Amidst the ongoing controversy over the multi-crore irrigation scam, a study by Greenpeace reveals that the diversion of water of the Wardha and Wainganga rivers for the upcoming thermal power plants in the under-developed Vidarbha region would reduce irrigation potential and worsen agrarian crisis. As of 2010, more than 55,000 Mw of coal-based power plants are proposed in the Vidarbha and they would require 2,050 million cubic metres (MCM) or 72 thousand million cubic (TMC) ft water.
According to the Greenpeace study, almost 1,700 MCM water is being proposed to be taken from the Wardha and Wainganga river basins that would otherwise have irrigated about 340,000 hectares of farmland. The report comes at a time when the Maharashtra government has released a white paper, which clarifies that the irrigation potential in the state has been 28 per cent in the last decade, and not a mere 0.1 per cent as portrayed in an earlier State Economic Survey.
However, according to Greenpeace, if all power plants of 55,000 Mw are commissioned, the water availability for irrigation would be reduced in Vidarbha region, which may, in turn, increase the irrigation backlog. Jai Krishna, a Greenpeace campaigner, told reporters that analysis of a 24-year period from 1981 till 2004 shows that there has been variation in rainfall in these two river basins. Water availability for the Wardha and Wainganga basins mostly depends on the monsoon months between July and October.
"The water availability in the Wardha and Wainganga sub basin shows a definite reduction upon the completion of all reservoirs for any other purposes like irrigation or urban uses. The various thermal power plants proposed in the region further reduce it by 1,706 MCM. Since water use of thermal power plant is consumptive, all the 1,706 MCM of water required would be available for any other purposes. This, in terms of water available for future uses, translates to reduction of about 40 per cent of the water available in the Wardha basin and 16 per cent for the Wainganga basin," said Jai Krishna.
According to Greenpeace, the impact of increase of coal-based power plants in the Vidarbha region from 4,500 MW to 55,000 MW has raised many concerns about issues related to higher levels of pollution, environment damage and loss of farmland for the plant as well as the transmission lines.