BJP moves to cut excess supply of Nira dam water to Baramati

The Maharashtra government has cleared a proposal of the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation (MKVDC) to cut off the ‘excess’ water supply from the left bank canal of the Nira-Deoghar dam to Baramati, the bastion of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar.

The approval by the State Water Resources Department, seen as a setback for Mr. Pawar, comes after Ranjeetsinh Naik-Nimbalkar, the newly-elected BJP MP from Madha (in Solapur) along with other leaders of the district including Ranjitsinh Mohite-Patil, raised objections about Baramati drawing excess water for irrigation, thus depriving the water-scarce areas in Solapur and Satara.

While the BJP’s ‘water stratagem’, which comes ahead of the crucial Maharashtra Assembly polls, is being viewed in some quarters as a means to politically checkmate Mr. Pawar, water experts have expressed concern at the opaque manner in which parties and politicians — from the NCP and the BJP — subverted water rules for political gain.

Noted water expert Pradeep Purandare said no notification was issued in this case nor was there any information in the public domain. Further, there was no reference to the Maharashtra Irrigation Act of 1976 (MIA 76) or any such pertinent legislation before diverting the excess water from the Nira Deoghar left bank, he added.

“The lack of any official notification has effectively precluded public debate in this case. Such a vital decision to divert water, especially at a time when the entire State is the throes of acute water scarcity, should not be taken without opinion of the people of those areas,” said Mr. Purandare, a former associate professor at the Aurangabad-based Water and Land Management Institute (WALMI).

He further pointed out that the Canal Advisory Committee, which ought to be functioning as a policy instrument, appeared weak and easily subject to the pressure of ruling politicos and parties.

The waters from the Bhatgar dam (on the Yelwandi River) flow into the Veer dam on the Nira River. From Veer, the waters are channelled to the Nira Left Bank Canal (NLBC), which was completed in 1886, and the Nira Right Bank Canal (NRBC) which became operational in 1937-38.

The NLBC services the Baramati and Indapur taluks, strongholds of Mr. Pawar and senior Congress leader Harshawardhan Patil respectively.

The NRBC services Phaltan in Satara district and the arid tehsils of Malshiras, Sangola and Pandharpur in Solapur district (which form part of the Madha Lok Sabha constituency).

According to the recommendations of a 1954 project report on the Veer dam, 57% of the waters of the Bhatgar dam were to flow through the NRBC, while the remaining 43% was allotted to tehsils serviced by the NLBC.

Meanwhile, the Nira Deoghar dam (on the Nira river) with the aim to enhance irrigation in this region was completed in 2007.

The project envisages two canals, a 208-km right bank canal, which will cater to the irrigation needs of Khandala and Phaltan (in Satara) and Malshiras, Pandharpur and Sangola (in Solapur) and a 21-km left bank canal to service Purandar, Baramati and Indapur in Pune district.

The canals of the Nira-Deoghar are distinct from the old NLBC and NRBC of the Veer dam.

However, only 65 km (of the 208 km) of the Nira Deoghar right bank canal is complete, with scant progress on the left bank as well.

The ruling BJP including Mr. Naik-Nimbalkar have alleged that Ajit Pawar, the then Water Resources Minister in the erstwhile NCP-Congress government, had tweaked rules in 2007 to assign 60% of the allocated water to the Nira Deoghar left bank to bring more water to Baramati, while leaving 40% of the water for tehsils in Solapur and Satara.

According to the BJP, the Congress-NCP extended this water allotment ‘agreement’ in April 2012 for a further five years – till April 2017.

“The objective of the Nira Deoghar dam was to supply water to the parched districts. Instead, the leaders of Baramati [the Pawar clan] have bent the rules to ensure that only their taluk received water. This new order has ensured that justice denied for 12 years to the parched areas in Satara and Solapur has been finally redressed,” said Mr. Naik-Nimbalkar.

He said that as the old ‘agreement’ had now expired, the new order, was issued on the basis of the 1954 water allotment (as recommended by the report on the Veer project).

With the new government order, all the available water in the Nira Deoghar dam is likely to be channelled to the right bank areas to benefit the Solapur and Satra tehsils, while cutting off the Baramati and Indapur areas.

“However, this water will have to be channelled through the old NRBC as the right bank canal of the Nira Deoghar dam is incomplete,” said Mr. Purandare.

The important point in this labyrinthine dispute, he observes, is that both the NCP and the BJP’s methods of water allotment were “nebulous”.

“When the NCP came up with the 60:40 water allotment rule for the Nira-Deoghar dam, it was utterly unclear as to who assented to this and who the contracting parties are. Likewise, the BJP’s ‘settling’ of this water score, while politically justified perhaps, is casual in method and procedure,” said another water expert, requesting anonymity.

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