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Planned for urban needs, 12 dams to hit tribals hard

MUMBAI: A dozen dams planned to provide water in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region(MMR) will affect at least a lakh tribal people and submerge more than 22,000 hectares of land.

Nearly 7,000 hectares of forests, lakhs of trees and more than 750 hectares of the 
Tansa sanctuarywill go under water. The findings are part of a report prepared by the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP) that is to be released on Wednesday.

It said MMR authorities failed to conduct any serious options assessment study such as rainwater harvesting, local water systems, sewage treatment and reuse and demand management. "Such options assessment should form the first step before supply augmentation," it said.

Tribals and other affected groups of Thane and Raigad region are strongly opposing these projects, said Pareenita Dandekar of 
SANDRP.

"Most people in Mumbai seem unaware of their [tribal people's] struggles or the impacts of these projects," Dandekar said.

The 12 dams are either planned or are under construction, mainly to provide drinking and industrial water to the city and other urban places in the MMR.

The report said: "All these dams fall in the eco-sensitive region of the Western Ghats. They will affect a minimum of 1,00,000 tribals who depend on the forests and their ancestral lands for livelihoods."

These dams include Kalu, Shai, Balganga, Susari, Khargihill, Bhugad, Pinjal, Gargai, Middle Vaitarna, Barvi and Poshir and are in addition to the dams that already supply MMR water. Of the 12 dams, nine are in Thane district, two in Raigad and one in Nashik.

The report said the projects will have "profound cumulative impact on tribal communities and threaten eco-system" because of displacement and resettlement, deforestation, road construction, blasting, mining for construction materials.

The affected region is a part of the northern western ghats. The region supports very high biodiversity and most of the region falls either in Ecologically Sensitive Zone I (ESZ1) or eco-sensitive area. Dahanu region, where Susari dam, is planned falls in Ecologically Fragile Region notification.

"Surya irrigation project, which was built in Dahanu under the guise of irrigating tribal lands, currently supplies most of its water to the MMR. Malnutrition, lack of irrigation and serious problems of drinking water are rampant in the region," said the report.

The study also claimed that the city currently has no supply shortfall for a population of 12.5 million, of which 6.5 million live in slums. Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) data shows supply of 100 litres per day per person for a slum-dweller and 200 litres for non-slum population.

Consumption is 686 million litres per day (MLD) for slums and 1,297 MLD for non-slum population, which comes to a total of 1,983 MLD. At the same time, if supply at source is 3520 MLD and the use is 1983 MLD for drinking water, there is an additional 1157 MLD water that is available. That means 32.86% of the current water supplied at source is unaccounted for. It is assumed that leakages are to the tune of 25% supply at the source (which is very high), we still have 7.86% water supplied that is unaccounted for. This means 880 MLD of water or nearly equal to two large dams Mumbai is planning to build,'' it said.

The Times of India (18-12-2013)