Water for farmers or coal power plants? You decide.

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Feature story - May 21, 2013
The Upper Wardha dam in Amravati, Maharashtra is considered to be a lifeline for surrounding cities and towns. But water resources in the state are quickly sliding away from those who need it the most. Even the water meant to irrigate fields is being diverted to coal fired power plants on a massive scale. To garner attention to this issue and the plight of farmers, on the morning of May 22, Greenpeace activists unfurled a 250 foot banner on the Upper Wardha dam at Morshi taluk in Amravati. The banner read: ‘Water for Farmers not Power Plants’.

21 May 2013 The 250 foot banner at the Upper Wardha dam drawing attention to the plight of farmers with no water to irrigate their fields. © Greenpeace/Sudhanshu Malhotra.

 

Farmers in the region who are affected by water diversion to the controversial Indiabulls coal plant joined the activists in calling on the Maharashtra government to prioritise water for agriculture over industry. Maharashtra has the dubious distinction of being the only state in the country to favour water access for industry over agriculture especially till 2011. 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 the rivers and reservoirs of these districts.

It is estimated that the total volume of water allocations for thermal power plants made by the High Powered Committee, then headed by Water Resources Minister Ajit Pawar, is about 760 million cubic meters. The Indiabulls power plant alone 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. Furthermore, the Committee allocated water without any public consultations, in violation of the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority’s procedures.  

21 May 2013 Greenpeace activist climbers installed the banner using climbing equipment on the morning of May 22. © Greenpeace/Sudhanshu Malhotra.

 

Spurred by the bleak situation and Ajit Pawar’s remarks asking if he must urinate in dams, Sanjay Kolhe, a farmer from Morshi taluk in 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 industry on a platter. This is despite the fact the Prime Minister has identified irrigation as one of the most important needs to address farmer distress in Vidarbha.”

21 May 2013 Farmers in Amravati affected by water diversion to the controversial Indiabulls coal plant joined the activists in calling on the Maharashtra government to prioritise water for agriculture over industry. © Greenpeace/Sudhanshu Malhotra.

 

Greenpeace demands 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.

Jai Krishna. R, 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.”

Water allocations made by the High powered committee should also be put on hold till the cumulative impact and availability assessment is done. The allocations must be reviewed in a transparent and participatory manner with public consultations with the people actually affected by the diversions. Lastly, there should be a moratorium on any new water allocations till the review of old allocations is completed.

21 May 2013 Greenpeace demands an assessment of the water availability and use in the region to ensure that water allocations are not made in violation of the water policy that prioritises drinking & agriculture requirements over industry. © Sudhanshu Malhotra

 

If these steps are not taken as a matter of urgency, the people and farmers in Maharashtra will continue to suffer unduly at the hands of powerful industries and skewed government policies. Access to water is their basic right and without any irrigation their fields turn into barren lands. This will severely affect agricultural production in the state even more than it already has. It must also be kept in mind that the production of food is far more important than any industry.  

To support this campaign and help the farmers get their water back, visit http://www.greenpeacex.in/petitions/divert-the-water-allocated-to-industries-back-to-the-farmers-battling-the-drought-1

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