Friday, December 16, 2011
Water Lootera Vedanta gets undue favour from Water Bureaucracy
Open Letter to the Secretary, Water Resources Department, Govt. of Odisha from Water Initiatives Odisha
Sir, why the ‘water lootera’ Vedanta gets undue favour from your department?
· - Do you know it not Sir that your officers take recourse in ‘telephonic discussions’ in waiving off water tax to industries?
- Is this what the reforms you have been talking about in the name of Integrated Water Resources Management(IWRM) that, as we have been apprehending, is actually a plan to take away right of water from common people, farmers and ecology in favour of allocation to blind industrialization that the govt. is committed?
- The people of Odisha need an explanation on this.
Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) has just learnt that the Executive Engineer, Main Dam Division, Burla, on 18th November, 2011, has written to the Additional Secretary to Govt. of Odisha’s Water Resources Department to waive penalty due on the Vedanta Aluminium Ltd. to the tune of about 9 crore of rupees against withdrawal of water from the Bheden River and later from Hirakud Reservoir. The Executive Engineer, citing example of a telephonic instruction from the Additional Secretary of the DoWR, writes that industries having Govt. allocation should not be charged penal rate merely due to non-execution of agreement. In fact, based on such a telephonic instruction, as the letter describes, the company was not being charged any penalty since August 2008. However, a data sheet on assessment of water rate of VAL drawing water from river Bheden alone, shows that the Company has always been charged ‘six times penalty’ on almost each month from September 2007 onwards. The Executive Engineer recommends the waiver on the ground that VAL has good payment records. The above record however shows that the VAL has always had kept huge amount of arrears and has never cleared its dues as charged by the department. It clearly shows how the Officials are favouring this industry. We urge upon the Govt. of Odisha to immediately investigate into this matter and let the public know what makes an Executive Engineer favour a ‘Water Lootera’ Company like VAL. We also demand stringent punishment to the company for having defaulted so long on the water tax and penalty imposed on it.
This is not the isolated example when it comes to the Vedanta Group of Companies. We at Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) had been raising the issue of unauthorised exploitation of ground water by VAL at Jharsuguda. The local people have also raised this issue several times. However, the Water Resources Department kept maintaining that there was no illegal exploitation of ground water. Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) has just got hold of a letter from the Chief Engineer, OWPO addressed to the Additional Secretary to Govt. of Odisha’s Water Resources Department which clearly mentions how the company has been illegally extracting ground water within its Jharsuguda complex through borewells. The letter dated 17th September 2011 mentions that “1.782 lakh Gallon Water from borewell without Agreement since 08/2007. So, 6 times penalty has been imposed and intimated the industries to seal all Borewell from Sept 2010 vide E.E. Letter No. 15.12.2010”. Accordingly the company, as per the said govt. letter, had a water rate arrear of about 93 lakh rupees pending against it. Was this free loot of the water resources possible without connivance of the departmental and other officials? WIO urges upon the Govt. of Odisha to immediately inquire into this matter and punish the company and all officials involved in this fraud. We also urge upon the govt. to inform the public the status of the borewells and the extraction of the water at the moment. Have the borewells been sealed, as mentioned in the above referred letter? We doubt. So, we demand a public audit of the company complex where local people, local self govt. representatives and civil society representatives should go along with govt. officials and verify the situation.
We also urge upon the govt. to declare all production of the company using the illegally drawn water as ‘illegal’ and impose heavy penalty and punish the company bosses and officials suitably. As such also this company has all along been a defaulter in paying water rates. The above letter of the Chief Engineer mentions that VAL Lanjigarh and VAL Jharsuguda together had arrear worth Rs.14,37,99,172/- pending against it as on July 2011. It must have gone much higher by now. Its high time the Govt. took action to show that it respects its own Water Policy and Rules.
The above examples point how the Industries are given a free ride to loot our water resources. We at WIO have raised concerns about several industries already. The same was pointed out by several participants of a recently organised consultation on “IWRM and Baitarani” at Keonjhar by WIO. We urge upon the Govt. of Odisha to release a status paper of all illegal withdrawal of water by industries in the state, the amount of tariff dues and penalty pending with them, action taken against this illegality and steps taken to restore the water resources from their exploitative clutches. We also urge upon the Govt. to give ‘shut down notices’ to all industries who are engaged in water theft.
For further information, please contact:
Convenor, Water Initiatives Odisha
Water Initiatives Odisha (WIO) is a state level coalition of civil society organisations, farmers, academia, media and other concerned, which has been working on water, environment and climate change issues in the state for more than two decades now.