Traveling by foot for over a week more than 40,000 farmers have reached Vidhan Bhavan of Mumbai today to protest against the Maharashtra government’s flawed agricultural policy and its implementation.
The CPI(M) backed Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha (ABKS) is leading this farmers’ protest and is being supported by several non-BJP parties in the state. While national media has taken its time to cover this very uncommon protest in India’s financial capital, it has been primarily highlighting that the protest is to get a farm loan waiver and to receive adequate compensation for agricultural loss. However, these thousands of primarily tribal farmers are also opposing the planned water transfer through a couple of river-link projects between Maharashtra and Gujarat.
To tide over water scarcity in the state, Maharashtra has planned 20 intra-State projects that would inter-link rivers within the state and five of them have already received center’s approval in September 2017. Besides the intra-state water transfer projects, Maharashtra is also committed to undertake two out of three major inter-state river water transfer projects being at present supported by the central government. Three inter-state river link projects, which the central government has been able to get the state governments to agree are Ken-Betwa between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, Par-Tapi-Narmada and Damanganga-Pinjal river-linking projects between Gujarat and Maharashtra. As all these four states are under BJP rule, the BJP government at the center is pushing implementation of these controversial inter-state river water transfer projects without much of opposition from state governments.
The Damanganga-Pinjal link is planned to transfer ‘surplus’ water from Damanganga basin in Gujarat to the Pinjal reservoir in Maharashtra with the help of Bhugad and Khargihill dams. This water transfer plan is primarily to increase the supply of water to Mumbai. In order to agree for the water transfer, Gujarat government has asked to be compensated in equal amount water from Maharashtra’s Par-Tapi rivers to Narmada river in Gujarat. Central government has given its nod for these two large inter-state river link projects, which are expected to cost Rs 20,000 crore.
There are concerns that the Par river water is highly contaminated with industrial pollution and that will spread to a larger area and will be ecologically devastating. Though there has not been any proper environmental impact assessment done yet, according to the National Water Development Agency, thePar-Tapi-Narmada river-link project is likely to submerge 75 tribal villages and displacing more than 14000 tribal population. Considering the past record on rehabilitation of dam-displaced population, this planned project creates serious apprehension among the affected population.
It is thus important to look at the on-going protest of tribal-farmers in Mumbai and their demands in proper perspective. They are not only asking for the state to waive their loans and to compensate their crop loss, they are also challenging the state policy which is sacrificing their basic rights and taking away their place and source of living in order to provide water to the city of Mumbai. Even if they are poor and powerless, they have a right to live as well. Moreover, this protest should be enough to warn the Narendra Modi government to not to forcefully and manipulatively carry out river-link projects. These projects if implemented have to be based on consensus and need to get the consent of the affected population.
(The writer, a water expert, is professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Uppsala University, Sweden)