Letter to PM: Devise a policy for curbing hydropower water diversions during drought years

Above: Red arrows indicate diversion of water from Tata Dams into surplus basin. Source: Google earth images and SANDRP

Since past three years, SANDRP has been raising the issue of West-ward water transfer during drought years by hydropower dams. Maharashtra annually diverts 3324 Million Cubic Meters of water from its water deficit Bhima and Krishna basins into the water surplus Konkan basin for hydropower generation. This happens though 6 dams on Bhima Basin privately owned by Tata Power and the Koyana Hydropower Project. Although drinking water is the first priority for any society and this is enshrined in the National and State Water Policies, there is no system in place to allocate the waters of these dams to the downstream, when there is dire need. During this drought, which is possibly Independent India’s worst droughts, Tata Dams have released nearly no water to the Bhima Basin and Maharashtra Government on its part has taken no stand on this issue.

After raising this issue several times at many platforms, SANDRP has sent a letter to the Prime Minister as well as to the National Human Rights Commission on this issue. If you agree with the points raised in the letter below, please send similar letter to the authorities. 

13.05.16

To,

Mr. Narendra Modi,                                                                            Hon. Prime Minister of India, New Delhi

Subject: Tata Dams and Koyna Hydropower Project diverting water away from drought-hit Bhima and Krishna Basin during severe drought of 2015-16

Respected Hon. Prime Minister,

You are aware of the acute drought situation facing Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh which has attained gargantuan proportions. In many places, even drinking water is a difficult and contested resource to find, leading to accidents, conflicts and despair. Main dams on Bhima-Krishna River Basins including Ujani Dam on Bhima Basin in Maharashtra, Srisailam and Nagarjuna sagar on Krishna Basin have reached zero live storage several months back. Water is being pumped now from dead storage of these dams to satisfy drinking water needs.[i]

This drought did not come unheralded. Monsoon deficits were clear in August 2015 itself when Ujani Dam and Nagarjuna Sagar were already at Zero Live Storage. The situation needed urgent response since then.

However, even when the downstream population was suffering, farmers had lost their Kharip as well as Rabi plantations and when securing drinking water became a daily struggle for many, 6 Dams at the headwaters of Bhima Basin, owned by Tata Power continued to, and still continue to divert water AWAY from the drought-struck Bhima basin and INTO a water surplus basin in Konkan for Hydropower Generation[ii]. Mulshi Dam, privately owned by Tata’s is the second largest dam in the Bhima Basin.

Similar is the case with Koyna Hydropower Project which diverts 1911 Million Cubic Meters (MCM) of water annually from Krishna Basin.

By any standards, this priority to private business interest (in case of Tata Dams) and Hydropower (Koyna Hydropower Project) at the cost of drinking water of millions of people affected by drought would be unacceptable in any society, especially when Drinking water is first priority at the National as well as State Level. This is also a major Human Rights issue.

Tatas own six dam at the headwaters of the Bhima Basin (These are: Mulshi, Valvan, Thokarwadi, Shiravata and Somwadi). According to the Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal Award, Tata Power is allowed to divert 1413 MCM of water which belongs to the Bhima Basin and eventually the Krishna Basin, into the water surplus Konkan Basin for hydropower generation.

SANDRP had written an Open Letter to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra on the 18th of August 2015 itself, drawing his attention to the looming severe drought in Bhima Basin and downstream and requesting him to stop this West-ward water diversion from Tata Dams as well as Koyna Hydropower Dam.[iii] We did not receive any acknowledgement to our letter. We also wrote to the Tata Sustainability Group[iv] and received a non-serious response from them. The news was carried as a front page news in a national daily.[v] We have also written about the same to the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority.

During last month and this month, several groups in Maharashtra who have been raising this issue staged a Satyagraha, calling “Tata Dam Water is a National Property, not a Private Property”.[vi]

The Chief Minister only tweeted a picture taken with Cyrus Mistry and thanked Mr. Mistry for “Offering water from your dams” [vii]. But water is not private property, especially in the time of a debilitating drought, this water should have been made available for its rightful basin many months ago.

However, we have no such system in place. Although Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority had ordered Tata Dams to release a paltry 1 TMC of water from their dams in October 2015 itself, Tata Power responded grudgingly saying any such measure will only be “one-time special measure which will not set any precedence as public service”, at the same time, they put a condition of full cost recovery for the power generation thus forgone.[viii] In reality, even this 1 TMC water was not released from Tata Dams.

This is resulting in growing discontent in Maharashtra as well as in downstream states.

Similar is the case with Koyna Hydropower Project. The westward diversion of water from Krishna basin to Konkan and further to sea is happening through the four stage Koyna Dam with total installed capacity of 1920 MW. As per Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal Award, Koyna is annually diverting 1911 MCM (Million Cubic Meters) of water. Although now releases are being made for Maharashtra and downstream Karnataka, looking at the massive proportions of drought, if this step was taken earlier, it would have helped millions of people in Maharashtra as well as Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

Any stopping of generation from Tata Dams or Koyna Hydropower Project should not be considered catastrophic, when seen in the perspective of the drought. In fact, Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal has said that India has seen the lowest energy shortage for any year in 2015-16. There is no shortage of coal for our Thermal Plants right now[ix]. He made a public statement on NDTV in May 2016 that India is power surplus at the moment and if water is being diverted for power generation during drought, then it can be stopped.

In this situation, any reduction of generation from Tata Power Dams supplying power to Mumbai or Koyna Hydropower Project supplying power to Maharashtra can be compensated, but water diversion should be stopped immediately.

We are therefore requesting the Honorable Prime Minister to look into the issue urgently.

We request him to:

  1. Order immediate release of water from Tata Dams and Koyna Hydropower Project for the downstream regions. Even today, Tata Dams hold a total of 159 Million Cubic Meters (MCM) of water and Koyna Hydropower Project has 536 MCM of water. Tata Power claims that they do not have a mechanism to release water and all their dams can release water only through the spillway, that is only when the dams are full. This is unacceptable and shocking and the dams need to be immediately modified to make appropriate mechanism to release water to the downstream as and when necessary. Till the time this is done, there are several ways to use the existing water.
  2. Put all the documents related to water lease agreement between Tata Power and the Government of Maharashtra in the open domain and make necessary changes to enforce deficit sharing.
  3. Devise a system which is implemented every drought year though which Tata Dam and Koyna Hydropower Project water is released on priority for the legitimate water needs of the Bhima and Krishna Basin.

We are sure that the Honorable PM sees this as a major Human Rights issue. Looking forward to your response on the points raised above.

Thanking You,

Yours Sincerely,

Parineeta Dandekar, Himanshu Thakkar,                               South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, Delhi and Pune.

FURTHER READING FOR DETAILS:

[i] http://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/080516/telangana-andhra-pradesh-to-get-dam-water-from-dead-storage-levels.html

[ii] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/as-krishna-bhima-basin-farmers-in-maharashtra-karnataka-ap-telangana-face-drought-crop-failure-water-scarcity-maharashtra-diverted-350-mcm-water-from-the-basin-literally-to-sea/

[iii] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/open-letter-to-chief-minister-of-maharashtra-stop-westwards-diversion-of-water-from-krishna-basin/

[iv] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/open-letter-to-tata-sustainability-group-to-stop-westward-diversion-of-bhima-basin-water-by-tata-hydro-projects/

[v] http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-drought-last-month-alone-maha-govt-drained-350-mcm-water-into-sea-2112402

[vi] http://www.punemirror.in/pune/civic/Tata-dam-water-is-national-property/articleshow/52114412.cms

[vii] https://twitter.com/dev_fadnavis/status/726075771375087616

[viii] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/mwrra-orders-release-of-less-than-3-tmc-water-for-ujani-dam-too-little-too-late/

[ix] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/Power-shortage-lowest-ever-level-of-2-1-in-FY16-Piyush-Goyal/articleshow/52027832.cms

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