On July 31, Maharashtra walked out of two river interlinking projects with Gujarat, citing an impasse over the water-sharing arrangement. The central government had earlier identified these projects as priority links. What led to the disagreement between the two BJP-ruled states?
The river-linking projects
Among the priority river interlinking projects were the Damanganga-Pinjal (DP) and Par-Tapi-Narmada (PTN) links, involving Maharashtra and Gujarat. The other priority links were Ken-Betwa (UP and MP) and Godavari-Cauvery (Andhra and Tamil Nadu).
Maharashtra has now announced that it would develop the DP link on its own, along with four intrastate links. The DP link was planned to augment water supply to Mumbai; the other projects are expected to benefit North Maharashtra and Marathwada.
The interstate interlink project was designed to transfer water from surplus west-flowing river basins to water-stressed distributaries of Godavari in Maharashtra, and Tapi and Narmada in Gujarat. It was conceived in 1980, but took until May 3, 2010 for an MoU to be executed between the Centre and the states to examine techno-economic viability, and prepare a detailed project plan. A separate MoU was to be signed for the execution of the project.
In September 2017, Maharashtra circulated a draft MoU, which the Centre okayed. However, Gujarat is yet to consent to it.
The basins of the links
The DP link proposes to tunnel unutilised water from the Bhugad (in Gujarat’s Valsad district) and Khargihill (in Maharashtra’s Palghar district) reservoirs in the Damanganga basin to Mumbai via the Pinjal river in the Vaitarna basin. Estimated to cost Rs 2,800 crore, it involves the construction of two dams — in Valsad’s Kaprada and Palghar’s Jawahar — and three gravity-based tunnel links.
The PTN link, estimated to cost Rs 10,211 crore, envisages transfer of surplus flows from the west-flowing Par, Auranga, Ambika, and Purna rivers between the Par and Tapi basins to water-scarce regions in Saurashtra and Kutch, and the Narmada, Chhota Udepur and Panchmahal districts in South Gujarat. The PTN link involves the construction of six dams: one on the Jheri reservoir across the Par in Nashik, two in Valsad’s Dharampur, and three in Dang’s Ahwa.
Subsequently, on Maharashtra’s request, the Centre included four intrastate links — Nar-Par-Girna, Par-Godavari, Damanganga-Godavari, and Damanganga-Vaitarna — to transfer surplus flows from these rivers into the Godavari and Girna basins to benefit drought-prone Maharashtra regions.
The Centre agreed to fund 90% of the total project cost of the two interstate links.
The questions of politics
The issue was the compensation for the water contributed from the Maharashtra catchments for the PTN link. About 15.32 thousand million cubic (TMC) feet water from the Jheri reservoir was proposed to be diverted to Gujarat. But wary of the political opposition to the diversion of the water, the Devendra Fadnavis government demanded that Gujarat should release the same amount of water from the Ukai dam.
Gujarat was initially open to the idea, but resistance from the local tribal population led to a controversy. In the Gujarat Assembly election in 2017, the BJP’s tally in water-scarce Saurashtra came down from 35 to 23 seats, which the party’s leadership in the state attributed to discontent over water shortages. In 2018, Gujarat conveyed its unwillingness to meet Maharashtra’s condition.
With Opposition leaders accusing him of “selling the state’s interest to Gujarat”, the impasse resulting in time and cost overruns, Fadnavis decided to opt out.