Friday, February 25, 2011


A dispute in the Krishna basin
RAVI SHARMA   in Bangalore

SCARCITY AND STRUGGLES: The summer arrives, and water emerges as a major theme in drought-prone India. The riparian States in a river basin are making aggressive moves to establish what they see as their water rights, a local body in another State loses a legal battle with a soft-drink behemoth over groundwater use, and the government of yet another tries to derail the debate of water shortage with a controversial legislative measure. A roundup highlighting the perils of the situation, which is marked by a lack of clear policy on conservation and equitable distribution of the vital resource.

The Alamatti dam in Karnataka. Joined by Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh has raised objections to the increased height of the dam.

FACED with a barrage of criticism from the Opposition that it has failed to stop Andhra Pradesh from going ahead with the construction of "unauthorised" irrigation projects in the Krishna and Godavari river basins, the Karnataka government is yet to decide which of the two options it must pursue: approach the not yet functional three-member Krishna Water Disputes Tribunal (KWDT) or file an affidavit and/or a contempt of court petition in the Supreme Court seeking its intervention.
As a prelude to the crucial decision -which will be taken only after the State's legal team headed by Fali S. Nariman gives its opinion - Chief Minister N. Dharam Singh is likely to lead an all-party delegation to New Delhi to impress upon the Prime Minister the need to restrain Andhra Pradesh from going ahead with projects that have yet to receive the mandatory sanction of the Planning Commission, the Central Water Commission (CWC), and other statutory bodies.
According to irrigation experts in Karnataka, the crux of the matter is the present predicament of Andhra Pradesh which was able to use liberally the waters of the Krishna for decades, as the governments of the upper riparian States, Karnataka and Maharashtra, had ignored the needs of the areas of the Krishna basin that came under their control. In Karnataka's case many drought-prone, backward areas became part of it after the reorganisation of States.
Over the past decade Karnataka has been using its share of the waters in earnest. This has naturally left Andhra Pradesh with a thinner flow in the river to harness. The water available for it got further reduced after Maharashtra too began to utilise its share.

The Hipparagi barrage across Krishna river, with all the crest gates installed. A June 2004 picture.

Despite Clause 9 of the KWDT specifying the exchange of data on the usage or flows, none of the riparian States has shared such information with others. Maharashtra, for example, is prepared to put out figures basin-wise, not project-wise or canal-wise.
Karnataka's Water Resources Minister Mallikarjuna Kharge said that the State had in 2003 written to the CWC on Andhra Pradesh's unauthorised projects. While the Commission admitted that the projects had not been sanctioned, it expressed its helplessness to take action, he said. Neither had a memorandum submitted to the President of India on this matter had any effect. The Minister said: "If the Government of India does not take action to stop the projects, then we will also go ahead with our projects (without waiting for clearances). When the Supreme Court told us in 2002 to reduce the height of the Alamatti dam we did so (by removing the leaves on the crest gates)."
Karnataka's new projects are meant to store 278.74 thousand million cubic feet (tmc ft) of the surplus waters. They include the Upper Krishna Stage III (121.4 tmc ft), the Hipparagi Additional (4 tmc ft), the Varada 20 (tmc ft), the Upper Bhadra (19 tmc ft) and the lift irrigation schemes for the drought-prone areas of Chitradurga and Bellary districts augmenting the supply from the Tunga anicut (15 tmc ft). Minor irrigation schemes account for around 68 tmc ft.
The State needs a further Rs.13,724 crores to complete these projects, which are expected to irrigate 37.94 lakh hectares of land in the Krishna basin. Based on the D.M. Nanjundappa Committee Report on drought and the Revenue Reforms Committee report, the State hopes to achieve a 30 per cent irrigation target in the majority of the 105 taluks that lie within the Krishna basin. Many of these taluks are at a higher elevation and are drought-prone and backward.
Karnataka has long contented that Andhra Pradesh is building projects that are designed to store Krishna waters far in excess of what has been allocated to it in 1973 and 1976 by the KWDT. In what is known as Scheme A of the `Bachawat Award', Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra were allocated 811, 734 and 585 tmc ft respectively in any water year on the basis of 75 per cent dependability flows. Andhra Pradesh was permitted to use the unutilised waters of the upper States but with the proviso that it shall not acquire any right whatsoever over and above its share of 811 tmc ft.
The Tribunal, which was constituted under the Inter-State Water Disputes Act, further ruled that unused waters as of May 2000 would come up for reallocation along with any surplus waters. As per the KWDT's Scheme B, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra would be eligible after May 2000 for specified proportions of water, depending on the flow over and above the 75 per cent dependability yield. Karnataka was to be entitled to 50 per cent of the flows. Although data gathered by the KWDT until 1973 from flows at the Vijayawada anicut suggested that the surplus waters would be in the region of 166.5 tmc ft, Karnataka, based on data collected by the CWC for the period between 1973 and 2004, estimates that it should be around 520 tmc ft.
Interestingly, although the Government of India requested that Scheme B also be made part of the Award and the KWDT itself felt that it provided for a fuller and better utilisation of the Krishna waters that was not done. This was because there had to be consent among the riparian States or an act passed by Parliament. In the absence of either of these, the task has been left to a new Tribunal.
If the three States were slow in asking for a new Tribunal, the Centre was even slower in acting x it finally constituted one under the chairmanship of Justice Brajesh Kumar on April 4, 2004. The Tribunal has three years x with a two-year grace period x to finish its task. Although the terms of reference of the Tribunal are yet to be fixed, one of the crucial points will be the unutilised waters. While even three decades after the Award was gazetted, Karnataka is still not in a position to utilise its entire share of 734 tmc ft thanks to the lackadaisical attitude of successive governments. Andhra Pradesh, which when the KWDT gave its Award in 1973 had in place infrastructure to utilise around 80 per cent of its allocated share of 811 tmc ft, is not only staking a claim for a larger share of the surplus waters but also hoping to appropriate the unutilised portions of the upper riparian States' shares. Karnataka has consistently accused Andhra Pradesh of wanting to establish a right over the surplus waters by creating infrastructure.
An official of the Karnataka government said: "Andhra Pradesh's reservoirs have already been built to accommodate a large portion of the surplus waters. The Nax garjunasagar can hold the entire floodwaters of the Krishna. Work on projects such as the Telugu Ganga and the Srisailam Right and Left Bank Canals were started without Central clearance. The Srisailam project was shown in the KWDT as a hydroelectric project with no consumptive use, the water flowing to the Nagarjunasagar dam. The Telugu Ganga, the Srisailam Left and Right Bank Canals, the Bhima Lift Irrigation and the Pulichintala diversion scheme are designed to use around 330 tmc ft of the surplus waters. The Telugu Ganga was meant to carry only 15 tmc ft of water (between July and October every year), to meet the drinking water needs of Chennai. But Andhra Pradesh has built canals that can accommodate 300 tmc ft of water. And water is being drawn for irrigation. Andhra Pradesh is trying to show many of these projects as being part of Scheme B."
Fingers are also pointed at Andhra Pradesh's reluctance to have the Pallavaram Diversion cleared by the CWC even 27 years after it was proposed, for the reason that once it is cleared, 80 tmc ft of Godavari waters will have to be diverted upstream of the Nagarjunasagar dam to the Krishna, with Karnataka and Maharashtra sharing 35 tmc ft of this water.
Irrigation experts are also of the view that Karnataka got a raw deal when the Bachawat Award was pronounced: for while 43.74 per cent of the 2,58,948 square kilometre Krishna basin lies in the State (against 29.45 per cent in Andhra Pradesh and 26.81 per cent in Maharashtra) it was given a smaller share of the waters. Said an official: "Andhra Pradesh has over the years illegally diverted a major portion of its allotted quota to projects located outside the Krishna basin. Like the Nagarjunasagar, whose command area lies partly outside the basin, and in respect of the Krishna delta, the Guntur Channel and the Kurnool-Cuddappah (KC) Canal. This is in contravention of the Bachawat Award, which made it clear that as far as possible water for irrigation should be provided in the first instance for all areas within the Krishna river basin."
Again, Andhra Pradesh, thanks to its unlined canals, was given a disproportionate amount of water. Many of these canals are now being modernised, thereby allowing for greater storage. Another sore point for Karnataka has been the fact that although the requirement for the KC Canal from the Tungabhadra dam post-modernisation had come down from 39.62 to 30 tmc ft, Andhra Pradesh is unwilling to draw less water from the siltation-ridden dam and allow the around 9 tmc ft to be re-pooled between the two States. This would have helped Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh draw water as designed from the canals, experts feel. Today many of Karnataka's canals, such as the Tunga or the Bhadra, are unable to draw water as designed since there are no sufficient flows in the river. And unlike what Andhra Pradesh has done there are no pick-up dams and head-ups across the Tunga river.
Mallikarjuna Kharge avers that water once allocated by the KWDT cannot be taken back: "Andhra Pradesh first built its dams. Now it is calling for tenders to build canals and channels. We are also doing the same."

An official said: "All our projects have been identified, and almost grounded. Committed projects means utilisation. We may not be able to build more storage sites. The rest of our projects have to be only through lift irrigation schemes. But lift irrigation schemes such as the Alamatti Left and Right Bank Canals, distribution channels and weirs have to be built/completed."
Andhra Pradesh was able to use its share much faster not only because it was financially stronger, but also because new projects had to be carved out for hardly 55 tmc ft of the allotted water (out of which 33 tmc ft accounted for evaporation losses through the Srisailam Canals and 18 tmc ft was for the Jurala project). But Karnataka had to build new projects for as much as 260 tmc ft of water, with even committed projects such as the Upper Krishna Project being in their initial stages. Besides Karnataka's projects have been held up in the wake of legal action by the other two riparian States. These will have to be taken into consideration by the new Tribunal, according to irrigation experts in the State.
One of the first proposals that Karnataka will send to the KWDT, besides a civil miscellaneous petition on Andhra Pradesh's projects, is on the State's need to store 100 tmc ft of its Scheme B waters at Alamatti, which it can do only by reinserting the leaves of the crest gates and raising the height of the dam to a full reservoir level (FRL) of 524.256 metres. (The State had successfully convinced the Supreme Court in 2002 to allow it to store water to an FRL of 519.6 m enabling it to store 123.08 tmc ft. The State was, however, unable to convince the court that its intention to install the crest gates and store water up to an FRL of 524.256 m was only to generate 268 MW of power x to drive five lift irrigation schemes x and not for any irrigation schemes.)
Karnataka is also likely to ask the Tribunal, as an interim measure, to allow the sharing of 330 tmc ft of Scheme B waters in the proportion suggested by the Bachawat Award. This will provide immediate relief to the riparian States and allow them to go ahead with their projects, it may argue. Before that Dharam Singh will first have to forge a united front with the Opposition and resurrect the crucial Technical Advisory Committee (the government's technical think tank on the Krishna basin), whose non-official members submitted their resignations in March protesting against the meagre remuneration paid for their expert advice.