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India’s National Water Policy: The Coal Spot within

The Union government of India recently put out a draft National Water Policy, 2012 in public domain for receiving comments from public till February 29. A number of critical analysis has been put forward and circulated by some of the key people and experts – Ramaswamy Aiyer, Himanshu Thakkar, Shripad Dharmadhikary, Ranjan Panda, Shiney Varghese and others. An online petition has also been created by People’s Campaign for Right to Water – Karnataka denouncing the propositions which treats water as an economic good, pushes for privatisation, seeks withdrawal of state from providing water, facilitates entry of big capital and is conservative in its approach towards managing country’s water resources. While agreeing with the critique and the points made by the members of the civil society and those campaigning for right to water, I would like to point to another area which has been completely ignored in the draft NWP, its relationship with the integrated energy policy.

Any new policy proposed today is centred around India continuing to maintain a 8-10 percent growth rate. Keeping to that the Integrated Energy Policy of India released by Planning Commission of India in April 2006 recommends that by 2031-32 power generation capacity must increase to nearly 800,000 MW from the current capacity of around 160,000 MW inclusive of all captive plants. Integrate Energy Policy projects an increase of 113,000 MW on April 2011 to 340,000 MW thermal capacity and from 84,000 at current levels to 150,000 MW by 2031-31. In addition it projects an increase of 4,560 MW on June 2010 to 63,000 MW nuclear energy production.

Such a huge increase in India’s energy generation capacity will mean large scale utilisation of land, water, forest, coal and other resources. A study by Prayas Energy Group1, Pune suggests that the Ministry of Environment and Forest has accorded environmental clearances to a large number of coal and gas-based power plants whose capacity totals 192,913 MW and another 508,907 MW are at various stages in the environmental clearance cycle. Coal based plants account for an overwhelming 84% of these in-pipeline projects. Compared to 82% public ownership as of now, 73% of the proposed power plants are to be built by private corporations and of which 10 corporations are alone to build 1,60,000 MW all together.

According to 2009 Central Water Commission Register of dams, India had 4,710 completed large dams (which are over 15 meters tall) and 390 are under construction as of January 20092. The IEP policy talks about increasing the storage area and using that for peak power generation purposes. Construction of large numbers of thermal power plants and dams for meeting the projected electricity targets will have multiple impacts on the environment and livelihood and cause massive social unrest and conflict in India.

Indian coal power plants require about 80 Cubic meters of fresh water per 1,000 KWH of energy production. At this rate 1 MW power plant requires about 630,720 Cubic meters of water per year. For the proposed 325,000 MW by 2031-32 this requirement will be very huge (about 2050 billion Cubic meters per year)3. Plants on the coast can meet their demand from the sea but damage the traditional fish workers livelihood and adversely impact marine ecology. However, those located inland, nearly 72% of the total, depend for their water needs on the ground water, dam reservoirs, rivers, and other fresh water sources. Many coal power plants in different parts of the country are already facing water shortages.

With ground water removal already reported as being at unsustainable levels and many rivers getting dried up for various reasons providing fresh water supply to large number of additional coal power and nuclear power plants will pose serious socio-environmental problems and adversely impact the right to water of citizens4. These plants will accordingly fuel the demand for coal and iron ore mining and have further environmental impact.

However, it is extremely unfortunate that the draft national water policy has no mention of this aspect and the intrinsic inter-linkages between the water and energy and so does the Integrated Energy Policy document. It seems the drafters of the policy are not even aware of the IEP, since there is not a single mention of thermal power plants or usage of water in any kind of energy production in the whole draft.

Hence, it is extremely crucial that NWP takes in account the comprehensive planning and rather than planning to meet 8 – 10% growth rate, Ministry of Water Resources should use this opportunity to call for wider consultation and expose the hollowness and impracticality of the Integrated Energy Policy. NWP should act as a reality check and force the other planning agencies to take a hard look rather than falling in to the trap of growth !

Council of Canadian earlier Blog on Draft Policy http://canadians.org/blog/?p=13301

1 Shripad Dharmadhikary, Shantanu Dixit, August 2011, ‘Thermal Power Plants on the Anvil’. Prayas Energy Group : Pune


3 Shankar Sharma, July 2010, ‘Shadow Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) – A critique on Planning Commission document on Integrated Energy Policy.

4 Shankar Sharma, July 2010, ‘Shadow Integrated Energy Policy (IEP) – A critique on Planning Commission document on Integrated Energy Policy.