Amravati, May 22 : Environmental organization Greenpeace activists unfurled a 250-feet banner on the upper Wardha dam at Morshi taluka in Amravati with a slogan, “Water for Farmers not Power Plants” to raise an alarm on the massive diversion of water away from irrigation to water guzzling coal fired power plants.

Farmers in the region, whose water is being diverted to the controversial Indiabulls coal plant, joined the activists in calling for the Maharashtra government to ensure water access for farmers as priority.

As of 2012, more than 80,000 MW of power plants are proposed in Maharashtra, most of them in the interior districts of the state, creating a massive demand for water from the rivers and reservoirs in these districts.

It is estimated that total volume of water allocations for thermal power plants made by the High Powered Committee on water allocations, headed by Ajit Pawar as the former Water Resources Minister, is about 760 million cubic metres.

The Upper Wardha allocations to the Indiabulls power plant alone is 87 million cubic metres which otherwise can irrigate about 23,219 hectares of land according to the government’s own estimates.

Sanjay Kolhe, a farmer from Morshi taluka, who recently started an online petition to demand that the Chief Minister (Prithviraj Chavan) give back the water diverted away from the farmers, also joined the protest.

“This government doesn’t care about farmers’ welfare. They build irrigation projects in the name of providing water to farmers while in reality they act like partners in a business venture with the companies and hand over the water to industry on a platter. This is despite the fact the Prime Minister has identified irrigation as one of the most important needs to address farmer distress in Vidarbha,” Kolhe said.”

Maharashtra, till 2011, had the unique distinction of being the only state in India to prioritise water access for industry over agriculture. Further, the State government had constituted a High Powered Committee, headed by Ajit Pawar, which allocated water without any public consultations, in violation of the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority’s procedures.

“The future energy demands of Maharashtra cannot be planned without taking water use into account. The current coal power addition will require enormous quantities of water, which might not even be available, especially in drought situations.

“We believe that the Chief Minister needs to reconsider the allocations that result in a diversion of water away from irrigation to thermal power plants, keeping in mind that lakhs of farmers depend on it for their livelihoods,” urged Bhagwan Kesbhat, Campaigner, Greenpeace.

Greenpeace demands that a cumulative assessment of the water availability and use in the region be conducted on a war footing to ensure that water allocations to thermal power plants are not made in violation of the existing water policy and ensure that drinking and agriculture requirements are prioritised.

Besides this, all previous allocations should be suspended and an immediate moratorium should be imposed on any new allocations till these assessments are completed, it said.