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Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

Fadnavis govt’s river linking schemes ecologically harmful, say experts I Opinion

Five years later as the Fadnavis-led government heads into assembly polls to vie for a second stint in power, neither of these promises seem to have held any good.

opinion Updated: Aug 22, 2019 22:22 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
The Central government has taken ownership of the river linking projects as a way to tackle floods and droughts  about five years back. The national plan for river linking, however, dates back to 1980s.
The Central government has taken ownership of the river linking projects as a way to tackle floods and droughts about five years back. The national plan for river linking, however, dates back to 1980s.(HT PHOTO.)
         

The BJP-led government came to power in Maharashtra in October 2014 riding on the back of a multi-crore irrigation scam. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had then not just promised the state that those found guilty in the scam would be punished but also that the state would turn away from non-performing large dams and lift irrigation schemes to more smaller water conservation projects.

Five years later as the Fadnavis-led government heads into assembly polls to vie for a second stint in power, neither of these promises seem to have held any good.

While irrigation scam inquiries by the Anti Corruption Bureau have netted some officials and a couple of contractors, the main accused in the scam then – former water resources minister Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare – haven’t been indicted so far.

And, in a classic case of spending good money after bad, the BJP-led government is now banking on large and costly river linking projects as part of its vision 2024 to tackle the drought challenge in the state.

In putting its money on complicated and economically unviable projects, Fadnavis is toeing the line of his predecessors and going against the advice of water sector experts, environmentalists and our collective climate change experience. In July this year, after walking out of two inter-state river linking projects, the Damanganga-Pinjal and Nar-Tapi-Narmada with Gujarat following an impasse over a water sharing agreement, the state government decided to undertake four intra-state river linking projects and DP link on its own. The four intra-state river links include Damanganga-Ekdare-Godavari, Damanganga- Vaitarna-Godavari, Nar-Par-Girna and Par-Godavari – on its own. The cost of these projects is estimated to be Rs 10,886 crore.

A senior official had claimed that these projects could yield a surplus of 80 TMC water to deficit basins, equal to 8 Vaitarna dams.

But, water policy experts like Pradeep Purandare, member of the current state appointed committee on climate change and retired professor with the Water and Land Management Institute (Walmi) have questioned this kind of statistical or mathematical hydrology that calculates surplus and deficit basins on two grounds. Purandare points out that environmental hydrology is more relevant in the age of climate change, which says there is nothing like surplus and deficit basins and natural course of rivers should not be meddled with. Secondly, experts have also argued that these water calculations are often dated and proven to be unreliable.

While the Central government has taken ownership of the river linking projects as a way to tackle floods and droughts five years back, the national plan for river linking dates back to 1980s.

Before, the BJP government took over in Maharashtra, the previous Congress-NCP government had proposed at least 18 intra-state river links to divert `surplus waters’ from west flowing rivers to the deficit basins.

“Most of them have been resounding failures with languishing projects, local protests due to displacement and cracks due to blasting, extreme increase in project costs, and wrong calculations of water availability,’’ said Parineeta Dandekar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (Sandrp).

Sandrp has written to the Centre’s expert appraisal committee on River Valley and hydro electric projects that is considering the Damanganga-Vaitarna-Godavari for a fresh terms of reference (ToR) to reject the project.

Sandrp has pointed to how the state has ignored cumulative impacts on both sociology and ecology in forwarding this project. The link, Dandekar argues, will take water from a water starved, malnourished tribal region to economically powerful region (Sinnar investment hub under Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor) and further inequalities. In doing so, it will also construct five dams in the ecologically sensitive western ghats and submerge 179 hectares of forests, she added.

In the recent past, the Rs 4,845 crore Krishna Marathawada Irrigation project, seen even today as a panacea to this dry, drought prone region, is a telling example of just how water calculations can go awry. The cost of this project as per 2007-08 rates is likely to have doubled by now.

KMIP envisaged taking 23 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) of water from Ujjani dam in Solapur district, nearly 45 per cent of its live storage and carrying it to drought prone Osmanabad and Beed districts. The Ashti LIS, 100 kms away was the last leg of this project but got clearance first without even a water availability certificate to benefit a contractor.

Ashti was to get 5.68 TMC of water.

But, the ground reality is that the government has assurance of around 7 TMC for

the entire KMIP project. The KMIP was in turn dependent on the larger Krishna-Bhima stabilization project that had proposed to divert nearly 63 TMC water from the krishna basin to the Ujjani dam. This was however rejected by the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal in 2013.

This government has however continued with this folly and chosen to finish the Ashti LIS project.

There is still no clarity over how the government plans to complete a project planned with 23 TMC of water within 7 TMC of water and what would be the cost benefit analysis of such a project. The Ashti LIS has still not got a green nod from the centre.