Mumbai: A special committee on the interlinking of rivers, headed by Union water resources minister Uma Bharti, has approved a 14,500 crore project to connect the Damanganga, Wagh and Pinjal rivers. Under the project, excess water from Damanganga will be diverted to Pinjal and will be used to cater to the increasing needs of Mumbai.

Confirming the development, Maharashtra irrigation minister Girish Mahajan said, “After the completion of the project, 23 TMC (thousand million cu. m) of water will become available which will be enough to take care of Mumbai’s needs up to 2050."

“We hope to start work on the project by the end of the year," Mahajan said, adding that a detailed project report (DPR) is ready and the project has the central government’s nod.

Mumbai’s current demand for water is 3,350 million litres per day (mld) and is expected to rise to 4,200 mld by 2020.

The project involves constructing three dams and two tunnels. The first dam will be built at Bhugad in Peth tehsil of Nashik district on the Damanganga, the second on the Wagh river in Palghar district’s Jawhar tehsil at Khargi Hill, and the third on Pinjal on the border of Jawhar and Mokhada tehsils of Plaghar district.

Excess water from the Bhugad dam will first be diverted to the dam at Khargi Hill through an 18-km tunnel. This phase of the project is expected to cost around 3,500 crore. In the second phase, excess water from the Khargi Hill dam will be transferred through a 25-km tunnel to the dam on the Pinjal river. From there, water will be supplied to Mumbai through a pipeline. The cost of the second phase is expected at around 11,000 crore.

While the cost of the first phase will be borne by the central and state governments in a 90:10 ratio, that of the second phase will be borne entirely by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM).

Nearly 3,500 hectares of land, including 987 hectares from the Kaparda tehsil of Gujarat’s Valsad district, will be submerged due to the project.

Campaigners for environmental protection and equitable water distribution raised concerns over the need for such a large investment in an infrastructure project which they say will have a long-term impact on the ecology of northern Maharashtra and the Konkan coast, which is part of the Western Ghats and declared a world heritage site by the UN.

“This project...will displace around 10,000 tribals. We demand the project should not be allowed to go ahead without a proper environmental impact assessment (EIA) study and public hearings. The proper EIA will make our policymakers realize the environmental cost of this project," said Parinita Dandekar, associate coordinator with South Asia Network on Dams, River and People.

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