapur, to Osmanabad and Beed. The Ashti lift irrigation scheme is the last leg of this project and 100km away. It has been proposed that water will be pumped from the Ujani dam to the Kuntephal tank through six stages of water lifts.
Documents show that entire project is unfeasible with experts including Madhav Chitale in his recent SIT report on irrigation terming it ‘flawed’ and calling for action against those who planned it.
There are currently 11 lift irrigation schemes – some built, some under construction -- involving Ujani dam on the Bhima river when there often isn’t enough for the needs of Solapur district itself.
Despite this, work on Kuntephal tank has started and the contractor has apparently been paid Rs 140 crore as 40 % of the project has been completed, at least on paper.
“Water is inconsequential for this project. The way Ashti lift irrigation scheme was cleared without even an administrative approval indicates how rules are broken, how action is taken at the behest of contractors and politicians, and how public money is wasted,’’ said Parineeta Dandekar of South Asia Network on Dams Rivers and People (SANDRP). (see box)
Dandekar, who has demanded that the environmental clearance granted in April this year to the project be revoked, pointed out that the Krishna Marathwada project is dependent on another ambitious and unfeasible scheme, the Rs 13,000-crore Krishna Bhima stabilisation project.
The Krishna Bhima stabilisation project aims at transferring 115 tmcft of water from the Krishna basin rivers arising in the hilly areas of Kolhapur and Sangli, such as the Kumbhi, the Kasari, the Warna, the Panchaganga, and the Neera through a series of lifts and 200-odd tunnels to the Ujani dam. Of this, 23.66 tmc ft has been reserved for Krishna Marathwada lift irrigation scheme.
But, both these projects don’t have permission from the statutory Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal that finalises distribution of water in the Krishna basin across three states. Document obtained under the RTI Act further reveal that it also does not have approval from the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA), state level statutory body for clearing irrigation projects.
Documents got by SANDRP show that for the transfer of water to the first stage of the project itself on the Neera river, six barrages, five tunnels and six canals will have to be built.
If the state government was really serious about the project, work on it should have ideally started on the first phase. Instead work has been initiated on the last leg of the project in Marathwada, nearly 295 km away in Ashti taluka.
It’s certain that if the project is not stopped, the Kuntephal- Ashti lift irrigation scheme will submerge 5 villages and nearly 1,000 hectares, rendering thousands homeless. What’s not certain is whether it will ever store water.