Mahanadi Basin Newsletter
Volume 2, Issue 1
July-September, 2016

Frothing Fluvial Frictions: A Review of Emerging Conflicts in Mahanadi River Basin

-- Abhishek Patane
Over the last one year, conflicts related to water are burgeoning in the Mahanadi river basin. These can be classified broadly into themes on the basis of core immediate issues. At the same time, these themes comprise of other issues which can be a part of other themes as well. Following are the existing, emergent and potential conflictual frictions compiled from news reports by local bureaus of various news agencies, both from regional level (Chhattisgarh and Odisha) and national level.

Table 1: The different conflicts in the Mahanadi basin, according to their types and location
Sr.No. Conflict type / theme Conflict name Location [District(s) and state]
1 Acquisition and displacement Kharun Riverfront Development Raipur and Durg, Chhattisgarh
2 Ong River Medium Irrigation Project Balangir, Odisha
3 Compensation Ravishankar Sagar dam Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh
4 Samoda barrage Mahasamund, Chhattisgarh
5 Lower Suktel Irrigation Project Balangir, Odisha
6 Industrial water use and intervention Water tax default Korba, Chhattisgarh
7 Exploitation of Mand River Raigarh, Chhattisgarh
8 NTPC’s new barrage Raigarh, Chhattisgarh
9 NTPC’s intervention Sundergarh, Odisha
Interstate water conflict
Construction of barrages Chhattisgarh
11 Tandula link canal Balod and Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh
12 Sand mining and dredging Illegal sand mining in Kanker district Kanker, Chhattisgarh
13 Sand mining on Kelo River Raigarh, Chhattisgarh and Sambalpur, Odisha
14 Dredging project Jagtsinghpur, Odisha
15 Water quality, water scarcity and water allocation Outbreak of jaundice Cuttack, Odisha
16 Villages of Narsinghpur block Cuttack, Odisha
17 Simlipur Panchayat  Cuttack, Odisha
18 River Gobari Kendrapara, Odisha
19 Gangrel reservoir  Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh

Figure 1: Map of conflicts according to different types. Refer to serial numbers mentioned in the table above for location. (Map source: Google earth)

a) Acquisition and Displacement 

Kharun Riverfront Development project has been a conflictual issue, wherein villagers, largely farmers, from Durg and Raipur districts of Chhattisgarh are protesting against authorities through support of an organization named Rashtriya Kisan Kranti Morcha (RKKM). The Raipur development authority has planned to construct the river front of about 20 km stretch and 300 metres breadth (including both banks) on river Shivnath’s tributary (a tributary of Mahanadi), river Kharun, which flows near the outskirts of Raipur city. In January 2016, RKKM held series of protests including Jal Satyagraha, Gheros, marches, sloganeering, etc. Protests have dissipated after Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh’s assurance that private land won’t be acquired. But, potent of continuance of conflict looms as the state government wants to proceed with the project. Presently the project is being suspended. 
Ong River Medium Irrigation Project (MIP) has been a controversial one. People are agitating under the banner of Ong Nadibandha Pratirodh Committee (ONPC) against the state government and the Ong MIP. In December 2015, people from 32 affected villages demonstrated in Padmapur block against MIP, which will submerge 230 hectares of land. But, it will provide irrigation to 30000 hectares of land in certain drought prone blocks in Bargarh and Balangir districts. Submergence of 11 villages along with partial effect on 21 villages is the major concern. In the wake of Chief Minister of Odisha – Navin Patnaik’s announcement of package worth Rs. 35000 crore for drought proofing (from which Rs. 1500 crore was announced for Ong MIP), ONPC sparked fresh protests and also submitted a memorandum to Sub Collector urging the state government to review its decision and go for small check dams. However, it seems that the government is hell bent upon going ahead with the construction of 7.48 km earthen dam. Considering the timeline, the conflict must be ongoing.

b) Compensation

Ravishankar Sagar dam (Gangrel reservoir) on Mahanadi in the Dhamtari district of Chhattisgarh has led to submergence of homes and lands of people, thereby affecting their livelihoods. Project affected families (PAFs) are fighting for compensation for the last 42 years. Most importantly, people from Gond tribal community belonging to erstwhile Urputi village were not compensated after submergence, which forced them and their previous generation to stay in huts on nearby forest land allotted by government. They claim that they are being deprived of allotted land as the Gram Sabha is not ratifying it. They also approached the Divisional Forest Officer and the District Collector, but to no avail. They were told that the authorities cannot do anything unless the Forest Rights Committee ratifies eligibility of tribal community. It can be speculated that the conflict might be still going on considering its intensity.
Samoda barrage (Rajiv Samoda-Nisda barrage) was completed in 2015 for diverting water for industrial use and drinking purpose, in Mahasamund district of Chhattisgarh. Farmers began protesting against the authorities in mid 2015 against inappropriate compensation plan for submerged lands. Also they have not received any compensation for speculated submergence of about 500 acres of agricultural land on closing barrage gates, where farming is the sole occupation. Samoda and Chapreed in Baloda Bazar district; and Achola, Acholi, Badgaon and Navapara villages in Mahasamund district will be severely affected. Farmers demonstrated Dharna with their 6-point demands outside sub-divisional Magistrate’s (SDM) office. They have been protesting for compensation in accordance with Land Acquisition Act of 2013, instead of 2014’s land acquisition ordinance, due to differences in compensation provision. Their protest is supported by political parties in unison. The conflict is still active.
Lower Suktel irrigation project is being constructed on Suktel river, a tributary of Tel (a tributary of Mahanadi) in Balangir district, Odisha. The project is vehemently opposed by civil society organisations since its inception. In 2012, the construction began amidst strong protests leading to suspension of work. In 2013, the work resumed leading to massive protests at the work site, spearheaded by Niyamgiri Surakshya Samiti, Zilla Adivasi Sangha, and other organizations along with the villagers. Lately, Bolangir Kriyanusthana Committee protested with bandh  outside collector’s office, demanding compensation under Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013. Lower Suktel Budi Anchal Sangram Parishad is another organization at the forefront which continues to oppose the project lately by protesting against displacement and inadequate compensation. The case is now in National Green Tribunal (NGT) with protests underway

c) Industrial Water Use and Intervention

Water tax default by Vedanta’s power plant situated near Hasdeo river in Korba district of Chhattisgarh has been a matter of concern. The company along with NTPC, took advantage of three year duration agreement (2013-15), wherein it refrained from paying the 15% annual incremental tax for water use as and on the contrary, continued to use the incremental 15% annual water allocation. This irregularity reportedly amounts to Rs. 6 crore. According to the agreement (dated August 19, 2011) signed between the company and executive engineer of state Water Resources Department (WRD), Hasdeo barrage and Rampur Korba, it was decided that Vedanta’s 540 MW plant would get 13.75 lakh cubic metres water per month, and it has to pay at least 90% of the total water tax quarterly. In case of defaults, it will have to pay 24% interest. News reports also highlight nexus between the company and government officials from Chhattisgarh WRD. Till March 2016, Vedanta’s plant’s penalty dues piled up to Rs. 60 crores. 
1 Bandh is a form of stoppage of work at various administrative levels.
Exploitation of Mand River and groundwater around it, by industries in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh is ostensibly a grave concern. Since May 2015, SKS company’s new power plant near Darramuda, adjacent to Mand River, has been withdrawing water at an alarming rate. In May 2015, it was withdrawing 12000 m3 water/day, when the plant was not fully functional. They have got permission to withdraw 35000 m3 water/day when the plant is fully functioning. It is anticipated that the requirement will further increase to 1.8 lakh m3 water/day in near future. Moreover, industries in Raigarh have defaulted huge tax money and penalty in absence of strong monitoring mechanisms or further action, thus threatening the existence of river Mand. The issue of groundwater is also speculated to become grave. This may potentially lead to conflicts.
NTPC’s new barrage has been planned for its power plant at Lara which is under construction in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh. The barrage’s construction was underway on the upstream of Hirakud to cater the need of NTPC’s new plant in early 2015. Jana Chetana Manch in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh moved to NGT in April 2015, in the wake of swift pro-industrial developments and construction of mega barrages on the upstream of Mahanadi, seeking intervention in the matter at the earliest.
NTPC’s intervention in Mahanadi’s catchment area in Sundergarh district of Odisha, by using explosives to remove rocks for construction of new power plant led Global Human Rights Communications’ executive director, Subhash Mohapatra, to file a PIL at NGT in September 2015. NGT directed Odisha’s Chief Secretary of Pollution Control Board and Sundergarh’s district collector to file a status report within three weeks. NTPC was also directed to avoid violation of explosives’ rules for removal of hard rock on the proposed land for power plant as it will pose a serious threat to human life, property, domestic animals and environment in the catchment area. 

d) Interstate Water Conflict

Construction of barrages upstream of Mahanadi in late 2000s for industrial use in Chhattisgarh, is a matter of serious concern for the downstream state of Odisha. The barrages at Sheorinarayan, Mirouni, Basantpur, Saradih, Kalma and Samoda will not only impact the fluvial environment in downstream state, but also impact the local socio-economic environment due to submergence of agricultural and habitable lands. This ‘development’ is being politicized at both state and national levels. State government of Odisha has shown its dissent on these unilateral decisions of developments in the upstream of Mahanadi. These can cause serious interstate water conflict.
Tandula link canal of 54 km was proposed to divert 85 million cubic metres (MCM) of water from Gangrel dam on Mahanadi to Tandula reservoir, for irrigation in its command area. The reservoir is situated in Balod district on river Tandula, which is a small tributary of river Shivnath. The Government of Odisha has withheld its consent considering it as unilateral decision by Chhattisgarh. Central Water Commission’s (CWC) Engineer-in-chief of water resources and WRD of Odisha criticized this proposal, as it will severely affect the storage of Hirakud dam in Odisha. Recently, the project has been planned anew to divert 3000 million cubic feet (MCF) of water from Gangrel, in the wake of policy thrust towards inter-basin water transfer under Prandhanmantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana.  

e) Sand mining and dredging

Illegal sand mining in Kanker district of Chhattisgarh has become a conflictual issue. In September 2015 members of Lakhanpuri Gonndwana Yuva Prabhag lodged complaint at District Collector’s office and other district level authorities against sand mining on Mahanadi river bed in Chinouri Gram Panchyat. They opine that it is illegal to give contract to anybody who is not a resident of the PESA (Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act) Gram Panchayat. In December 2015 villagers from Panchayats of Babu Salhetola and Sangarpal protested by blocking road for trucks carrying sand; they emptied the trucks in their village amidst presence of government officials under police protection. They said that the contractors were mining sand even from the areas where water was present in the Mahanadi. In late March 2016 women from Chinouri village protested against the contractors by stopping vehicles carrying sand because the district authorities didn’t take any action on their complaint. Sand mining issue was also raised by the leaders of opposition party in the state assembly during this period, but to no avail. The conflict is active.
Sand mining on Kelo river, a tributary of Mahanadi, recently came to limelight as conflict erupted between the government officials and the contractors. Sand mining contractors working on the boundary area of both the states (Odisha and Chhattisgarh) have been stealthily selling illegally mined sand from the Kelo river bed by cooptation of villagers in Rengalpali (Raigarh district) in Chhattisgarh and Luhabag (Sambalpur district) in Odisha. They are dumping sand in their villages with commute of over 1000 trucks. In April 2016, district collectorate officials had caught the workers red handed, but the officials were physically assaulted. This escalated the situation and a large police force was sent to arrest them, but the workers whisked off. Case has been registered against the assailants. 
Dredging project by state government of Odisha worth Rs. 1.44 crore on 8.5 km stretch of Mahanadi River near the deltaic region in Kujang block (Jagtsinghpur district, Odisha) is being opposed by the Gram Panchayat of Sailo and its farmers. Dredging is required to prevent water logging caused due to encroachment and siltation, especially during monsoon, on agricultural lands located near the river. But, there have been accusations of digging up of private agricultural lands of farmers, and hence they have opposed the project. Engineers blame vested interests of parties who have encroached, whereas the aggrieved party suspect irregularities.

f) Water Quality, Water Scarcity and Water Allocation

Outbreak of jaundice near Jobra barrage on Mahanadi in Cuttack, and subsequently in other parts of urban areas, and neighbouring district of Sambalpur, led to protests by Odisha Pradesh Mahila Congress Committee in April 2016. They protested against the authorities for water scarcity and pollution at large, along with jaundice outbreak. Apart from party politics, one cannot ignore the trend of water borne diseases around this region of Odisha. In 2015, Odisha High Court had responded to a public interest litigation (PIL) on similar issue. In early April 2016, the cases of jaundice crossed the mark of 100 in three districts of Odisha- Khorda, Cuttack and Sambalpur. In late March 2016, Central Revenue Divisional Commissioner (CRDC) directed the Cuttack Municipal Corporation and subsequent authorities to rectify the issue by 15 May, 2016.
Villages of Narsinghpur block, namely, Mundiasahi, Bhagabatsahi and Subarnapur villages in Cuttack district of Odisha, adjacent to Mahanadi river are facing acute water shortage in summer due to decrease in groundwater level. Villagers have no option but to consume turbid water. In Subarnapur village, 150 people are dependent on one tube well and some are also facing kidney ailments due to presence of heavy metals in groundwater. In March 2016, villagers threatened to stage protests if necessary arrangements were not made by the authorities and also demanded rectification of issues related to water supply infrastructure.
Simlipur Panchayat in Dampada block of Cuttack District (Odisha) has been recently brewing with protests due to failure of Swajal Dhara scheme; defunct tube wells and receding waters of Mahanadi (their traditional source of drinking water). Villagers protested by blocking road against administration for failing to provide drinking water facilities. The water in five out of eight tube wells is not potable.
River Gobari, a tributary of Mahanadi which passes through Kendrapara town (Kendrapara district, Odisha) is under serious threat of pollution and is drying up. Gobari Surakhaya Manch organized a large gathering of people for Aarti to save Gobari water in January 2016. According to the Manch’s convener, inadequate water in the river has impacted agriculture and environment of around 150 villages, led to changes in patterns of livelihood (fishermen at loss, navigation disappeared, etc.) and also led to biological death of the river at certain areas.
Gangrel reservoir in Dhamtari district of Chhattisgarh is also shrouded with conflict over water allocation for irrigation. In November 2015 Duban Kshetra Sangharsh Samiti had called for protest rally to declare a part of submergence area of 32 villages as drought prone area because their previous written complaints to collector were not heeded thrice. In mid 2015, farmers had protested for release of water from Gangrel for irrigation with support of Indian National Congress party (INC). They had blocked vehicles entering Dhamtari and also blocked national highway near Dhamtari under the leadership of Congress’ legislator Dhanendra Sahu, wherein 108 people were arrested and many lathi-charged. One casualty was reported after lathi-charge.