No sale

Project to sell river water in Kerala shelved

By Surendranath C
Published: Friday 31 January 2003

widespread public protest and media debate has forced the Kerala government to shelve its ambitious project to sell the waters of two major rivers to multinational companies. The project sought to attract global corporate investment in two industrial water supply programmes.

It envisaged extraction of 240 million litres of water per day (mld) from Periyar river and diversion of 10 mld of irrigation water from the Malampuzha dam to the Kanjikode industrial area in Palakkad district. The proposal met with stiff resistance from farmers, activist groups and politicians.

Under the Cochin Industrial Water Supply Scheme (ciwss), a 2.5-kilometre stretch of Periyar river and under-utilised supply lines of the Kerala Water Authority were to be handed over to a joint venture company on a 'build own operate and transfer' basis for a period of 30 years. The guaranteed minimum rate of return on investment was 16 per cent. The project was to be showcased at the Global Investor Meet (gim) in January.

The plan was approved by the previous government (Left Democratic Front) in March 1997. The International Finance Corporation of the World Bank, which assists governments in designing and implementing privatisation programmes, had conducted the feasibility study of the ciwss way back in 1995-1997.

But since then several questions have been raised about the feasibility of the project. And claims of officials about its efficacy have been proved false. For instance, Jiji Thomson, managing director, Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation, had stated that the Periyar has a surplus of 3,468 million cubic metres (mcum) of water during the monsoons and the withdrawal would only be 2.5 per cent of the river's flow. "They are not even aware of the concept of a minimum flow, which is required to keep the river alive and to flush out pollutants and salinity," says P S Gopinathan Nair from the All Kerala River Protection Council. According to a recent study, the average annual usable water level in Periyar dips drastically from 5617 mcum during monsoons to 1148 mcum in the five lean months. The report also warns that the annual water balance in the seven river basins of the region will deplete by 2050.

The Malampuzha dam deal with uk-based multinational company Vivendi has also been criticised. "The dam could have an excess capacity, but its original objective of irrigating paddy is not being fully met," laments Ravikumar, president, National Farmers Protection Committee, Palakkad. He says that after irrigation, providing drinking water should be the priority in Palakkad.

Even the state minister for irrigation T M Jacob expressed doubts about the availability of surplus water in the Malampuzha dam. But others, like state, minister for industries K Kunhalikkutty, are still hopeful that the project will see the light of the day. He maintains: "The government has not yet floated global tenders for the plan, but only invited expressions of interest from investors. The project has not been dropped, it has only been withdrawn from the gim."

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