The Maharashtra government’s claim of having created 28% irrigation potential over the last decade in a white paper released last week is “misleading”, claims Greenpeace, a global environment campaign organisation.
Greenpeace’s statement was based on a study concerning the hub of thermal power projects and their impact on irrigation in Vidarbha which it conducted with the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi.
“The government’s white paper on the status of irrigation in Maharashtra states a 28% increase in the irrigation potential of the state. However, it is certain that if all proposed power plants are commissioned the water available for irrigation will be reduced in Vidarbha, which might escalate the agrarian distress and irrigation backlog of the region,” said Jai Krishna, campaigner (climate and energy), Greenpeace India.
The study, titled Endangered Waters: Impacts of coal-fired power plants on water supply, used data gathered through several Right to Information applications, ground reports and visits, and a separate study of the Wainganga river by the IIT-Delhi.
When asked to explain how there could be a water deficit for agriculture when state policy prioritised it over industry, Krishna said: “The policy was changed only last year. But between 2003 and 2011, at least 71 thermal power plants with a capacity of 55,000 megawatts have been proposed in Vidarbha. The study conducted by IIT-Delhi proves that the additional demand imposed by this large cluster of thermal power plants is about 2050 million cubic meters (mcm). It reduces the future water availability for irrigation and other uses in the region by as much as 40% in Wardha and about 17% in Wainganga rivers.”
Another campaigner Kesbhat Bhagwan pointed out that reducing the damage to rivers or making sustainable use of their waters was nearly impossible in the present situation as “no state department has ever conducted an authoritative study about water availability. Krishna and Godavari water basin studies are being conducted. But not a single river in Vidarbha has been studied. Consequently, the government has no idea about water availability in the rivers of Vidarbha.”
Pointing out the damage done between 2003 and 2011 by the erstwhile high-powered committee, which was controlled by former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and present irrigation minister Sunil Tatkare, a Greenpeace representative said, “The committee had diverted 400 mcm of water to thermal power plants from the various reservoirs in Vidarbha during this period.”