Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pay a rupee and buy a river for 22 years

Carved out of Madhya Pradesh on 1 November 2000, Chhattisgarh was never a water-scarce state. According to unofficial estimates, the state has 32,000 ponds. With major river basins — Mahanadi, Godavari, Narmada and Brahmani Kachar — and several major rivers — Kurkut, Mahanadi, Kharun, Sheonath, Indravati, Jonk, Kelo, Sabri, Hasdev, Peri, and Maand — water shortage was never an issue. But the priorities have changed.

THE SALE of Chhattisgarh’s rivers began in 1998 when the then MP government handed a 23.6 km stretch of Sheonath river in Durg to RWL, pleading shortage of funds for supplying water to industries. In a shocking story of “corruption and favouritism”, as an Assembly nominated committee discovered later, the Rs. 9 crore project was signed on 5 October 1998 between MPAKVN and RWL on a build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) basis. The plan was to build a barrage on the Sheonath to supply up to 30 million litres per day (mld) to the Borai Industrial Centre. Construction was completed in two years and operations began in January 2001. “We got to know about the sale of the river only when RWL began harassing us,” alleges Khemlal Sahu, a farmer in Mahmara. “Almost 25 percent of the villagers are fishermen. They were stopped from fishing. Soon, fencing around the 23.6 km stretch began. Iron gates were erected on both sides of the barrage to prevent locals from approaching the river.”

Chhattisgarh has seen hundreds of companies investing in the state and many vying for the river waters. In a recent deal, the Water Resource Department (WRD) gave its nod to 141 private and government projects for which it will be supplying nearly 2,600 million cubic metres (mcm) of water from rivers every year. Interestingly the state supplies only 2,000 mcm of water for irrigation every year. Earlier, dams were built to store water for irrigation. Now, they are being constructed for supplying water to industry. In fact, the Chhattisgarh government openly declares that it is committed to giving water to industries throughout the year but not to farmers for rabi crop.

Rivers belong to the people. But, in Chhattisgarh they belong to corporations.

Read: The Water Wars

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