71 more thermal power plants are in various stages of approval in the region
The Maharashtra government has been diverting water meant for irrigating farmlands in drought-prone Vidarbha region and supplying it to coal-based power plants set up by private companies, alleges a report by non-profit Greenpeace.
It said at least 398.87 million cubic metre (mcm) water was diverted each year between 2003 and 2011. This water could have helped irrigate approximately 79,774 hectares (ha) of farmland.
Lack of irrigation facilities have been linked to suicides and agricultural distress in the region for long. In the six most distressed districts of Vidarbha, 6,084 farmers killed themselves between 2001 and 2010. Ironically, these are the districts where the government has been approving coal-based power plants without assessing cumulative impact.
Coal-based power generation is extremely water-intensive. A typical coal plant operating in India consumes between five and seven cubic metres of water per MW per hour.
According to the Greenpeace report Endangered Waters released on August 7, as of December 2010, 71 thermal power plants, with a capacity of 55 GW, were in various stages of approval in Vidarbha. The report estimates that for these 71 power plants, 2,049 mcm water will be required each year, which otherwise could have been used to irrigate approximately 409,800 ha of arable land. The plants are dependent on freshwater bodies and irrigation reservoirs.
“It has been established that the farmers are dying in Vidarbha due to poor irrigation facilities. Whatever little water is available, the government is diverting it to industry. Do they want to produce electricity at the cost of our lives?” asks Sanjay Kolhe of Kisan Ekta Manch, a farmers’ organisation in Vidarbha.
The Greenpeace report adds that the diversion of water from irrigation to power plants is a consequence of the Maharashtra State Water Policy, which prioritised use of water for industrial purposes above agricultural between 2003 and mid 2011. The study points out that as of December 2010, an additional 552.52 mcm of water per year had been allocated from the Wardha river in western Vidarbha to upcoming thermal power plants.
A study by the department of civil engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi shows that water availability in Wardha has already decreased from 3,679.19 mcm to 1,857.01 mcm, as a result of dams and reservoirs being built.
“Greenpeace recommends an immediate moratorium on further environment clearances to coal power plants in Vidarbha. The existing clearances must be re-examined on the basis of a cumulative water impact and availability assessment in the river basins so that irrigation needs of farmers are not jeopardised,” says Greenpeace campaigner Jai Krishna.