The Odisha State Centre of the Forum decided to take up action research on conflict resolution issues around the Hirakud Dam where many more complex issues were intertwined with the agriculture-industry issue. The report entitled Floods, Fields and Factories: Towards Resolving Conflicts around the Hirakud Dam describing the action research and its findings has been published.
Similarly, the Kerala State Centre of the Forum took up the issue of the upstream-downstream conflict on the Chalakudy river around the reservoir operation in the upstream. The report entitled Linking Lives - Reviving Flows: Towards Resolving Upstream – Downstream Conflicts in Chalakudy River Basin describing the action research as well as the suggested model of reservoir operations management has been published.
Allocations and Entitlements and Legal and Institutional Framework
The issue of water entitlements for livelihoods, issues of equity and access and also allocations for ecosystem needs and evolving a social consensus around them is critical in conflict prevention. Similarly, the other important issue was the institutional and legal framework available for conflict resolution. In this context Forum decided to set up two working groups to prepare position papers on these themes. The idea is to use these two reports for wider discussion and debate and also prepare certain common grounds on these critical issues.
Draft reports on both issues were presented at the National Workshop organised in March 2009 and were reworked on the basis of extensive comments received from the Steering Committee as well as another National Workshop in 2010. The report of the subgroup on water allocations and entitlements titled Life, Livelihoods, Ecosystems, Culture: Entitlements and Allocation of Water for Competing Uses was published and released in 2011 and the report of the second subgroup on legal and institutional framework titled Water Conflicts in India: Towards a New Legal and Institutional Framework was released in 2012. Policy briefs summarising the two reports have also been released. These two reports and the policy briefs are available on this website.
Engaging with National Water Policy Review and involvement in working groups set up by the Planning Commission
The Forum sent a note on suggestions on the revision of the National Water Policy to the Minister, Water Resources and the Ministry officials and also to Dr. Mihir Shah of the Planning Commission. The Honourable minister did respond to the letter saying that the suggestions would be taken into account while revising the NWP. Many of the Steering Committee members of the Forum – Joy, Suhas, Shripad, Chandan, Subodh, Philippe – have been included in some of the water related working groups – data and data management, minor irrigation and watershed development, urban water issues, framework law, water governance, etc., – set up by the Planning Commission for the 12th Five Year Plan. This is an opportunity that we could use to influence the policy processes.
Initiative on Mullaperiyar
The Forum has been closely following the Mullaperiyar issue for the last several years. The polarisation of views around the Mullaperiyar has hardened over the years. The Tamil Nadu government insists that the Mullaperiyar dam is safe and that the water level must be maintained at the maximum level as per the agreement. The Kerala government insists that a new dam, downstream of the present dam, must be built because the present dam is unsafe. The recent tremors with their epicentres near the dam and the already diminishing trust and rising fears and apprehensions on both sides have created a grave situa¬tion needing immediate intervention.
Forum believes that both positions are flawed and there is a need to think beyond them. The 115 years old Mullaperiyar dam shows all the signs of the ravages of time. Expert opinion on the safety of the dam is divided; while there are experts who believe that the dam would be safe with certain repairs, others believe that the dam may be unsafe, based on hydrology studies as well as the technology and material used for dam construction. The dam is located in a seismically sensitive zone and recently there have been a series of tremors with epicentres close to the dam.
On the other hand, the new dam which is being planned about 400 m downstream with a larger storage capacity which would create a heavy financial burden, submerge a substantial additional portion of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, result in a large permanent structure inside the reserve, introduce massive interference and disturbance over the entire construction period, would be subject to the same problem of seismicity. It would also cause additional environmental damage in Kerala to fulfill Tamil Nadu’s requirements.
Given the intense fear and insecurity amongst the downstream people, and the divided expert opinion on dam safety at higher water levels, it would be best to use the precautionary principle and keep water levels low, to around 120 ft.
Water can be delivered to Tamil Nadu at 120 ft level and the province should be encouraged to divert as much water as it can and store it inside the state in balancing reservoirs or other storages.
Long-term action is needed on the following lines:
Reconfirm Kerala’s commitment to provide the present quantum of water. The Kerala government in any case has publicly confirmed this commitment;
Come to a common understanding of the role of the Mullaperiyar dam as a di¬version dam rather than a storage dam and that the storage capacity needed for Tamil Nadu should be created inside the state with adequate assistance from the centre;
Immediately undertake studies on (a) the requisite capacity needed inside Tamil Nadu, (b) the redesign of the diver¬sion and conveyance system, (c) on the basis of (b), minimising storage behind the dam as close as possible to the minimum regu¬latory storage required, (d) measures to strengthen the dam at the new level, (e) hydrological study of flow at the dam site and a schedule for the regulatory storage, and (f) working out arrangements in the transition phase;
Though the dam would continue to be in the control of Tamil Nadu, we would suggest that there should be a tripartite board consisting of repre¬sentatives of the Government of Kerala, Government of Tamil Nadu and the union government (on the lines of the Tungabhadra Board) that oversees the preparation of a reservoir operation plan and monitors and modifies it throughout the year.
We believe that this would be a just and optimal solution and would be financially and economically more viable. The measures above are based on what we think is the minimum necessary to resolve the conflict. Further optimisation is possible in many ways. For example, a strategy of local water harvesting and increase of on-field and irrigation efficiency so as to gradually reduce the requirement from the Mullaperiyar allowing eventual decommissioning. In fact, we should ultimately move to ecosystem-based river basin planning.
We would once again emphasise that the short-term measures of keeping the water level down and strengthening the existing structure so as to allay the fears of the downstream people about the safety of the dam and abandoning the plans for a new dam are important both on the ground of the precautionary principle as well as from the perspective of building trust.
In this critical situation unfolding around Mullaperiyar dam, to make the saner voices heard the Forum sent an appeal to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The appeal was published in the Economic and Political Weekly. The appeal is well received and we also received positive responses on this appeal.
We also requested the Forum members that if they broadly agreed with the appeal then they can use the content of this appeal to send letters to the key ministers involved in the decision making on Mullaperiyar conflict from both Kerala and TamilNadu and PM. This also received a positive response. Justice V. Krishna Iyer also sent letters to the PM and the two Chief Ministers.
Forum’s stand on Mullaperiyar also received attention by media. The Hindu Business Line, Times of India published Forum’s stand with the emphasis on the appeal on Mullaperiyar issue. Also, articles and interviews with Forum SC members like S. Janakarajan and A. Latha were published in Malayalam and Tamil periodicals/News Papers. Also there were interviews especially by S. Janakarajan.
Initiative on Polavaram project
The Forum believes that the existing studies, information and data available on the Polavaram project, and Governments inability to adhere to the laid down procedures and processes in the case of construction of dams especially if it has inter-state ramifications (for example not getting clearance from Central Water Commission) warrant that the Government of Andhra Pradesh take a pause on the further construction of the project (canals as well as the dam) and should not proceed with the project in its present form. The Government should take the lead in initiating independent studies with regard to some of the key aspects of the project, namely,
Comprehensive cost-benefit study (within the framework of ecological economics) as preliminary studies indicate that the government’s claim on cost-benefit ratio does not hold (for example the new area that would be brought under irrigation would not be more than 100,000 acres as against 6.5 lakh given the project document),
Study of the impact on the environment has not been done,
Proper review of Government’s claim that 200,000 oustees could be rehabilitated as it is not in line with the experience of rehabilitation so far (both in the state and the country as a whole) and even in the case of smaller projects the government has not been able to rehabilitate the project affected persons, and
Assessment of the different alternatives that are being suggested and see whether there are options available that can give the same (or even more) benefits than the present project with less environmental and social costs (less submergence etc.).
In the light of the above the Forum is of the opinion that the government should take a pause, complete the above mentioned studies and assessments through independent and competent agencies, make the findings available to all stakeholders, hold consultations with the stakeholders especially the potential oustees and beneficiaries and then take a decision on the future of project.
For any reason (or no reason) if the government is adamant in going ahead with the project then the Forum would strongly suggest that the government explores the options of reducing the height of the dam so that submergence and displacement can be brought down and that the government adhere in letter and spirit to all the provisions in the R&R policy, and also set up the necessary institutional mechanisms for the speedy and proper implementation of the provisions of the R&R package. The aim should be “development oriented rehabilitation” and also avenues should be explored to rehabilitate the oustees, mostly adivasis, within their own agro-climatic and socio-cultural milieus.
The Forum also feels that there is a need for the oustees and beneficiaries to interact with each other directly and understand each others conditions and viewpoints as this interaction may lead to better options. Thus the Forum would take the lead in organising such an interaction and the idea is to get all the mandal presidents from both the submergence area and beneficiary area (command area) in one place for a direct “dialogue”. Since the projected cost-benefit ratio is being questioned, the Forum would take the lead in getting cost-benefit study done by a renowned economist preferably by a person who can methodologically integrate the new concerns that are being thrown up by environmental and other social movements. The third initiative that the Forum would take is to make an assessment of the alternatives that are being thrown up and in this the Forum would try to get the help of people like K. R. Datye who has done similar work in the context of Sardar Sarovar Project.