M'rashtra drought was man-made

M'rashtra drought was man-made

Study shows diversion of water to thermal power plants left 11,800 villages parched

M'rashtra drought was man-made

A research report by social researchers and activists has described the Maharashtra drought, considered to be one of the worst in the last 42 years, as a “man-made calamity”.

Analysing water consumption in various sectors, the report points out that the diversion of water to coal-fired thermal power plants has left over 12 districts and 11,800 villages totally parched, with over 29 lakh families getting a mere trickle of water once a week.

The report, released late last week by Greenpeace, demanded that wrong prioritisation of water resources to thermal power plants be immediately reviewed, and water be diverted to drought-affected areas of the state.

Making a point-by-point analysis, the report, titled “Thermal Power Plants Pose Risk for Drinking Water in Drought-hit Maharashtra”,  said that the parched regions house four state-owned power plants — Bhusawal (Jalgaon), Parli (Beed), Paras (Akola) and Nasik — with an installed capacity of 3,680 MW.

Citing an example of wrong prioritisation of water resources, the report states that the government, despite its resolution on reserving water bodies for drought-hit areas, supplied the Parli power plant 5,000 million litres of water so that it could run till February this year.

Parli was not the only water-guzzling power plant in the state; the Bhusawal unit in Jalgaon and Paras in Akola continue to be operational, swallowing large quantities of water, even as people living in other talukas of the region beg desperately for water.
The report estimates that the power plants guzzled around 17,000 million litres of water till March this year, and would consume another 15,000 million litres by the end of this month, which is equivalent to the water required for more than 6 lakh people a year at a requirement of 135 litres per person per day.

Ironically, despite an overall scenario of water paucity emerging across the state, the government intends to set up power plants with a total capacity of 80,000 MW in the interiors — some of them in drought-affected regions. It also intends to divert water from reservoirs and rivers.

To achieves this, a high-powered committee had been set up, which had recommended that around 760 million cubic metre of water be made available for thermal power plants. Interestingly, the committee, which vociferously advocated water prioritisation for industrial use, was headed by then water resources minister Ajit Pawar. Incidentally, in April, Pawar created a furore across the country with a vulgar jibe at people from drought-affected areas: “ If there is no water in a dam, should we urinate to fill it?” According to Greenpeace activist Jai Krishna, “Even during a drought, the state seems to de-prioritise drinking water needs of farmers and villagers in drought-affected regions. Instead of assessing whether power plants have enough water, the state should concentrate on whether people have sufficient water during drought."

The environmental action group has demanded in its report that a cumulative assessment of the water availability and use in the state be conducted on a war footing “to ensure that water allocations to thermal power plants are not made in violation of the existing water policy, and ensure that drinking and agriculture requirements are prioritised”.

The action group has also asked for a suspension of all previous water allocations and an immediate imposition of moratorium on new allocations till all assessments are completed.