A study, commissioned by Greenpeace, assessed water utility and availability in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. This report, in the backdrop of the much discussed White Paper on Irrigation, holds much importance, especially since Vidarbha can be said to be one of the "neglected" and hence, most affected regions of Maharashtra, when it comes to the irrigation sector.


The report specifies that lack of irrigation facilities have been linked to suicides and agricultural distress, and Rs. 6, 814 crore of State funds have been issued in relief packages for the region in the last ten years. Yet the locations of upcoming power plants includes Vidarbha’s six most distressed districts, in which 6,084 farmers killed themselves between 2001 and 2010. A number of these power plants have been allocated water diverted from farmland irrigation.


'Water diversion to thermal power plants will reduce irrigation potential and worsen agrarian crisis in Vidarbha'

Greenpeace released a scientific study on the water availability of the Wardha and Wainganga rivers and the impact of thermal power plants on the rivers. The Study conducted by IIT Delhi conclusively proves that the additional demand imposed by the large cluster of thermal power plants in Vidarbha 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.

As of 2010, more than 55,000 MW of coal based power plants are proposed in Vidarbha. Information received from the Vidarbha irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) also states the fresh water requirement of these power plants is about 2050 Million Cubic Metres (MCM) or about 72 TMC ft. The study has also deduced that almost 1700 MCM that is being proposed to be taken from the Wardha and Wainganga river basins that would otherwise have irrigated about 3,40,000 hectares of farmland.

Vidarbha has long been classified as an under- developed region with a historical backlog of development across many sectors like irrigation, infrastructure and electrification, irrigation being the least developed of all. Lack of irrigation facilities have been linked to suicides and agricultural distress by many independent studies and by the planning commission. Such massive increases in non- irrigation use of water resources in Vidarbha is bound to increase the development backlog of the region.

"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 these 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, Greenpeace.

The water policy of the state government amended last year, prioritised water for irrigation over industrial needs. However for the 8 years from 2003 till 2011, it has been the other way round. The High Powered Committee for water allocations chaired by the Minister for Water Resources alone had diverted about 400 MCM of water to thermal power plants from the various reservoirs in Vidarbha during this period.  Apart from this the VIDC has also provided numerous water allocations directly from the rivers.

The Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India in its report has also observed: The way Maharashtra has gone out of the way in the last 10 years or so in re-allocating water from irrigation to urban and industrial use would have disastrous consequences for farmers. Nearly 1500 MCM of water has already been diverted from irrigation to urban and industrial use behind the backs of people without any due process and now has been retrospectively given legal protection. This is equivalent to denying irrigation to more than 3 lakh ha and consequent denial of livelihoods to thousands of farming households. This is also giving rise to growing number of water conflicts in the country. What is happening today is basically the expropriation of water from the farmers by the industries as a wider process of 'accumulation through dispossession'. Care needs to be taken not to dispossess farmers and other rural toilers in the rural areas of their share of water and consequently their livelihoods.

Further analysis of the study data indicated that the annual mean flow in the Wardha varied from a maximum of 5600 MCM to a minimum of just 229 MCM, in the last 35 years. Considering the water requirement for coal power plants is about 550 MCM and if all the power plants will be commissioned in the future, then there may be no water available to operate them in at least one in ten years, forcing them to shutdown and risk power production in the state.

Maharashtra should actively promote renewable energy technologies which also have a potential to save water for irrigation and other needs, otherwise wasted by thermal power plants. The state is one amongst the top five in the country which have high wind energy potential and has comparably high solar radiation levels (almost 6KWh/Sq.m). Recent reports have shown that the total wind energy potential could be well above 2,00,000 MW even at 80m hub heights.

Greenpeace has demanded an immediate halt of all the water diversions and allocations to the coal power plants in Vidarbha and conduct a cumulative water impact and availability assessment in the river basins of the state so that water conflicts between various users can be avoided and irrigation needs of farmers are not jeopardized.

The Greenpeace Report 'Endangered Waters can be downloaded at : (English Version) (Marathi Version)

Bureau Report


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