Government urged to hold public hearings on diverting water

Protesting against the recently passed Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (Amendment) Act (MWRRA) 2011, activists from across the State convened for a day-long “Pani Parishad” in Pune on Friday.

Under the network Lokabhimukh Pani Dhoran Sangharsha Manch, the activists demanded, amongst other things, that Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan's statement that agriculture would be given the second priority in the State be translated into action.

Activist Bharat Patankar called for a law to that effect within a specific timeframe. “Maharashtra was the only State where agriculture was of a low priority than industry. Now that the Chief Minister has declared it, we demand that it should go beyond just an announcement. We are not going to be fooled by mere promises,” Mr. Patankar said.

Another important demand to be put forward by the network was for the re-introduction of public hearings before any project where water meant for agriculture was diverted towards industry.

Activist N.D. Patil demanded that the 53 tmcft. water that had been previously diverted towards industry by the High Power Committee ( HPC) should now be returned to agriculture for irrigation.

According to the amended Act, the decisions taken by the High Power Committee were now given legal status, with the provision that the decisions could not be challenged in any court. The Pani Parishad jointly demanded that this aspect of the Act should be removed as it was unfair and undemocratic.

Mr. Patil said: “The principle of equitable distribution of water should be brought back in the ambit of the Act.” He questioned the need for Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, and Aurangabad quadrangle. “Why cannot industries be established in poorer parts of the State? There is 17 lakh hectares of uncultivable wasteland in Maharashtra that can be diverted towards industry,” he said.

The MWRRA Act, 2003, said any farmer with more than two children was liable to pay one-and-a-half times water tax. The activists demanded that this clause should be removed from the Act. If the poor farmers were made to pay extra, then why not the industrialists?, the activists said.

Veteran Congress leader Balasaheb Vikhe Patil extended his support to the Manch.

Condemning the industry-oriented policies of the State, he said: “Farmers in the State have always got leftovers — leftover water and leftover electricity. It is time all the people came together to fight for their rights.” He said if the Government did not recognise the water needed for agriculture, soon water wars would be in the offing.

These demands would be presented to the State government. The network would organise district-level morcha in the State, and convene for a “Mahamorcha” in Mumbai.

  • ‘Maharashtra is the only State where agriculture is not a priority'

  • ‘Higher tax on farmers with more than two children should be scrapped'