Thirsty coal poses risk to India's farmers

Feature story - 7 August, 2012
Farmers in India's Vidarbha region are struggling with drought and limited access to irrigation while plans by India's government to build 71 new coal-fired power plants will place an extra strain on water resources.

These are some of the findings of a new Greenpeace India report, Endangered Waters, which identifies the potential for social unrest if the planned expansion in the number of coal-fired power plants goes ahead.

Lack of access to irrigation water has already been linked to the suicides of thousands of farmers in the area and investing in thirsty coal-fired power plants will only exacerbate water problems in a region that has a long history of under development.

Greenpeace India is calling for an immediate moratorium on allocating water to coal power plants in Vidarbha, while existing allocations must be also re-examined to ensure that the irrigation needs of farmers are not jeopardised.

Additionally, under the Energy [R]evolution scenario, developed by Greenpeace and partner organisations, almost half of India’s power could be provided by renewable energy by 2030, saving billions of cubic metres of water that could irrigate 3.6 million hectares of farmland.

Wheat fields at Nimgawahan village, Amravati district.  Irrigation from the Upper Wardha dam has allowed farmers to grow a second crop such as wheat, increasing income as well as providing food.  When water from the dam is diverted to power plants, it is villages such as Nimgawahan, situated at the tail ends of the irrigation canals, which stand to lose their water first.Farmers in Vidarbha struggle to make a living and feed their families.

Farmer irrigating fieldsIrrigation has made the farms that do get water more productive.

Farmer working in a watermelon field, Naya Wathoda village, Amravati district.Naya Wathoda is one of roughly 300 villages that receive irrigation from the Upper Wardha dam. Irrigation has allowed farmers to increase their yield, raising income as well as providing them with food.  However, the government of Maharashtra recently sanctioned the diversion of irrigation water from the Upper Wardha dam to thermal power plants in Amravati instead.When they have water, the small farms can be viable.

A farmers channels water from an irrigation canal into his field. Naya Wathoda village, Amravati district. Naya Wathoda is one of roughly 300 villages that receive irrigation through a canal network flowing out of the Upper Wardha dam. Irrigation has allowed farmers to increase their yield, raising income as well as providing food. However, the government of Maharashtra recently sanctioned the diversion of 41% of irrigation water from the Upper Wardha dam to upcoming thermal power plants instead.Dams feed canals that supply water to some farmers, but not all.

Morshi weekly market, Amravati district.  The Upper Wardha dam provides irrigation to a projected area of 80,250 hectares of land in Amravati and Wardha districts. Irrigation has raised farmers' yields, increasing income as well as providing food.  The government of Maharashtra recently sanctioned the diversion of irrigation water of 41% of the command area from the Upper Wardha dam to themal power plants.The higher yields that come with irrigation have increased the income of some farmers.

Irrigation canal with lone dogThe lack of promised irrigation is a key reason why more than 6,000 farmers in the area have taken their own lives since 2001.

A farmer in Ghuikhed village, Amravati district, Maharashtra.Now, the farmers face the threat of losing water to 71 new coal plants in their area.

Maharashtra farmers meetingFarmers are fighting back. Through their protests, they forced a 60% cut in water use at one plant.

A thermal power plant built by Indiabulls Power Ltd. in Amravati Industrial Area, Nandgaonpeth, Amravati district, Maharashtra.  Indiabulls has been allocated 87.6 million cubic metres of water per year, which is the irrigation supply of 23,219 hectares of farmland. A group of farmers in Amravati fought the decision for 16 months.The fight for water will intensify. If the 71 new coal plants go ahead, farmers will lose water, others will never get it. And on occasion, the main river will dry up.

Photos: ©Vivek M / Greenpeace

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