As the world observed World Water Day on Thursday, six farmers from Dahanu and Palghar talukas entered the fourth day of their hunger strike in Palghar, drawing attention to a looming urban-rural conflict over water use on the outskirts of the financial capital.
More than 1,500 farmers, including many tribals, also gathered outside the Palghar Collector’s office in a show of solidarity with those on the hunger strike, staging a demonstration to demand that the state roll back its decision to divert water from the irrigation dam across the Surya river for supply to the rapidly-growing municipal areas of Mira-Bhayandar and Vasai Virar. Both are satellite towns in Mumbai’s vast outback. They have also demanded that the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) stop work on laying a water supply pipeline to the townships.
The Surya dam was to have irrigated 14,696 hectares of farmland, an area that will reduce by 46 per cent, said activists of the Surya Pani Bachav Sangharsh Samiti. “Our demand is that the water resources department of the state government should cancel the decision to divert water for the Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation and the Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation. If there is excess water after irrigating the 14,000 hectares, then that may be diverted,” said Brian Lobo of Shoshit Jan Andolan that led the protest.
The state government, through the MMRDA, has undertaken a 403 MLD (million litres per day) water supply project that will divert water from the Surya river to the municipal areas of Mira-Bhayandar and Vasai-Virar.
Officials said the MMRDA is currently developing the Surya Regional Water Supply Scheme with a capacity of 403 MLD (million litres per day) to provide water to Mira-Bhayander Municipal Corporation (MBMC) and Vasai Virar City Municipal Corporation, two townships that house over 20 lakh residents. The regional water supply scheme is also central to the MMRDA’s proposed development in Uttan, a special planning area of the development authority.
The Surya Dam is owned by the irrigation department of the Government of Maharashtra, located nearly 50 km from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.
On Day Four of the indefinite hunger strike, Palghar Collector Prashant Narnaware met the protesters. Officials said a delegation of protesters would meet Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, along with local elected representatives, on Friday.