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River interlinking plan to 'benefit' industry along DMIC, water starve Maharashtra farms

By Parineeta Dandekar* 

Pictures above have been taken five days apart. One would think the Inter-Linking of River (ILR) projects entail transferring water from the bountiful right to the thirsty left. In the case of Damanganga-Vaitarna-Godavari Link, it means the opposite: transferring water from the dry Mokhada to the verdant Dev Nadi in Sinnar. Like many ILR projects, it highlights the farce that is “surplus” and “deficit” basins. More rainfall does not secure water access, nor does moderate rainfall negate it.
***
As we travelled through the parched but beautiful landscape of Northern Western Ghats in Mokhada, I could see a figure climbing up a hillock at a distance against a blazing midday sun. It was a lady with a pot on her head, dressed in the quintessentially tribal “phadka”. 
As we reached closer, I saw a bright-eyed boy, standing precariously on the edge of a well, drawing up water. His mother then carried this water on her head to their precious mango saplings up on a hill. Over and over again. There is no irrigation here. 2022 was the first year that piped drinking water reached their home.
This is Bedukpada, a small village in Mokhada block of the Palghar district in Maharashtra. A predominantly tribal area[i], Mokhada is 1.5 hours away from Nashik, 3.5 hours away from India’s financial capital Mumbai and ages away from water access. This tribal region, perpetually ignored by the government, has the dubious distinction of the highest infant mortality and malnutrition deaths in children.[ii]
There are no major irrigation schemes here and drinking water is a scarce commodity due to steep slopes, dry rivers and low groundwater levels[iii]. In 2019, all villages of Mokhada were supplied with tankers. A year before, farmers from Palghar were on hunger strike as the water from their sole irrigation dam, Surya, was diverted for Mumbai Metropolitan region.[iv]
Although the region receives high rainfall, steep slopes and impenetrable basalt strata means that rivers run only for a few months and groundwater is very low. Water access in Maharashtra is directly proportional to the economic status of a region, not rainfall.
Water situation in Mokhada
Experts believe that the absence of irrigation facilities and safe drinking water is one of the main drivers behind the poverty and strife of the region.
But the  interlinking river project by the National Water Development Agency (NWDA) is pushing for a plan to transfer water from this very region across the lofty water divide of Sahyadri.[v] This is Damanganga-Vaitarna-Godavari link project which entails building four large dams, canals and tunnels for 83 kilometers to transfer water from Mokhada, across the Sahyadri to Sinnar in Nashik District.
Sinnar has a five star industrial development complex and is a part of the coveted DMIC (Delhi Mumbai industrial Corridor). Majority of the water transferred from Mokhada will go to the DMIC.
The chief engineer of the Maharashtra Water Resource Department (WRD), while requesting the NWDA to work on a Detailed Project Report (DPR) for this scheme, pleaded, “If the inter-basin transfer project is not constructed, surplus water will go un-utilized to the sea. On the other hand, Upper Godavari sub-basin is facing a water shortage which will get further increase and remain water shortage forever.”[vi] It seems bringing Mokhada’s water to the people of Mokhada and to their thirsty farms is not even considered.
The Pre-Feasibility Report (PFR) of the proposed Damanganga-Vaitarna-Godavari (DVG) Link project states, “The main object of the link project is to cater to the needs of domestic water supply, water requirement for the DMIC in Sinnar, other industrial needs and irrigation in drought prone Sinnar tehsil of Nasik district in Upper Godavari sub-basin. The current assessment of ground water resources indicates that Sinnar tehsil has already reached up to 97.39% and the tehsil falls under critical category."
This is how groundwater looks in the “surplus” region:
Inside of a nearly-dry well in Mokhada taluka
In December 2022, we visited both “surplus” Damanganga-Vaitarna basin and the “deficit” Dev Nadi Basin in Sinnar. Not only is the surplus basin thirsting for water, the deficit basin has inspiring water management initiatives, a much-loved river with over 20 water user associations and verdant orchards of grapes, tomatoes and peas. The surplus area is dry and the deficit area is a bounty of crops.
Damanganga-Vaitarna Godavari link project by the NWDA and the Maharashtra WRD seems like a poster child of all that’s wrong with the ILR project.

DVG Link Project

The DVG project has come to the Expert Appraisal Committee of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) several times[vii] for Stage I environmental clearance: to be issued Terms of Reference for Environment Impact Assessment. The project has never been recommended Stage I clearance and has changed its features many times. The project was discussed in the Environment Appraisal Committe (EAC) meeting in November 2022[viii] the last. Interestingly, the EAC had asked the proponent to lower the static head and power requirement of the project in its meeting in August 2019[ix]. Ironically in the new proposal, the power requirement is increased from 65 MW to 85 MW.
In the earlier PFR submitted to the MoEF&CC, 5 dams were proposed in Mokhada in vicinity of the four dams proposed curently. The present PFR dated October 2021 and submitted to the MOEFCC, prepared by the NWDA states that the proposal has been modified. The change is said to be made due to “public hindrances”[x].
“The Damanganga-Vaitarna-Godavari link project envisages to divert 202 MCM of water from Damanganga and Vaitarna basin stored combinedly in Nilmati dam, Met dam, Koshimshet dam and Udhale dam. This includes 186 MCM from the four new dams and 16 MCM surplus from the Upper Vaitarana Reservoir.”[xi] (PFR 21)
More than 50% of the diverted water would be used to meet the industrial needs along the DMIC and the remaining water would be used for irrigation and domestic water needs, through the proposed Sonamba and Phalak dams (to be taken up by the WRD, Government of Maharashtra).
As many as 960 hectares of land will be submerged for the dams, additional land will be required for tunnels, canals, rising mains and other project components in the Western Ghats. 16 villages will be partially submerged. This includes 735.5 hectares of forest land in the Western Ghats region.
Western Ghat forests in Mokhada
The earlier PFR deals with the proposal given by Government of Maharashtra viz., Damanganga (Val & Vagh) – Vaitarna (Kalampada, Dulachiwadi, Udhare and Upper Vaitarna) – Godavari (Kadva) – Godavari (Dev river) link project utilizing the 5 proposed dams along with 2 existing Upper Vaitarna & Kadva dams. The PFR states: “Due to the Public hindrances, the PFR is again modified with 4 dams with the same diversion quantities.”
The link is planned to provide irrigation to 11,480 ha utilizing 60 MCM and 114 MCM for industrial water requirement along the DMIC. 22.5 MCM will be utilized for domestic water needs. In addition, 16840 ha are proposed to be irrigated using recycled water. (PFR 2021)
Details of the dams planned in the Damanganga-Vaitarna Basin:
  1. Nilmati Dam: A 430 m long concrete dam across river Val, a tributary of Damanganga near village Nilmati with FRL 475.0 m and gross storage capacity of 42.44 MCM.
  2. Met Dam: A 482 m long concrete dam across river Vagh, a tributary of Damanganga near village Met with FRL 340 m and gross storage capacity of 52.76 MCM.
  3. Koshimshet Dam: A 1660 m long concrete dam across river Pinjal, a tributary of Vaitarna near village Koshimshet with FRL 380.0 m and gross storage capacity of 43.88 MCM.
  4. Udhale Dam: A 473.0 m long concrete dam across river Gargai a tributary of Vaitarna near village Udhale with FRL 404.50 m and gross storage capacity of 26.60 MCM.
  5. The project includes a total 83.0 km long link out of which 41.63 km of raising mains, 16.94 km is tunnels, 24.43 km is pipeline to facilitate diversion of water.
  6. Series of canals, pumps and rising mains will require 88.5 MW of power.
Water from these dams will be transferred into the exiting upper Vaitarana Dam, from there to the Kadva dam across the water divide[xii] in the Godavari Basin and from there to Dev Nadi in Sinnar[xiii]. There are no existing dams in the Dev Nadi basin to take in the 202 MCM water that is planned to be transferred. But this does not deter the big dam lobby of the NWDA or the Maharashtra Government in pushing the scheme. 
The Maharashtra WRD has a history of building dams without permissions, without water availability studies and even without the water[xiv]. The PFR simply recommends “2 proposed reservoirs namely Sonamba and Phalak on Dev Nadi (Government of Maharashtra to identify) for regulating water to domestic & Industrial water supply and irrigation.”

How much water should a thirsty region donate?

The NWDA PFR states that the current damming does not interfere with the Damanganga-Pinjal link proposal which is to bring water from Damanganga and Vaitarna exclusively for the use of Mumbai Metropolitan Region. The plan envisages three huge reservoirs[xv] in the same tribal belt. Details are be found in SANDRP report on dams for Mumbai[xvi]. Pinjal Dam alone requires 2,100 hecatres of land and will affect 11 villages and several padas. The proposed Damangana Pinjal link is currently nonstarter for lack of agreement between Gujarat and Maharashtra.
While NWDA proposes a dam on Gargai River barely 5 kms away from Tansa Sanctuary, plan for a bigger Gargai Dam to supply water for Mumbai is seeking Environment, Forest and Wildlife Clearances. This includes 659.57 hectares land inside the sanctuary, 175.23 ha adjoining and cutting down or submerging 6.5 lakh trees in the Western Ghat World Heritage Site. It is also set to displace tribals from 8 villages in Palghar. This water diversion planned is not for Palghar but for Mumbai Metropolitan region.
This region has a dense concentration of dams to supply water to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA). These include Upper Vaitarna, Middle Vaitarna and Modak Sagar Dams, proposed Pinjal and Gargai dams and several other dams planned for MMRDA. Despite this, Form I of the Environmental Clearance applications states that there are “No” cumulative effects forseen of any planned or existing projects in the region! It is important to get the full picture of the impacts the region will face. The  NWDA has clearly lied about “No” cumulative impacts.

Does Sinnar need this long distance transfer at the cost of the tribals?

The proposal claims that it will irrigate 11,480 hectares of land in the drought affected Sinnar taluka of Nashik. It also has planned schemes for reusing water for irrigating additional land. Maharashtra has one of the lowest irrigation efficiencies in the country. All the existing water diversions from the west have proven to be failures[xvii]. Knowing this, it is downright amusing to see the NWDA wanting us to believe that all the planned water will not only reach Sinnar but will also be reused.
In December 2022, we visited the exact place where water from Damanganga-Vaitarana Basin will reach. This is a village called Sonambe in Sinnar. In December, the region was irrigating vegetables and fruits.
Through efforts of local organizations like Yuva Mitra[xviii], farmers in Sinnar have rejuvenated over 20 diversion weirs on Dev Nadi. These diversion weirs are low barrages built in around 1870-95 across Dev Nadi to divert water into nearby fields. Through the momentous work of reclaiming, repairing actual weirs, repairing and reinstating branch canals, putting up gates and setting up a complete water management system on these weirs, the region has brought nearly 5725.24 acres under irrigation and has improved water levels in 1556 wells. Branch canals repaired are about 55 kms long.
People-led river rejuvenation in Dev Nadi catchment
We visited Yuva Mitra campus and Dev Nadi diversion weirs and talked with the local farmers Nandu Kashinath Pawar and Balasaheb Kashinath Pawar who proudly showed us around their Grape orchard spread across 12 acres. They also cultivate tomatoes and seasonal vegetables. The region cultivates onions, harbhara, wheat and vegetables. They have collectively decided not to plant sugarcane in the Dev Nadi valley. 
Remarkably, Nashik district has a total of 294 diversion based irrigation systems laid down in the late Nineteenth century, but only the ones in Sinnar on Dev Nadi are reinstated and used wisely. There are 22 water users' associations, benefitting 4,300 families in 12 villages.
Sonambe village on Dev Nadi has one of the largest rejuvenated diversion weirs, where farmers have demonstrated the power of collective small scale efforts. This is where NWDA proposes to build a dam. Does this place need a dam to hold water from the thirsty Mokhada region, which will displace a functioning society and agro-economy? Is this not difficult to comprehend?

Summing up

The proposed Damanganga Vaitarna Godavari link, with cost pegged at Rs 6,664.76 crore demonstrates all that is wrong with the interlinking of rivers project. It is taking water away from a water starved region and transferring it to a region which has secured its water in a sustainable manner. 
It is planned in ecologically sensitive Western Ghats, in a tribal region, already facing an unprecedented rush of dams and displacement. The only beneficiaries of this costly project are the industrial areas in Sinnar, the DMIC and the contractors.
Rejuvented Sonambe weir on Dev Nadi in Sinnar
The project underlines how various departments are aggressively pushing interlinking of rivers, without any informed or democratic participatory process, at the cost of the welfare of communities or impact on ecosystems. All this in fragile area worsened by climate change impacts.
In the village of Bedukpada, once threatened with submergence and now in the vicinity of DVG dams, a bright-eyed youth showed us the well village has dug with the help of organisations like Aroehan[xix] and Vayam[xx]. Bhavesh tells me that this is the first year drinking water reached his home. 
There is still no water for irrigation, but he is thrilled with getting piped drinking water. Milind Thatte from Vayam tells me about the momentous efforts organizations and communities are taking here to secure basic water. This is the condition of the ‘surplus’ region. How can the decision makers and dam builders ignore this reality?
We hope that the Expert Appraisal Committee, the Forest Advisory Committee and the MoEF&CC will be forthright in rejecting Damanganga-Vaitarna-Godavari Interlinking project. People will in any case reject it.

End notes:

[i] Tribes include katkaris, Mahadeo kolis, warlis.
[ii] https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/over-254-children-died-of-malnutrition-in-palghar-district-maharashtra-cm/story-OQICmsGDVkcLpHxm52q27I.html
[iii] https://www.ctara.iitb.ac.in/en/system/files/4th%20January%20Meeting%20.pdf
[iv] https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/palghar-farmers-fast-over-diverting-surya-dam-water-enters-third-day/story-LsTeF2vf6xuVroPRO2GSYJ.html
[v] 995 MCM surplus water in the Damanganga basin and 1818 MCM sur surplus water in the Vaitarna basin
[vi] The Chief Engineer, North Maharashtra Region, Water Resources Department, Govt. of Maharashtra Nasik vide letter No.6078 dated 4.11.2019
[vii] July 2019, August 2019 and November 2022
[viii] It has been sent back to the User Agency for completing Form I
[ix] 26th EAC Meeting, 20 august 2019
[x] PFR Oct 21
[xi] of this barely 22.5 MCM has been earmarked for jawhar Mokhada.
[xii] Water conveyance system with combination of 2 tunnels (8.79 km and 2.3 km long) and open canal (19.13 km long) from existing Upper Vaitarna reservoir to existing Kadva reservoir on Godavari basin
[xiii] & [xiv] https://sandrp.in/2015/06/29/krishna-marathwada-scheme-receives-environmental-clearance-without-water-availability/
[xv] Pinjal, Khargihill and Bhugad Dams
[xvi] Damanganga Pinjal Link: Pinjal Dam is a part of the Damanganga Pinjal Link project, a component of Interlinking of Rivers project under the NWDA. Pinjal Dam will receive inflows from Khargihill and Bhugad dams. This river link project will involve three massive dams and tunnels through forest area running for 42.15 kms
[xvii] https://sandrp.in/2014/05/19/interbasin-diversion-dams-in-western-ghats-unknown-impacts-and-uncertain-benefits/
[xviii] https://yuvamitra.org
[xix] https://aroehan.org
[xx] https://vayamindia.wordpress.com/about-us/
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Source: South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People 

Comments

Unknown said…
Hello. Thank you for mentioning our organisation. Kindly use the correct spelling of AROEHAN (xix) as it stands for Action Related to the Organisation of Education, Health, and Nutrition.
www.aroehan.org

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