Water expert Ranjan Panda released study report – “Mahanadi: Coal Rich, Water Stressed”

Bhubaneswar: Even as both Odisha and Chhattisgarh have locked their horns over distribution of Mahanadi river water and Odisha has been complaining about reduced flow of water at the Hirakud reservoir because of the dams and barrages constructed upstream by Chhattisgarh, the impact of coal mines and thermal power plants and other industries did not come up for discussion, said noted water expert Ranjan Panda while releasing his recent study report – Mahanadi: Coal Rich, Water Stressed here on Friday.

Addressing media persons, Panda added that this is because both the states have committed themselves to mining and industrialisation in the name of ‘development’ and have been promoting the Mahanadi as a ‘water surplus’ river for inviting more investment into mining and industrial sector. The research highlighted some such real issues being faced by people affected by mining and thermal power plants.

Being the youngest inter-state river water dispute of India, this case offers a lot of opportunities to understand the new dimensions of conflict that the earlier conflicts had not dealt with at least while being fought in the tribunals or courts. Impacts of coal fired power plants and climate change are such new dimensions, Panda said.

The research suggests the governments should forge a cooperation among each other to manage Mahanadi in a holistic approach. It puts forth a two-pronged approach to deal the Mahanadi crisis – the legal recourse and the peace and cooperation building.

While the legal recourse has been approached under ISRWDA and a tribunal has already been formed, the problem with the tribunals is that they have accepted the term ‘river development’ in a way that means building more dams and projects that alter the flow and impact the ecology of rivers.

The second approach – peace and cooperation building –suggests the need of the hour for Mahanadi is a joint strategic action between the two major riparian states to help the river survive the stress and get rejuvenated, pointed out Panda.

As large dams and interlinking of rivers (ILR) project will further aggravate the conflict and marginalise the local communities as has been the case almost everywhere, both the governments should say no to this, he added.

The report also highlighted that without having a comprehensive assessment of the basin’s water holding scenario and the rights of people over these, any strong monitoring on the share of water of both the warring sates can hardly be guaranteed.

“It is time to recognise the ‘rivers’ right to life’ in line with the right enjoyed by Indian citizens, and help them flow freely in healthy conditions. The governments should help cater to the needs of riparian communities maintain biodiversity and other priorities in a sustainable manner,” said Panda.

Mahanadi basin is perfect example of how coal-fired power plants have put the resources and people to severe stress. The governments should immediately work out a green energy plan for the basin and phase out coal-fired power plant by a fixed target year, may be by 2030.

Besides, there is a need for both the states to work together on climate change mitigation and suitable resilience building programmes that enhance the coping capacity of communities towards drought. The report also suggested the need to recognise community rights over resources and ensuring their participation in river management.

Marion Regina Mueller, country director, Heinrich Boell Stiftung, the foundation that supported the study, said, “To ensure sustainable water governance, all policy frameworks and related strategies should focus on the diverse eco-system of rivers rather than their commodification for development and industrial usage. Community rights and interests should be respected and ascertained on all levels of decision making. Scientific evidence on the impact of climate change on local eco-systems should be recognised and be addressed for better management of riverine resources. The related policies need to ensure generational equity while securing ecological, social, cultural and economic survival, she added.

Sadia Sohail, programme coordinator, Heinrich Boell Stiftung, highlighted on the need to look at the interlink between rivers, forests and communities and develop a holistic approach to address river management and natural resource management at large. Large scale industrialisation, especially extraction of coal from the Mahanadi basin, rapid urbanisation and climate change are some of the major causes for water stress situation in the river. A concerted effort from all the stakeholders is required to find solutions to the issues Mahanadi is grappling with, she said.


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