In a welcome move, Hon. Bombay High Court vacation bench of Justices Bhushan Gavai and Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi, while hearing multiple clubbed petitions about drought and the state’s response, has passed a strong order recommending release of water stored in PRIVATE DAMS and sources for drinking water purposes of drought hit region. 

“Observing that natural resources are property of the entire nation and not just an individual or a private entity, the Bombay High Court directed the state government to consider supplying water from privately operated dams and wells to water-scarce areas.”  

Giving top priority to allocating drinking water, the HC bench has also urged the State to reconstitute the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) which is without members right now ‘within one week, or extend the tenure of the retired members till a new authority is constituted’. This is to ensure that available water is closely monitored and allocated in a way which gives top priority to drinking water and not other uses, like Hydro power. We hope MWRRA works in the interests of the people of Maharashtra and does it expeditiously, since that has not been happening the past.

The Bench said: “Once revived, the MWRRA should immediately examine the availability of water in dams owned by private individuals or/and corporate entities, and divert the same for public consumption. Natural resources like water belong to the nation as a whole and not just to some individuals or groups.” 

The order has a major bearing on the water that is stored in six dams in Bhima Basin, which are privately owned by Tata Power and which divert more than 1400 Million Cubic Meters of water a year, belonging to Bhima Basin, towards high rainfall area of Konkan for electricity generation. ( 1 MCM= 1000,000,000 litres water!, 1 MCM is sufficient for 1 crore people for day at the rate of 100 lpcd, 1400 MCM is sufficient for annual supply for 4 crore people at the same rate!)

Petitioners like Dr. Sanjay Lakhe Patil have strongly argued that water in privately held dams like Tatas is a ‘national property’. Just as the Supreme Court upheld the fair and equitable allocation of “natural resources” while hearing the 2 G Scam, the petitioners claimed that power generating dams may belong to Tatas, the natural resource contained in it (water) is not a private property, but belongs to the public, especially in a severe drought like today.

It is great to see the importance and priority given to Drinking Water by the Hon. High Court, a step which should have been taken by the State much earlier, as a part of this fundamental responsibility. Several Organisations, including SANDRP, had been opposing Hydropower water diversions through Tata Dams and Koyna Hydropower Project, in the face of drought. SANDRP had been consistent raising this issue since 2013.

We had written about this to:

Chief Minister in August 2015

Tata Sustainability Group

Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority

Hon. Prime Minister of India 

National Human Rights Commission

While this order by the Hon. High Court is indeed welcome, it is also a bit late. The next hearing will be on the 14th June, 2016, when monsoon would already be close and in the meantime action is already taken to start releasing water As Soon As Possible. We hope that the final Court Order is clear and independent. Unfortunately, the way MWRRA has been functioning, it is doubtful even a new MWRRA would take necessary decisions in public interest. It would be best if the HC were to continue to monitor the case on regular basis.

We hope that the State Government does not provide any excuses for not constituting the MWRRA and not allocating water from Tata Dams to Bhima Basin and Ujani. While water from Tata Dams should be allocated to Ujani, diversion to Konkan should also be stopped immediately.

We also hope that the issue of water diversion for industry during drought is highlighted and hence Koyna Hydropower Project which is state owned project diverting water to Konkan (1911 MCM annually) is also asked to stop diversion and allocate water for downstream Koyna and Krishna Basins.

Tata Power has been providing flimsy technical reasons as to why it cannot release water in the downstream. These should not be accepted either by the Sate Government, MWRRA or by the Hon. High Court.

Finally we hope that the Hon. Court directs the State Government to devise a long term policy for allocating water from Tata and Koyna Dams for drinking and other legitimate uses of its natural downstream areas regularly and in times of scarcity. We have been neglecting this issue and have continued with undue and unjustifiable bias favouring the unjust diversion for a very long time, at the cost of livelihoods of lakhs, thirst and crop failure in the downstream of these projects and also at the cost of the river.

Water that would thus get released would also be useful to the drought hit Karnataka, Telangana and Andhara Pradesh.


News Reports about the HC decision: