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SEZs could create a water crisis
April 17, 2007
In the entire din surrounding the impact of the Special Economic Zones there is not much information on the impact of these zones on the water situation in the areas around these zones. Finance Minister P Chidambaram has been credited with a very interesting statement, "Where infrastructure already exists, it is perhaps not necessary to create SEZs". The trouble is, in backward areas where infrastructure is weak, the impact of SEZ on access to water would be even more serious.
Broadly, there are three kinds of impacts that SEZ can have on access to water for the people in the SEZ area. First would be due to the diversion of water for use within the SEZ. Second impact would be the impact of release of effluents from the SEZ. Here the situation at locations like Ankleshwar in Gujarat and Patancheru in Andhra Pradesh, among scores of other places is illustrative. At these places, the release of untreated effluents from the industrial estates has created a hell for the residents of the area. Our past performance in achieving effective pollution control is dismal, to put it most benevolently. And there is absolutely no movement to change that situation.
Thirdly, the conversion of land to SEZ would mean destruction of groundwater recharge systems. It should be remembered here that in India, right to extract groundwater continues to be connected with the ownership of land. Hence SEZs even in a relatively small area can pump out huge quantity of water, drying up the wells of the surrounding area. There could be conflicts between the zones and the local residents, as could be seen at Plachimeda in Kerala, as also in Varanasi and Jaipur.
Cumulatively, the impact of all these could be quite serious in most areas, and could precipitate a crisis in the water scarce areas.
Land Requirement for SEZs: According to the website of the commerce ministry, totally about 41,700 hectares of land is to be taken for the formally approved and notified SEZs. When land is acquired on such massive scale, the water requirement for such SEZs would be huge and would have very large impact on water access for the surrounding area.
Water Sources: The government Govt of India SEZ Act of 2005 has no mention of the sources of water for the proposed zones, leave aside the question of restrictions or impact assessment. In fact, the only time the Act mentions water, it is in the context of territorial waters of India. The SEZ acts or orders or notifications of various states give a blank cheque to the water requirement for the zones. For example, the Gujarat Act says, "The SEZ developer will be granted approval for development of water supply and distribution system to ensure the provision of adequate water supply for SEZ units." Similar is the situation for other states.
Available information about the water needs and sources of water for various SEZs should ring alarm bells.
One can already see the seeds of conflict that these water allocations would create. If these tips are any indication, implementation of these SEZ will create crisis of access to water for the people staying in areas around the proposed SEZs.
On World Water day this year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "We cannot allow human societies to descend into chaos due to conflict on utilisation of water resources". Action speaks louder than words, Mr Prime Minister.
Let us see what his government does to address the conflicts that SEZs are creating. A lot needs to be done to ensure that water use at these SEZs do not become seeds of bigger crisis in the days to come. Going by the track record such hope does not seem realistic.
Himanshu Thakkar is the founder of the NGO -- South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People