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Mahanadi and Rivers on sale in Chhattisgarh

 

Mahanadi River squeezed to a small strip of water in Summer. Picture: TrekEarth

Bhubaneswar |

Last updated June 23, 2017 11:06:14 PM +0530

  Chhattisgarh, Mahanadi, River, Raman Singh, Water

Chhattisgarh’s water use policy has been guided by a myopic vision and the CWC has only remained a silent spectator to the massive abuse of water resources. The BJP led NDA government at the centre and the union ministry of water resources also don’t seem to be serious on the possible fallouts of such sell-out of rivers and water by the government of Chhattisgarh which would severely hamper farming activities in both Odisha and Chhattisgarh, and drag both the states towards acute water scarcity.

 

Chhattisgarh’s Urban Development and Industries Minister Amar Agrawal’s statement, while on an Odisha visit, that his government is constructing barrages on Mahanadi River to give water to the industries operating in the state has nothing new and he is not the one to reveal this intent of his government.

Almost a year back, Chhattishgarh Chief Minister Dr Raman Singh has openly said that the barrages under construction on Mahanadi are essentially for industrial use.

However, such claims from Dr Singh and his ministers lead to many questions to be answered by the government of Chhattisgarh, the Central Water Commission and the Odisha leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in rule in Chhattishgarh and at the centre as well.

Hoodwinking norms

Confirming that the water stored in the six upcoming barrages are primarily for industrial use, Chhattisgarh government justifies construction of the projects without seeking approval of Central Water Commission (CWC) on the plea that each project individually has less than 2000 hectares irrigation potential and, so, each of them falls under minor irrigation project category, which does not need any clearance from the central body.

Right! Irrigation projects that have a culturable command area (CCA) up to 2000 hectares individually are classified as minor irrigation projects. But are the projects constructed by Chhattisgarh on Mahandi River irrigation projects? As per Chief Minister Dr Singh and his officers, they are not!

Because agriculture is the primary economic activity in India and most of its population depend on it for a livelihood, States are allowed to construct minor irrigation projects on rivers without CWC clearance to support agriculture in the basin areas. This doesn’t imply that a state should build so many barrages on the upstream river under the category of minor irrigation projects and sell the water to industries or use it for non-farm commercial activities.

So, this is a deliberate attempt by the Chhattisgarh government to hoodwink the norms and to promote industrialisation by resorting to unethical exploitation of rivers against the interests of the agrarian communities living in the basin areas.
And, the pertinent question here is, how the CWC allows the state to carry out such commercial use of water in the name of minor irrigation projects?

Claiming to be the rice bowl of India, Chhattisgarh supplies only 2,000 million cubic metres (mcm) of water annually for irrigation while its commitment, as in 2011, to 141 private and government projects for supply of water from the rivers has remained nearly 2,600 mcm. The volume of water committed for industrial use must have gone up by now.

Myopic sell-out

In the name of industrialisation, Chhattisgarh has sold out many of its industries, barrages and reservoirs to investors and industries. As per news reports, over 23.5 KM of the Shivnath River in Durg along with Kotni barrage and Borai water reservoir is now under complete control of a private company – Radius Water Ltd. (RWL).

Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) is in control of a check dam and intake well in Bonda Tikra on the banks of Kelo, a tributary of Mahanadi. The company also owns a huge barrage and a dam built on Kurkut River 35 km upstream at Rabo village to choke the river flow forcing most of the downstream villagers to migrate during summer. In this project, the Raman Singh government allows JSPL to draw 54 million cubic metres (mcm) of water every year at 90 paise for every 1,000 litres.

Is water available at such a cheap price to any industry across the globe?

Surpassing others, Essar Steel Chhattisgarh Ltd and Tata Steel are in control of a large portion of Sabari River, which originates in Odisha and flows through Dantewada district, in Chhattishgarh. While both the companies draw almost 100 mcm of water every year, Essar runs 267-KM long, second longest in the world, pipeline network from Dantewada to the port of Visakhapatnam to transport iron-ore in slurry form.

In regard to the six barrages built by Chhattisgarh government, there are ample reasons to question whether the state has enough control over storage and release of water from them. Such doubt becomes stronger as the minister Amar Agrawal has stated openly that the structures have been built with water cess collected from the industries for 15 years in advance.

Nobody bothered

The above cases clearly explain that Chhattisgarh’s water use policy has been guided by a myopic vision. Yet, the CWC has only remained a silent spectator to such massive abuse of water resources.

The BJP led NDA government at the centre and the union ministry of water resources also don’t seem to be serious on the possible fallouts of such sell-out of rivers and water by the government of Chhattisgarh which would severely hamper farming activities in both Odisha and Chhattisgarh, and drag both the states towards acute water scarcity.

While the rivers including Mahanadi are on sale in the upstream BJP ruled state of Chhattisgarh, the frequent rhetorics from BJP leaders of Odisha claiming their commitment to fight to ensure adequate flow of water in the Mahanadi during non-monsoon seasons need thorough public scrutiny.

 

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