The Union government’s announcement to link Bhima and Manjara rivers to tackle water crisis in drought-hit Marathwada, according to irrigation experts and politicians from the region, would entail a huge expenditure and be “highly difficult” to implement, in view of Latur’s location.
Marathwada region, especially Latur, has been hit hard as dams, rivers and hundreds of wells have dried up. The state government has roped in a train to provide drinking water to Latur city, all the way from Miraj, about 342 km away. The water situation in neighbouring districts of Osmanabad, Beed and Nanded is no different.
On Monday, in response to queries on the action the Centre was taking to figure out long-term solutions to water shortage in Marathwada, Union Minister of State for Water Resources Sanwar Lal Jat said, “Long-term measures in Marathwada, inter alia, include interlinking of Bhima and Manjara rivers.”
Irrigation expert P N Todkar, who retired as deputy engineer from the state irrigation department a few years back, said the plan was well-intended but difficult to implement given the terrain and topography of the region. Manjara flows from Latur district while Bhima originates in Pune and flows to Solapur.
“From there, it skirts Latur and flows onward. Latur is 636 metres above mean sea level and Bhima is situated about 500 metres above mean sea level. This means there is a gap of around 150 metres. The water needs to be lifted to that height,” he said.
Todkar said though the minister had announced the plan to link Bhima and Manjara rivers, it was actually about linking Ujani dam in Solapur to Manjara dam in Latur. Lifting water for 200 metres, said Todkar, was not feasible. “It will require huge amount of expenditure, especially related to setting up of a power station, whose cost itself will exceed Rs 500 crore,” he said.
Latur MLA Amit Deshmukh said, “The project was already discussed during the NDA 15 years back. It remained a non-starter then. Even now, it seems they have brought up the issue to divert public attention as they are not able to bring anything concrete…”
Deshmukh said he was not aware whether any scientific study was done by the Union Ministry for Water Resources before announcing the plan. “We have not heard of any study being carried out by the government. The Ministry seems to have announced the project without studying the terrain, feasibility and relating issues. Besides, Bhima river does not have sufficient water throughout the year.
Whatever it has is not enough for the large number of population located along the river,” he said. In the Rajya Sabha, the Union Minister said the Centre has deputed technical teams comprising officers of Central Water Commission (CWC) and CGWB for an on the spot study of the water situation and interaction with the state government.
Another Congress politician from Latur said the Central government and the state government were under pressure from all quarters to take concrete steps to bring relief to people of Marathwada. “They are buying time till monsoon. If there is good rainfall, then the issue will disappear from public discourse. Till that time, the government wants to deflect criticism by making such announcements,” said a Congress leader.
However, Latur BJP MP Sunil Gaikwad said linking Bhima with Manjara would solve the water problem to a large extent. He said Marathwada was on top of the government agenda. “The latest announcement of the government is in line with several steps it has taken to mitigate the situation in Marathawada and other parts of Maharashtra,” he said.
Though Bhima river skirts Latur, Gaikwad said it could be joined from Barshi in Solapur district to Manjara dam in Latur. “The distance from Barshi to Manjara dam is 40 km. Linking them won’t be very difficult,” he said. Gaikwad said there were at least six rivers that would benefit from the project. “These six rivers flow into neighbouring districts like Beed and Osmananbad,” he added.
Todkar, however, said past experience showed the project of lifting water at a height had not been successful. “Ten years back, a project was implemented to lift Terna dam water for Osmanabad. The water was lifted for about 150 metres. But the project came to a halt soon. Not even an acre of land has benefited,” he said.