River Basin Agency is need of the hour- Pradeep Purandare

Pradeep Purandare, one of the foremost authority in Water, former expert member of Integrated State water Plan committee talked with Free Press Jorunal’s Political Editor Pramod Chunchuwar. He stressed on the need of setting up of River Basin Agency (RBA).

Stage government has promised to set up such RBA before March 2016. But despite 3 years delay, no progress is on this subject. He also opposed interlinking of river saying that will create disaster. He praised CM Fadnavis for his sensitive and studied approach on Water.

Question- Maharashtra recently witnessed heavy flood in Kolhapur and Sangli districts in Western Maharashtra. As an Water expert, what are the main reasons behind this flood?\S

Purandare- Recent floods in Maharashtra are rather unusual & unprecedented. The extreme events that Maharashtra witnessed perhaps confirm the arrival of climate change. We need to note few points. First, there were continuous heavy rains for a couple of days together.

Second, the water level not only crossed High Flood Level(HFL) mark at many places simultaneously but it was significantly higher & it remained so for quite a long period.

Third, there were inadvertent but uncoordinated & almost simultaneous releases from the upstream dams. Fourth, the releases from downstream dam, namely Amatti, did not match the upstream releases.

Fifth, the carrying capacity of rivers has been drastically reduced due to all sorts of encroachments, Sixth, the flood forecasting system was not compatible enough to handle the floods of this unprecedented magnitude.

It is difficult to assign weights to each reason & decide who exactly was the culprit. In short, it is a failure of the system as a whole. It was waiting to happen.

Question- Do you think the Dams and their maintenance by engineers cause this flood? Are our Dams are strong enough to handle such condition?

Purandare- First, dams in Maharashtra have not been designed to control the floods at all. Second, the dams are operated in isolation i.e. without considering what is happening in other dams in the same river basin.

To overcome the first difficulty engineers use Reservoir Operation Schedules (ROS) which are prepared by doing statistical analysis of historical data of filling of dam. ROS tells how much water to store at a given point of time & at the best helps moderate the floods. Forget about flood controlling.

These schedules are of rigid type & usually fail when things change too much & too fast. This situation forces the engineer in charge of a dam in a catch 22 situation.

To store or not to store the water is the dilemma. If he strictly follows the ROS & doesn’t store more water and if there is no flood or even normal yield, then he is blamed because there is no adequate water to cater the irrigation & non irrigation demands. Add to this the political pressure for storing maximum water & opposition to release of water & you will realise the plight of the poor engineer.

Question- What is the solution to this problem? Is River Basin Authority is an effective solution?\S

Purandare- If we want to minimise the political pressure while deciding the time and amount of releasing water from dam, we should have Integrated River Basin-wise Reservoir Operation.

We need to have River Basin Agencies (RBA) within the State and River Basin Organisations (RBO) of all basin-states. Maharashtra Water Resource Regulatory Authority Act (MWRRA Act 2005) does provide for RBA.

A Committee has recommended RBAs after studying all aspects. Government had promised in an affidavit in respect of my Public Interest Litigation (PIL) that it would take a decision regarding formation of RBAs on or before 31st March 2016.

Three years have passed & nothing has happened. May be govt is too busy either in `Jalyukt Shivar’ which did not guarantee drought-free Maharashtra or in endless declarations of Inter-Linking of River Projects which would guaranty havoc if brought in without RBAs & RBOs.

Question-- Public representative, experts and local media are alleging that the state government and district administrations in Kolhapur and Sangli failed to act in time which led to havoc of flood. What are your opinion?

Purandare- It is true that administration failed to respond in time. The decisions were not quick. But I will not totally hold the administration or government responsible for this. Because there was big confusion in government and administration about response to this situation.

As the rain was unprecedented and fail in shorter time, no body was expecting such high flood. Therefore the government machinery was not ready.

So it took time to understand the situation and to make decisions and to set up a mechanism to fight the flood. But it is late. This machinery is not professionally trained for Disaster Management. Administration should be professionally trained for disaster management.

Question- How administration can know very early that the water is going to cross the danger mark?

Purandare- Indian Meterological Department (IMD) forecasts have to be better and more accurate. Their forecasts should have come a little earlier. And it has to be more specific .What happens now, their forcasts are very general in nature.

For example- “ In Central Maharashtra, there will be heavy rain” is the forecast of IMD. This forecast does not mention any village, Tehsil. Then how the government can plan their response in advance?

Question- Means the centre government should invest more fund in IMD to make them more accurate?

Purandare- IMD has just made a good decision. They are going to calculate rain on specific locations. IMD will make use of their forecast and rainfall information to calculate the total volume of water expected to accumulate in every river basin and sub-river basin on the basis of its area expanse.

This information will then be shared with CWC and other authorities, like the department of irrigation. It will be handy and can be decisive while deciding the release of water from time to time, especially during the monsoon.

IMD has claimed that this will help for a better dam water management. They have also announced to keep this information in public domain. This will help activists and media to keep a pressure on government to do a timely flood and dam management

Question- It is being alleged by opposition parties that since Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was busy in his mass outreach tour-Mahajanadesh Yatra, he could not ensure an effective and timely response to the flood situation. Do you agree with this?

Purandare- I do not agree with this allegations. In current days, one does not need to be present in the office to take stock of the situation. Government has video conferencing facility. They have internet and real time data with them.

So, CM can take stock of the situation from anywhere, he does not have to be in Mantralaya for this. Even though, I am fighting against the government for effective water management and many times differ with government decisions on Water,

I wish to admit with honesty that the CM Fadnavis is very serious about water issues. He is very sensitive and pro-active on this issue. He gives much time for water issues. Therefore I do not find that CM neglected the flood situation.

Question- Do you think climate change is also causing such flood? What is solution to fight this?

Purandare- Yes. This has been predicted by experts in the past too. Either there will be no rain for years or if it rains, it will be extreme. Therefore we witnessed drought for continuous two years.

The solution on this is preparedness for it. And more and more emphasis on science and technology. More accurate and specific rain forecast. The Water resources department should treat the water reserve in dams of a particular river basin as a whole while deciding discharge of water from dams.

Governance of dams should not be left over to civil engineers only. Hydrologists, scientist from IMD should also be the member of the team which handles the dam management. To ensure this, the River basin Agency should be set up immediately.

Question- Do you think the delay in discharging water from Almatti Dam by Karnataka caused flood?

Purandare- The experts are divided on this issue. Former Secretaries of water resources department has ruled out this possibility. The water storage in Almatti might have caused flood in Kolhapur and Sangli. But we cant not prove this scientifically and technically.

The Maharashtra government had requested the central government to ask Karnataka to release the water from Almatti. This means government is fully convinced that water in Almatti dam is causing flood in Maharashtra.

To prove this, we will have to study the water flow in the area and Almatti dam with the help of Satellite, ISRO, Remote Sensing Agency and IIT.

Question- like many experts, former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan too has demanded settin up of Krishna River Basin authority. Do yo agree with this?

Purandare- Yes. It is need of the hour and I am fighting for it. This is not a new idea. The Krishna River Basin Organization should be set up and all the states from which the Krishna River flows, should be the member of this organisation.

And the Authority should have civil engineers, Hydrologists, scientists from IMD as members. This authority should meet frequently during monsoon to take stock of the situation.

It should decided on release of water. This will minimise political pressure and risk of flood. It does not look good that one CM is accusing other on such sensitive issue.

Question- The state government has recently announced interlinking of rivers. Government is planning to divert water from Konkan to Godavari river in Marathwada and North Maharashtra. What is your opinion on this?

Purandare- On the basis of my PIL, the state government was asked to prepare Godavari Water Plan. I was member of the committee which prepared the water plan.

I was also member of the experts committee which prepared Integrated state Water plan. All these schemes announced by state government was mentioned in the Godavari Water plans. But we have cautioned state government to do this as last resort. The interlinking of rivers may prove disaster for state and its environment.

This will not be economically viable. This will be a good opportunity to earn money for politicians and contractors through tender of such works. Instead of linking rivers, we should first use water available in that particular river basin. We can divert maximum 30 percent of water from one river basin to other.

Bringing water from one basin to another basin will be importing problems of environment. We can not manage the current dams during flood situation. The inter-linking of rivers will lead much bigger dams than existing. How we will manage those dams. The disaster too will be much bigger than current.

Question- But Government is listing benefits of this linking of rivers?

Purandare- There are two approaches. One is statistical hydrology and second is ecological hydrology. Currently civil engineers do follow only statistical or arithmetical hydrology.

Based on this they calculate excess water in one basin or dam and advocate to divert it to other. But Ecological hydrology says that no basin is surplus or deficit with water.

What is natural is best, do not disturb that ecology of the basin as it has been done by nature. This interlinking of rivers will again add to the climate change and worsen our problem.

We term this as “dry water development” where actually not development is achieved. Take the example of Krishna-Bhima Water stabilisation scheme. In this scheme it was decided to bring 56 TMC water from Krishna to Ujani dam in Marathwada and to distribute 25 TMC water to the farmers of Marathwada.

To ensure this water supply, canals and sub canals were built spending Rs. 500 crores. But later Krishna Water tribunal in 2010 rejected this plan of diverting water to Ujani and Rs.500 crore were wasted. The interlinking of rivers is very complicated and multilayered issue

Question- You talked about effective use of water available in the basin instead of interlinking of rivers. Can you explain?

Purandare-In Jaikwadi Dam, we have water. But if you ask the common farmer, he says that even if there is water in Jaikwadi, it is of no use for them.

Because government does not properly maintain the canals. The time table to release the water is not followed strictly. So what will be use of the water even after interlinking of rivers? We first need to ensure equitable distribution of water and this will ensure the proper utilisation of water available in the river basin.

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