Water starved areas across Maharashtra were deprived of irrigation thanks to decisions of the government’s high powered committee (HPC) which diverted 1983.4 million cubic metres (mcm) from 41 dams to industry and domestic use between 2003 to 2011 affecting 3.23 lakh hectares.

According to a report by Pune based NGO Prayas which will be published shortly, the committee headed by then irrigation minister Ajit Pawar for the most part, ignored protests and high court orders to steamroll decisions. Other agencies too approved reservations for non-irrigation use of 1385.29 mcm affecting 94,116.9 hectares. Totally this meant that 4.18 lakh hectares were bereft of irrigation. The Water Policy of Maharashtra for 2003 gave industry precedence over agriculture and the HPC constituted in 2003, only decided on proposals for diverting more than 25 per cent of the storage capacity of the dam to non-irrigation uses. Of the 56 proposals for diversion to non-irrigation use, the HPC approved water diversions from 41 dams.

Analysing information obtained through the Right to Information (RTI) act, the Prayas report says that in 23 projects, 30 to 90 per cent of water is diverted for non-irrigation use, in three dams it is between 75 to 90 per cent, for instance Hetavane dam in Raigad has 88 per cent of its water diverted to the special economic zone (SEZ) and other uses, and in Pavna and Aamba dams 81 per cent was reserved for non-irrigation use.

Dams in Thane district like Surya meant for irrigation for tribals has 53 per cent diverted for industries or drinking water and in the Darna Gangapur complex of dams in Nashik, 74 per cent is diverted for non-irrigation purposes. The highest reservations for non-irrigation use was in the Darna-Gangapur complex of dams in Nashik with 32.9 per cent, Khadakvasla dam in Pune 17.5 per cent, Upper Wardha project in Amravati with 6.5 per cent and even Gosikhurd with five per cent.

North Maharashtra has the highest allocation for non-irrigation use with 35 per cent, followed by Western Maharashtra and Vidarbha with 26 per cent each, Konkan 13 per cent and Marathwada two per cent. In Northern and western Maharashtra municipal corporations and councils benefit most, apart from industry and Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) areas. In western Maharashtra, water has been diverted for special economic zones (SEZ) s and thermal power projects and in Vidarbha too it is mainly for power plants and drinking water in cities.

The HPC in its 21 meetings which were analysed gave speedy approval without following any norms, the report said. The bulk of the allocations, 46 per cent were reserved for industries and 54 per cent for drinking water and domestic use, belying the popular notion that industries got very little water from dams. The largest chunk of water for domestic use —16.94 per cent went for drinking water to big and small cities and gram panchayats. Mumbai, Pune, Navi Mumbai, Nashik and Nagpur were the beneficiaries while only 1.75 per cent went to gram panchyats. Of the industrial allocations, thermal power plants received the largest amount of water — a whopping 64 per cent, MIDC 19 per cent and SEZ 14 per cent.

Forty-seven companies benefited from water allocations and of this 12 companies or one-fourth of them got 90 per cent. Of the 15 thermal power plants which benefitted, 13 were private power companies including Sofia Power Company (India Bulls) Amravati, India Bulls Mega Power plant, Adani, Lanco, apart from two National Thermal Power Company plants in Nagpur and Solapur. Of the industries, three private companies-- Reliance got eight per cent, India Bulls -17 per cent and Adani 7. 7 per cent of the water allocations. Prayas notes that HPC gave the highest benefits to private companies and clearly the dam waters instead of going to farmers went to industries or cities.

Nothing in the meetings of the HPC reflects any concern for the areas deprived of irrigation or how some alternatives can be worked out. Only in Nashik was there a condition that water used for domestic purposes can be treated and sent back to the farmers but that was nullified as the water was given to India Bulls.

The water diversions were made for 21 to 31 years in most of the cases and the HPC did not heed any provision of the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority(MWRRA) act or have any procedures laid down to observe governance. Its decisions were not in keeping with laws of the land and neither did they have a legal framework. It also ignored the fact that there were three court cases against the diversion of water and instead of paying heed to all this, the government chose to endorse the HPC’s decisions by an ordinance in 2010 which was widely assailed. In 2005 government had passed the MWRRA act which the HPC seems to have ignored, and in 2009 people challenged the HPC decisions. The government retaliated with an ordinance in 2010 to amend MWRRA to endorse the HPC decisions. The ordinance had provisions whereby the HPC orders could not be challenged in any court. The ordinance was replaced by a bill with the same draconian provisions which was passed hastily in the legislative assembly during the night on April 14, 2011 creating a furore.

The Prayas report also throws light on the poor attendance of the HPC meetings and the abysmal quality of decision making. Other than the water resource minister, the committee comprises the ministers for finance, water supply and sanitation, industry, agriculture and the water resources minister of state. Data analysed from 20 meetings shows that the agriculture minister was present only in 7 meetings and the industry minister had the lowest attendance, being present only in five. Other ministers were not there in 50 per cent of the meetings and only the water resources minister was present in four meetings. It would not be wrong to say that decisions were driven at the behest of a certain set of ministers, the report concluded.

From a farmer centric state, Maharashtra seems to have moved to encouraging an industry politician nexus, a Prayas member noted.