Activists frown upon ‘draft’ white paper
The National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM) whose members are fighting a grassroot-level battles against displacement and large-scale environmental destruction due to the building of unnecessary dams, has denounced the “draft white paper” by the state.
Several activist organisations met on Saturday under the aegis of NAPM for a Jan Jal Aayog (community water committee) meeting in Pune to discuss a strategy after what many called “the state government’s white wash paper.”
NAPM convenor Medha Patkar who was present at the meet told DNA, “The government has once again mocked those losing homes and livelihoods by presenting a misleading document.”
According to her this was not surprising, “The people creating the white paper were party to the decisions taken. No wonder they are quiet on all irregularities.”
“Unless and until public opinion is incorporated, it cannot be called a white paper. This was done in the case of all previous white papers so why not now?,”Parineeta Dandekar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP) wanted to know.
Indavi Tulpule of Shramjeevi Sanghatna which is spearheading the adivasi struggle against displacement in the Kalu and Shai projects in Thane district said the white paper sought to boost the overall irrigation percentage in the state by adding figures of areas not even covered by any project.
“They want to include the centuries-old traditional lift-irrigation practiced by farmers on river banks and wells that farmers in many parts of the state which are not in the command area of any dam use” she pointed out.
Activists at the meeting pointed out to DNA how the Union Water Resources Ministry figures and state government’s claims in the white paper are at variance.
“The Centre’s figures show that there are 1,821 large dams with more coming up in the state. That is a whopping 35.7% of large dams in the country,” pointed out Dandekar who added, “Despite so many, the proportion of irrigated area in Maharashtra vis-à-vis cropped area is 17.8%, much lower than the national average of 44.6%. Worse, in nearly 70% of the state’s 27,600 villages, water is either not available within a 500m radius or within 15m below ground level. Even in instances where it is, it is unfit for drinking.”
Tulpule also said that she was amazed about the silence on how every law of the land was violated to push the irrigation projects through.
“Dam after dam we’ve seen no land acquisition was done, the rehabilitation process was not started and forest and environmental clearances not sought.” This, it maybe recalled has been confirmed by the CAG report which cites the instance of Konkan Irrigation Development Corporation (KIDC)’s projects.
According to Tulpule, “The white paper says that costs increased due to people’s protests but if they don’t follow due process and simply keep uprooting people, what do they expect them to do?”
Activists say, the irrigation scam began with amendments to MWRRA Act (2005). The clause for equitable water distribution was removed and the Cabinet was given the right to have the last say on water entitlements.
This led to a diversion of water for irrigation from the vulnerable, suicide-prone Vidarbha region to thermal power plants. Entitlements of more than 1,500 million cubic metres was changed from agriculture to industries and urban drinking water projects.
Moreover, they also point out how a serious omission in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) notification (2006) means these dams supplying water to industrial areas and special economic zones (SEZs) are exempt from environmental clearance.
“So there are no EIAs, no public hearings and no environment management plans (EMPs) for them,” points out Dandekar who asks, “If this isn’t watering a scam for a bountiful harvest, what is?”
The unhappiness of the activists over the white paper has also found resonance with farm advocacy groups like Vidabha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS). Kishore Tiwari of the VJAS told DNA, “The white paper does not fix responsibility on anyone. It is an attempt to cover up a scam directly connected to the large number of suicides in Vidarbha.”
The VJAS plans to burn copies of the government’s white paper on Decemebr 11th and said it will bring out its own “black paper” on the scam.