Crisis in India’s Urban Water Sector

Child fetching water amidst filth. Photo with thanks from: Economic Times

More than 50 people including tribal groups, social activists, water experts, ecologists and wildlife experts, academics came together for a brainstorming workshop about Dams coming up for Mumbai Region. The meeting was organized by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, Shramik Mukti Sangathana, and Jalbiradari.

Meeting on Dams round Mumbai Photo: SANDRP

Seetaram Shelar of YUVA at Meeting on Dams round Mumbai Photo: SANDRP

About 12 dams are planned or are under construction to satisfy the increasing thirst of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). All of these dams fall in eco-sensitive region of the Western Ghats. They will together submerge more than 22,000 hectares of land, including nearly 7000 hectares of forests, lakhs of trees and more than 750 hectares of Tansa Sanctuary. They will affect a minimum of 100,000 tribals who depend on the forests and their ancestral lands for livelihoods. These dams include Kalu, Shai, Balganga, Susari, Khargihill, Bhugad, Pinjal, Gargai, Middle Vaitarna, Barvi and Poshir, among others. These are in addition to the dams already constructed for MMR water supply.

Tribals and other affected groups of Thane and Raigad region have been strongly opposing these projects. Most people in Mumbai seem unaware of their struggles or impacts of these projects.

Most of these dams are escaping the social and environmental impact assessments and management plans, environment clearance requirements, environmental monitoring or public consultations due to blunders in environmental impact assessment notification of Sept 2006, which excludes domestic and industrial water supply projects from environmental clearance process. It signifies the environmental illiteracy of the officials and ministers at the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. In spite of repeated letters, and acknowledging that this makes no sense, they have refused to change it.

Local protest against Pinjal Dam near Jawhar which can submereg 11 villages and 2000 hectares fo forests Photo: SANDRP

Local protest against Pinjal Dam near Jawhar which can submereg 11 villages and 2000 hectares of forests Photo: SANDRP

MMR has not done any sort of options assessment before pushing these projects and cursory review show that many options exist. At the city or Region level, there is no shortfall in water supply currently and the existing problems are due to inequitable, non-transparent, non-participatory and wasteful water governance in MMR. Municipal corporations under the MMR which are pushing new dams do not treat even 15% of their sewage. Bhiwandi Nizampur & Vasai Virar Corp do not treat ANY of their sewage. The Mumbai Region has no estimate of its rainwater harvesting potential, and there is little effective action in this direction despite high rainfall. Water supply and distribution losses are over 30%. Local water sources like rivers, lakes and wells are being destroyed by pollution and encroachments. There is no interest in democratizing governance of MMR water sector.

The meeting resolution urged the MMR region to address these issues first, which would lead to sustainable water supply to the city and suburbs. Konkan Irrigation Department which is constructing most of these projects has violated several laws related to tribal and forest rights, environment, forests and resettlement and has been mostly favoring a single contractor, illegally.

The meeting also strongly urged the MMRDA, MCGM, Municipal Corporations of MMR, Maharashtra government, Union Ministry of environment and forests, Maharashtra Forest Department, National Board of Wildlife and all others concerned to ensure that following steps are taken up urgently and in a credible way:

Þ     Undertake thorough options assessment for Mumbai’s (and also for other cities of MMR) water needs which includes groundwater recharge and sustainable use, protect and use local water sources, rainwater harvesting, sewage treatment and reuse, plug leakages, improve water supply efficiency, take up systematic demand side management measures etc.;

Þ     Undertake Environmental and Social impact assessments for all the dams coming up for Mumbai Region;

Þ     Take immediate action against KIDC for violating multiple laws while bulldozing ahead with projects and MMRDA for funding projects in the absence of clearances;

Þ     Respect people’s protests and Gram Sabha resolutions against displacement, deforestation and their refusal to give permission for these projects;

Þ     Take strong penal action against the officers and the contractors who have displaced Adivasis illegally;

Þ     Not resume any work or planning for any project before the above is done, stop work on projects in the meantime;

Þ     Change the EIA notification to ensure that all large dams are included for environment clearance, public hearings and EIA requirements;

Þ     Immediately institute a credible Cumulative Impact Assessment of the projects already constructed and advanced in implementation;

Þ     Institutionalize decentralized, democratic governance of water sector in MMR from bottom to top.

Forests in the Western Ghats are Mumbai’s and MMR’s lungs. They are the watersheds of rivers and water sources like Tansa and Bhatsa and naturally purify Mumbai’s & MMR’s drinking water. Rich tribal culture of Thane and Raigad is a shared heritage of Mumbai and we have no right to displace the tribals or destroy their livelihoods. This destruction in Mumbai’s backyard must be stopped.

Submergence of Gargai Dam Photo: SANDRP

Submergence of Gargai Dam Photo: SANDRP

However, Mumbai and MMR are not the only urban areas guilty of destroying the environment, forests, biodiversity and livelihoods of lakhs of poor people. Delhi, already having more per capita water than European cities like Paris, Amsterdam or Bonn, is asking for Renuka, Lakhwar and Kishau dams in upstream Yamuna basin, while destroying the YamunaRiver for all downstream areas. Ahmedabad is using water from the Sardar Sarovar Narmada dam that was meant for the people of Kutch and Saurashtra and which has led to displacement of over two lakh people. Jaipur is taking water from Bisalpur dam. Farmers for whom it was made are not getting the water and some lost their lives in police firing, while demanding that water. Massive diversion of Nethrawathi water is proposed for Bangalore and other areas, destroying the pristine Western Ghats forests. 3 farmers died in police firing near Pune when a huge farmers rally was protesting against diversion of water from Pawna Dam to the Corporation of Pimpri-Chinchwad.

Headwaters of Netravathi and Gundia threatened by Yettinahole Diversion Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

Headwaters of Netravathi and Gundia threatened by Yettinahole Diversion Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

As Planning Commission member Dr Mihir Shah recently wrote, the 12th Five Year Plan proposes paradigm shift in Urban sector sector: “Each city must consider, as the first source of supply, its local waterbodies. Therefore, cities must only get funds for water projects, when they have accounted for the water supply from local waterbodies and have protected these waterbodies and their catchments. This precondition will force protection and build the infrastructure, which will supply locally and then take back sewage also locally.”

The trouble with this urban water sector reform agenda is that close to two years into the 12th Plan, we still do not see it being implemented anywhere. We do not see any roadmap for its implementation. And yet the UPA government continues to fund solutions catering to only long distance supply-side measures like big dam projects for urban areas under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. In fact, of the first Rs 60 000 crores sanctioned for JNNURM, about 70% was for urban water sector, but do we see any progress in democratisation or even improvement of Urban Water Governance?

The hope lies with clean, transparent and participatory governance. Let us hope we see some change in this direction.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com), Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com), SANDRP

A slightly edited version of this has appeared in Civil Society http://www.civilsocietyonline.com/pages/Details.aspx?480

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