A group of water and irrigation sector experts has written to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis opposing the Rs 16,000-crore proposed Marathwada Water Grid Project and expressing doubts on whether the project is warranted at all.
The letter asks if better water distribution among Marathwada’s eight districts is realistically possible until water in Nashik’s dams and elsewhere that is reserved for Marathwada is actually conveyed to the region.
Expressing dismay at the state government’s decision to kick off work on the water grid, a resolution adopted unanimously at last week’s Marathwada Water Grid Parishad in Jalna says the demands of Marathwada’s people for real change in water management remain unheeded. It says project consultant Mekorot, the Israeli national water company, has inadequate experience in the complicated subject of dam management in the state. “We have serious doubts about the need, practical feasibility and implementation of the water grid project,” says the resolution, attached to the letter sent to the chief minister.
To be built by the Maharashtra Jeevan Pradhikaran, the first tenders of the Marathwada Water Grid are to be floated this week, covering a Rs 4,527 crore component of the Rs 16,000-crore project that aims to connect 11 major dams in eight districts through pipelines to allow water to be drawn from a water-surplus reservoir and pumped to water treatment plants and from there to talukas where there is a scarcity.
However, activists from the arid and drought-hit region have cited incomplete or suspended projects whose objective was to improve water availability in Marathwada to say the multi-crore pipeline project for drinking water fails to address a more basic problem of bringing water into the region.
In the case of the Babhali project to dam the Godavari in Nanded, Andhra Pradesh objected to the barrage over a decade ago.
The activists have asked the government to file a review petition in the SC in the matter. They also ask for cancellation of water reservations for non-irrigation purposes from the Mukane, Waki, Bham and Bhavali dams in Nashik, as well as cancellation of reservation from Bhavali dam for the Shahapur region, so that these waters can be guaranteed for Marathwada.
Not only should water from Nashik’s east-flowing rivers be made available for Marathwada every season but water from these dams should also be conveyed by pipeline to the Nandur Madhmeshwar weir from where it flows further into Jayakwadi, Marathwada’s largest dam, their resolution says.
“Unless the injustice to Marathwada’s water needs is corrected, the dams in this region will not fill up. And if the dams remain empty, what is the point of a water grid connecting them,” asks Pradeep Purandare, water policy expert and former associate professor at Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI), Aurangabad.
Currently, while Jayakwadi’s reservior has reached over 91 per cent of its capacity, at least half a dozen other major dams in the region remain at dead storage.
The Water Grid Parishad’s resolution also seeks completion of the long-pending Krishna-Marathwada project, which could bring relief to areas in Beed and Osmanabad, as well as resolution of inter-state disputes over the waters of the Godavari, which have affected availability to Marathwada’s districts.
“But we have to see also whether the plan is basically necessary,” says Purandare, “and whether it is viable.”
Raising questions on how political interference will be prevented in the operation of the grid, whether the hybrid annuity model will cause water to be more expensive and if it will open the floodgates for private control of water, he says the government should do a rethink on the water grid.