In deep water
Conflict over Krishna
Third floor of Trikoot Bhawan in Delhi’s Bhikaji Cama Place, which houses the second Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal, will turn into a war zone by February-end. A battery of lawyers, technical staff and irrigation department officials from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh will fight hard to win the maximum allocation of the Krishna river water for their respective states.
Flowing nearly 1,400 km through the three states before merging into the Bay of Bengal, the river provides drinking water and irrigation to more than 75 million people. But today, it is a mere trickle at the tail end. Every last drop in the basin has been planned to be supplied to townships and to meet insatiable industrial needs. In fact, each state has placed its demand well beyond the quantum available, creating a conflict.
In 1969, the Bachawat tribunal was set up to resolve such disputes. Its award came in 1976, setting legal limits for use of the Krishna’s water till May 2000. The second tribunal, chaired by Justice Brijesh Kumar, was set up in 2006. It announced a provisional award in December 2010, setting limits for water use till 2050. But each state has expressed its disappointment.
At the heart of the disagreement is the higher projected available flow in the river basin (see ‘Share of the pie’).
Rejecting Bachawat tribunal’s 78-year time period, from 1895 to 1972, to assess the Krishna’s water, the new tribunal has adopted a 47-year period, from 1961 to 2008 (see ‘Centre of controversy’). The Bachawat tribunal, it said, had based the awards on “piecemeal information”. The old tribunal had used three different sets of data. By considering fewer years for making an assessment, the average assured available water has increased from 602.8 million cubic metre (mcm) to 648.9 mcm. The Brijesh Kumar tribunal also reduced the percentage of assured water availability from 75 to 65.
Within three months of the provisional award, each state submitted its complaint to the tribunal, expressing dissatisfaction over the allocation. Andhra Pradesh also moved the Supreme Court, which, in September 2011, directed the government not to notify the final report in the official gazette. Allocations are scheduled to be finalised in March but may get delayed by a few months.
Crying foul over fresh allocations, Andhra Pradesh says the quantum of the river’s water has not increased. It argues the tribunal has based its assessment on data for years that were largely wet. It also contends that irrigation projects are designed to assure farmers water in at least three of every four years. This was recommended by the Indian Irrigation Commission in 1972. The tribunal allocated water at 65 per cent dependability, instead of the earlier 75 per cent. It rejected Karnataka and Maharashtra’s plea for 50 per cent. A 65 per cent dependability would assure water to farmers for a little less than two out of four years.
Andhra Pradesh says the upper riparian states are constructing projects that would require water well beyond their respective allocations. In December last year, the Karnataka chief minister announced its plan to spend Rs 17,000 crore in the next seven years to complete Krishna basin irrigation projects. Maharashtra and Karnataka have utilised their full allocated share. In 2006-07, Andhra Pradesh utilised 74 mcm more than its allocation. But during the drought years 2002-03 and 2003-04, while Maharashtra and Karnataka used their allocated share, Andhra Pradesh’s utilisation dropped by more than half. “People have mounted pressure on the government to expand irrigation facilities by another 530,000 hectares,” says Mohan Katarki, lawyer representing Karnataka.
Maharashtra has asked for enhancement of its surplus flow allocation from the present 9.9 mcm to 22.6 mcm, basing its argument on the award of the first tribunal. Surplus water is over and above assured available water.
The Bachawat tribunal protected the existing planned use of the states aggregating to 479.1 mcm, and made allocations to the states from the balance 103.8 mcm on equitable principles. Of this, Maharashtra was given 32.83 per cent. It does not want this proportionate share to be disturbed.
||Upper riparian states, says Andhra Pradesh, are constructing projects that need water well beyond their allocation
It has also sought “correction” in the allocations to Karnataka (0.56 mcm) and Andhra Pradesh (1.98 mcm) for maintaining minimum flows during the 180-day lean season every year. It argues that this 2.54 mcm must be equally distributed among the three states.
According to Katarki, Karnataka is “largely happy” with the award. It is bound to be, says an Andhra Pradesh irrigation official. “The state has been assured water as an upper riparian.” Compared to 94 and 54 pages of clarifications submitted by Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra respectively, Karnataka has given an eight-page note on the provisional award. However, it has questioned why Andhra Pradesh has been given more water despite it having the smallest drought-prone area in the basin. With 52,735 sq km remaining dry most of the year, Karnataka has the highest drought-prone area. Maharashtra follows with 50,242 sq km while Andhra Pradesh has only 45,493 sq km.
Andhra Pradesh, the self-confessed aggrieved party, shot itself in the foot by refusing to share surplus water. Now, there is no agreement on sharing the deficit in low-flow years either. The lower riparian state wrote to the tribunal that “surplus water is not divisible and cannot be allocated to projects which comprise kharif and rabi demands”. Surplus water must be utilised in only rabi season because its availability can be recognised only after monsoon, Andhra Pradesh argues. A deficit monsoon may result in excessive use of surplus water by the two states.
The Union Ministry of Water Resources has written to the tribunal seeking clarification on deficit-sharing. In drought years, one or two states should not bear the brunt of a dry year, it says.
Demand exceeds supply
After the Bachawat award lapsed in 2000, all three states prepared their own masterplans to place before the Brijesh Kumar tribunal. Together, the three states demanded twice the available water (see ‘Mission 2050’).
Andhra Pradesh said its industrial sector would need 18 mcm by 2021 and twice that quantum by 2051. The total drinking water requirement would be 44.8 mcm to cater to a population of 73.26 million by 2051. The state has demanded 629.7 mcm. As per the fresh tribunal the total water available is 729.5 mcm.
Maharashtra and Karnataka argue the tribunal has allocated Andhra Pradesh a share disproportionate to its size. “Aspirations of the lower riparian are always the prime cause of dispute. It wants to protect its prior use. Infrastructure developed early in the delta,” says Katarki.
In the 1960s when the tribunal was constituted, Andhra Pradesh was already using 212.3 mcm. This was more than the combined utilisation of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Farmers in coastal areas have been using Krishna waters for 150 years through an extensive network of canals designed by Sir Arthur Cotton and other British engineers in the 1850s. Andhra Pradesh wants a lot more development. The Bachawat tribunal upheld the state’s existing use because it is a downstream state, and allocated 14.15 mcm more besides the liberty to use surplus water.
The dispute over Krishna waters is not just between three states. The fight is deeply entrenched within the states as well. Farmers in Telangana allege the delta region gets preference in timing and quantity supplied.
The climate of the delta region is similar to that of Telangana, says K R Parcha, farming in Telangana for the past 30 years. But water to delta farmers is released in the first week of June, ideal for paddy cultivation. The yield, thus, can be as much as five to seven tonnes per hectare (ha) if paddy is transplanted in July. Farmers in Telangana get water in August, which caps the yield to four tonnes per ha.
“In the deltas of the Krishna and the Godavari, and the Pennar basin, farmers can cultivate at least three crops every year,” says Parcha. “No wonder it is called the granary of Andhra Pradesh.” Each year the state consumes between 283 mcm and 340 mcm. In coastal areas and in the state’s southern districts, outside the basin, farmers have been using water from the Krishna for the past 150 years. Considering this, the Bachawat tribunal allocated them water enough to suffice their needs.
The tribunal allocated 51.3 mcm to the Krishna delta, but the utilisation is well beyond this. “One thousand million cubic foot (about 0.28 mcm) can irrigate 2,428 ha of paddy, and on an average, produce 240,000 bags of paddy or Rs 30 crore per year,” calculates Vidyasagar Rao, former chief engineer at the Central Water Commission. After the formation of Andhra Pradesh, the total loss of wealth to Telangana works out to Rs 3,24,000 crore, he adds. “It is clear that we are on the wrong side of the political spectrum,” says Parcha.
Parties fighting for separate statehood argue they got the short shrift because they live in a larger state with entrenched political interests. Had Telangana been a separate state before the Bachawat tribunal was constituted, it may have got 68.5 per cent of the 229.5 mcm allocated to Andhra Pradesh, they contend.
The Bachawat tribunal allocated Telangana 34.5 per cent of the 229.5 mcm, amounting to merely 64.5 mcm from the Krishna, says Rao. After the Brijesh Kumar provisional award, it was allocated 84 mcm. According to Rao, Telangana never received this. “Today, more than 1.7 million farmers in Telangana depend on groundwater for agriculture. They install pumpsets with personal investments amounting to Rs 25,000 crore. The financial burden is leading to suicides by the farmers,” says Rao.
But officials in the irrigation department disagree. “There’s no truth in this; everyone is being treated equally,” says N Satyanarayana, officer on special duty at the Andhra Pradesh Inter-state Water Resources cell.
Preference given by the Bachawat tribunal to committed projects had stopped Karnataka from executing its planned projects. In its masterplan, the state showed a pressing need to serve its drought-prone areas and demanded 286.7 mcm water.
Maharashtra asked for 378.1 mcm in its masterplan to make its planned projects operational. The tribunal, in its 1976 decision, had restrained Maharashtra from diverting Krishna’s water outside the basin for hydropower generation. The restraint was to accord higher priority to irrigation needs.
The provisional award now allows Maharashtra to use more water for hydropower generation by diverting Krishna water westward and outside the basin. The surplus water, which Andhra Pradesh had full liberty but no legal right to use, has now been apportioned among the three states. Andhra Pradesh is contesting this diversion, saying irrigation must always be given priority over power generation.
Maintain minimum flow
As the three states squabble for more water, Hanumantha Rao, former engineer-in-chief at Andhra Pradesh’s irrigation department says, “Riverine ecology must be respected.” To prevent river stretches from drying during lean season, the states must release water from dams into the river.
Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh say each state should be responsible for maintenance of minimum flow in the river and its tributaries. Maharashtra argues that the Krishna is not a perennial river and it is, therefore, natural for it to dry up during the lean season. However, it does not deny that the minimum flow of the river be maintained.
According to the Brijesh Kumar tribunal, Krishna should have at least 0.5 per cent of the dependable flow. It has based its decision on the recommendations of a working group of the Water Quality Assessment Authority, constituted by the Union environment ministry. Maharashtra must ensure an annual flow of 0.73 mcm to Karnataka, which should ensure a flow of 2.1 mcm to Andhra Pradesh. A minimum of 1.67 mcm must be released to the sea by Andhra Pradesh. “This is far too meager,” says Rao.
To ascertain the requirements, the tribunal divided the river in seven parts. The least requirement, of 1.7 cubic metre per second (cumec), is at the stretch starting from Khadakwasla dam and ending at the river Bhima on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border. The maximum stipulated release is 10.34 cumec from the confluence of Tunghabhadra and Krishna till the delta region in Andhra Pradesh leading to the sea. Maharashtra must also ensure release of 2.97 cumec from Koyna dam to the border with Karnataka between December and May.
To ascertain that the stipulations are adhered to, the tribunal has set up the Krishna Waters Decision Implementation Board. Each riparian state appoints a member, while the Centre nominates two for a five-year tenure. The board is responsible for ensuring storage, release and utilisation of water according to the allocations.
In the 1960s, large irrigation projects were initiated. The result is lesser flows in the lower reaches.
The mean annual run-off to the ocean from 1901 to 1960 was 57 km3, states a study conducted by International Water Management Institute, a non-profit based in Patancheru, Andhra Pradesh. The quantum of water reduced to 17 km3 during 1975-2003. The study also notes that the total reservoir storage by 2005 was 54.5 km3, close to the river’s annual discharge.
||Mean annual flow to the sea has reduced from 57 km3 in 1901-1960 to less than a third during 1975-2003
Reduced water may not create conflict when the water is surplus. But during drought years, it can result in crisis. The hydrological station at Vijaywada recorded an average flow of 6,500 cumec in August between 1901 and 1960. This reduced to about 100 cumec between 2000 and 2004 considered a drought period.
Increasing allocation of projects away from the river basin can be largely blamed for the lesser flow. “Intra-basin use should take precedence over inter-basin transfers. If the states plan inter-basin transfers, they should inform the tribunal so that it can consider them while making allocations,” says Ramaswamy Iyer, former secretary, ministry of water resources.
Karnataka made no submissions for such inter-basin transfers, while Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh made several. The Bachawat tribunal allowed these. At the same time it said, “Future uses requiring diversion of water outside the basin are relevant, but more weight may be given to uses requiring diversion of water inside the basin.”
Maharashtra has started construction of 72 projects to utilise additional 165.5 mcm water. Andhra Pradesh has seven ongoing irrigations projects for 64.2 mcm. Andhra Pradesh opposes the irrigation projects of Maharashtra and Karnataka, but defends its own, saying the projects will not affect the upper riparian states.
No attempt has been made yet to integrate groundwater into the allocation. This is silently contributing to the shrinking river.
In the Krishna basin, it is estimated that groundwater irrigated area equals surface water irrigated area. In absence of any survey, the Bachawat tribunal gave all three states freedom to use underground water within their territory. This would not be reckoned as use of the river water.
“This was a huge mistake,” says Rao. Between 1976 and 1996, base flows from the river Tunghabadhra to the Krishna reduced by 11.46 mcm during the lean season. It broke the hydraulic connectivity between the aquifers and the river. Instead of aquifers recharging the river, over-draft of groundwater has resulted in the reverse, he says. Uncertainty in relationship between the two has led to limited understanding of water in the basin. With none of the three states raising the issue, the tribunal has made no attempt to stipulate groundwater use.
Mahanadi in distress
Mahanadi is in turbulence. The river has too much water, believed the Odisha government and classified it as “surplus river”. But that was before a wave of rapid industrialisation swept the state. Subsequently, anyone who wanted to set up an industrial unit along the river was promised its water. This over-allocation has left little water for irrigation.
|Industry takes it all
For the past 15 months, residents of villages in Athamalik sub-division of Odisha's Angul district have been treading the protest path. “We have lived with this paradox for generations, but will not accept it any more,” says Dinabandhu Pradhan, president of the citizens' front Jiban Jibika Surakhya Committee while addressing residents of 30 villages. The paradox he refers to is the fact that the sub-division has plenty of fresh water sources, but hardly any water comes their way. On January 6, the residents blocked national highway 55 and the railway line between Sambalpur and Cuttack at Bamur for 12 hours, snapping the link between the western and coastal areas of the state. The reason for the ongoing protests is the setting up of the JR Power Gen Private Limited, a 1,980 MW thermal power plant, in the district's Kishorenagar development block. The plant will lift water from the Mahanadi that flows by. The residents respond to Pradhan in unison: “Give us irrigation water and then water to industry.”
For a person from outside the state, the protests would seem unusual for a district that hosts the state's largest and second largest rivers—the Mahanadi and the Brahmani. One never loses sight of either of the two rivers while moving through the district. But the easy availability of water has also attracted industries to the district. Already listed as one of the “critically polluted” areas of the country, it is currently implementing industrial projects worth Rs 80,000 crore. Mostly, water-guzzling thermal power plants are in the pipeline or under construction. The district has three plants generating 4,420 MW power. This output will increase to 13,960 MW once the under-construction projects are completed.
Over time, the growing protests have metamorphosed into an outright fight between two competing water users: farmers and industry. Local communities say the government has shown undue haste in allocating river water to industries while ignoring their irrigation needs. The state government has decided not to allocate water from Brahmani as there is no water available in it. Mahanadi is viewed as the “surplus” source in the district from where the industries have been allowed to lift water. But communities depending on Mahanadi have a different story to narrate.
“Mahanadi flows 72 km by the Athamalik sub-division (the longest for any sub-division in the state). Yet it is chronically drought-prone. It is more than five decades since government promised us an irrigation project,” says Pradhan. A generation has grown up in Bamur area with the promise of irrigation and the hope of escape from drought that has ravaged them for 80 years in the past one century.
What is making the farmers all the more angry is the fact that the power plant will be built at the site of an irrigation barrage called Sureswari project. The current wave of protests started the very next day after the state government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the power producer on April 9, 2010. It was a community managed dam built on a tributary of the Mahanadi. It irrigated farms of 29 villages till Independence when government promised to build an irrigation project. When the government took over the community project, the irrigation cover came down to just four villages. “Now, the company will get total benefits out of it,” rues Kailash Chandra Sahu, a local leader. “This is not acceptable,” he adds.
The communities are angry. In the past five years, there has been at least one protest every two months. The government finds itself in a swirl. But there is no easy way out.
In the past decade, Odisha has signed at least 100 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) for projects worth Rs 441,471 crore. From 2002, the state government went on an MoU signing spree.
It has bagged 12.6 per cent of the country’s total investment proposals in 2010. “Industrialisation has surpassed our expectation,” says Nanda Kumar Mahapatra, chief engineer of Orissa Water Planning Organisation.
The eastern coastal state, rich in coal, bauxite and iron ore reserves, is a big attraction for industries that aspire to set up water-intensive thermal power, aluminium and iron plants.
Earlier, aluminium and iron plants depended heavily on the Brahmani and the Baitarani rivers, while coal plants depended on the Mahanadi. But citing over-allocation, the state stopped assigning water of the Brahmani and the Baitarani.
Water resources department’s latest data on allocation for industries, procured by Down To Earth, reveals that Mahanadi accounts for 62 per cent of Odisha’s total industrial water allocation. About a decade ago, it was only 13 per cent.
Along the river’s 461-km stretch in the state, at least one industry is proposed every 10 km. Its major tributaries, like the Tel, have also been marked for water supply to industries. The state has 10 more river basins, but maximum quantity of water for industrialisation has been allocated from the Mahanadi.
The state’s total installed thermal power generation capacity is about 7,500 MW. Having signed new MoUs, an additional 75,000 MW is in the offing. Of this, about 45,000 MW are in Angul, Jharsuguda, Dhenkanal and Sundergarh districts. By 2015, 60 new projects will draw water from the Mahanadi.
According to the Central Electricity Authority, for every 100 MW capacity plant, water requirement must not be more than 3.92 million cubic metre (mcm) per year. This means the 45,000 MW addition will require 1,700 mcm water per year, enough to irrigate close to 350,000 hectare. “This will increase water allocation from the Mahanadi six times,” says a senior irrigation department official.
Chhattisgarh shares 53 per cent of the river’s catchment area, but the two states have no water-sharing treaty. About 11 per cent of the total investments in India last year were made in this young state.
To meet its industrial requirements, Chhattisgarh has planned at least 600 check dams to arrest 30 per cent of the Mahanadi’s available flow. The aim is to draw 1,500 mcm per year and another 1,200 mcm from its tributaries Lilagarh, Hasdeo and Seonath. When this happens, Odisha will become water deficit.
Chhattisgarh is also constructing six barrages on the Mahanadi. Government claims this is being done to address the state’s irrigation and domestic needs. It seems too much of a coincidence that industrial houses with 31 projects in their kitty have been allocated 250 mcm water, just as much as the barrages’ total water capacity.
The demand for water allocation from the Mahanadi is unprecedented, admits Mahapatra. No further allocation is feasible, he says.
Farmer v industry
In Odisha, the Mahanadi sustains close to 18 million people, more than half of whom are farmers. From Hirakud reservoir, which marks the river’s upstream boundary in the state, to Cuttack where the river ends creating a delta, 30 movements have raged against industrialisation. Midstream areas are attracting the largest number of industries, mostly thermal power plants. In 2011, western Odisha witnessed 13 shutdowns over three proposed barrages.
Hirakud itself is close to reaching its peak demand, leaving downstream flow and barrages as the only source of industrial allocation. Government began allocations in 1990-91 with 12.35 cumec. Between 2000 and 2007, allocations from the reservoir increased six times. A technical expert team raised the alarm in 2006 that the allocations could hamper power generation.
The state government ignored the warning and made further allocations to industrial houses in Sambalpur and Jharsuguda districts.
Across the state, the Water Allocation Committee of the water resources department has now given 40.2 cumec of water to 61 industries. Of this, about 14.16 cumec was from Hirakud reservoir. “This is much more than what the government engineers recommended,” says Ranjan Panda of Water Initiatives, an association of farmers and civil society groups.
Availability has never been the parameter for water allocation, says a senior water resource department official. “Officials who sign MoUs with industries just agree to the nearest water source,” he adds. A glaring example of indiscriminate allocations is the Mahanadi Barrage in Cuttack. Built in 1866 for famine relief, the barrage has been exclusively used to irrigate about 395,378 ha of farms in Cuttack, Jajpur, Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur districts through an extensive network of canals. Industrial allocation began six years ago. Four industries set up close to the barrage were allocated its water. Seven proposals are still in pipeline.
||The barrage on the Mahanadi was built in 1866 for famine relief. It irrigates 395,378 hectares. Now, many industries draw water from it
But the barrage does not have enough water. According to official data, the canals have silted by 20 per cent. “For eight months in a year, water is not adequate to irrigate farms,” says Suvendu Mohanty, a lawyer in Cuttack. There has been a steady decline in the flow in the past five years because industries lift water from the barrage. Many lift irrigation projects have stopped functioning.
Government has also allotted 3.47 cumec of water to POSCO India through the Taladanda irrigation canal from the Jobra barrage. “We are totally against further diversion of Mahanadi water for industrial use because of growing pressure on Hirakud dam.
||Mahanadi accounts for 62 per cent of Odisha’s total industrial water allocation. A decade ago, it was 13 per cent
Its water is meant for irrigation,” says Dillip Malik, spokesperson of Mahanadi Bachao Andolan. “The dry season flow in the Mahanadi has already reduced 4 mcm,” he adds.
Even as protests over water allocation to POSCO were on, the public sector Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) started constructing water intake points at Hadia Patha without government permission. Angry farmers moved the Orissa High Court, which has now stayed the IOC works. The court has also set up an expert committee to look into the various water demands on the river.
In September last year, farmers and civil society groups demanded constitution of a water commission to make judicious allocation. Government showed undue haste in allocating water to industries and ignored irrigation needs, they said. But state industries minister Raghunath Mohanty rules out its need. “Water has been allocated for agriculture, industry and power generation as per the recommendations of the Water Allocation Committee. It has been done keeping in mind the interests of Odisha,” he says.
Government has based all allocations on the Third Spiral Report, an assessment made in 2001. But it was done without any long-term data for a large number of flow stations. The assessment did not factor in water use in Chhattisgarh. The report admitted it could not do an accurate forecast of future industrial uses because the basin did not have a “recognisable” level of industrialisation then. Nor did the state have a long-term industrial planning.
In absence of a detailed water flow data from Chhattisgarh, the report used the flow of the Ib river at Hirakud as the flow from the state. The report estimated that water utilisation in Chhattisgarh was about 13,804 mcm. So at 75 per cent dependability (government ensures assured water availability in three out of four years), about 20,124 mcm water from Chhattisgarh would be available for use in Odisha. But during 2001-2011, this changed drastically. According to the Chhattisgarh water resources department, the dependable annual water availability in the river over the past 11 years is an average 1,528 mcm.
“Our estimates of water availability were made on the basis of the big reservoirs we decided to build,” reasons Mahapatra. The state based its water availability on three phases of damming the Mahanadi water. Except the Hirakud reservoir, the other two phases have not been taken up due to public opposition to big dams. There is a political decision not to build even barrages. The state’s water plan of 2004 based its estimates of water availability in the Mahanadi on the three reservoirs.
Odisha now faces the challenge of keeping its promise of water to industries. A senior official says 40 per cent of the industries will not get water from river or stream sources. The 2004 water plan states that overall availability of water is not a problem but its availability round the year is. “On an annual volume basis, there seems no problem in supplying water to the entire population. The problem is to make water available to all throughout the year. In most cases, surface water is available only for a few days in a year and has to be stored in sufficient quantity to last a year,” the senior official says.
Sensing public mood, the Odisha Water Resources Board has become cautious. It now suggests “emergency measures” that will impact both present and future industrial water use. It has decided not to allow more than 10 per cent of a river’s non-monsoon flow for industrial use. This will mean a substantial rethink on the allocation from the Mahanadi. But government is yet to take a decision.
The department has also asked the government to enforce an old order which prohibits industries from lifting river water during April-June. But if this is implemented, some 50 per cent of the industries will have to cut their production drastically.
Government needs to create a balance between how much water the already ravaged Mahanadi has, and how much it can give away.
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