The Bombay High Court on Friday held that water in dams and rivers in Maharashtra should be allocated for Kumbh Mela held at Nashik and other religious occasions only after meeting the requirement for other purposes, as set out in the state’s water policy.
Hearing a bunch of PILs, a division bench of justices Abhay Oka and G S Kulkarni said, "At highest, the use of water for Kumbh Mela and other religious purposes will be covered by the last category ‘e’ (other uses)."
"Therefore, according to the water policy of the state government, if sufficient water cannot be allocated for usages in categories (a) to (d), i.e. drinking, industrial, agricultural and environmental use in that order of preference, there cannot be any allocation of water for Kumbh Mela and religious purposes," the judges said.
The court noted in the 198-page judgement that the National Water Policy of 2012 says that large parts of India have already become "water stressed as the issues related to water governance have not been addressed".
The PILs raised important issues of equitable distribution of water in Marathwada and western Maharashtra and that is why they were heard out-of-turn, the HC mentioned.
There was nothing on record to show that the ‘State Water Plan’ has been prepared, as mandated by the state’s own water policy, the court said, adding that the government has to take appropriate steps for preparing it.
"Needless to add that in case of scarcity or hydrological drought, in view of clause (c) of section 11 of Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority Act, 2005, water cannot be released from the reservoirs for religious ceremonies without the Regulatory Authority deciding the issue of priority," said the bench.
Release of water from a dam on Godavari river near Nashik for last year’s Kumbh Mela when the state was facing an unprecedented drought was raised by the PILs.
Regarding the prayer of petitioner Rajendra Jadhav that government be directed to provide ‘direct gravity pipelines’ from upstream reservoirs to downstream reservoirs, the court said it could not issue such an order.
However, the government may consider it as Jadhav had said it was the only way to avoid evaporation losses, the court said.
"The distance is not too much. We are in an era that has seen pipelines of hundreds of kms in the country carrying natural gases, which are more prone to evaporation," it noted.
The judges said "we do not see as to why" provision for such water transportation from areas which receive sufficient rainfall can not be made, by catching the water which drains away into the sea and transporting it by pipelines "to areas like Marathwada and other such areas where there is absolute scarcity of water, year after year".
One of the PILs referred to a report of a state- appointed committee in 2001 which talked about a scheme to divert 80 TMC of water, which goes to waste on the western side of Sahyadri range in Nashik and Thane districts, to the Godhavari/Tapi river sub basins on the east.
While the Maharashtra government was ready to spend hundreds of crores of rupees on memorials and though a whopping Rs 3,700 crore were spent on drought relief in 2014 2015, it was not willing to consider the suggestions in this report, the PIL had said.
"In our view, even this suggestion needs to be considered by the state government," said the judges.
The court noted that in the written submissions of the state government there was a reference to this report. It was stated that 23 gravity flow schemes had been sanctioned, of which six were implemented. After all these 23 schemes are completed, they will still divert only 2.24 TMC water to Godavari basin, the judges pointed out.