BHUBANESWAR: With public resistance mounting over sharing of river water with industries, the Odisha Government is contemplating to create a water conservation fund by levying one-time water charge on thermal power plants coming in the state. The funds to be generated will be exclusively utilised for water conservation works. The state has signed MoU with 27 companies for setting up of coal-based thermal power plants with an installed capacity of over 32,000 MW.
The move comes as the government faced flak over huge corporate dues outstanding on the state. The Opposition had, in fact, taken the government to task in the recently-concluded Winter Session of the Assembly after it came to light that the government proposed a waiver of Rs 9 crore to Vedanta Aluminium Ltd (VAL) towards water dues. Under pressure, the government has now announced that no waiver will be granted to VAL because it drew water from Hirakud before signing the agreement.
But it is not just Vedanta, at least 16 different corporates have been dilly-dallying payment of the water bills to the state. While some have drawn water without executing any agreement with the government, others have simply not bothered to pay. Vedanta, for example, has not only an outstanding dues of `14 crore, it has drawn huge ground water without any agreement for the last four years.
The Water Resources Department (WRD) documents available with this paper reveals that VAL, Jharsuguda, drew 1.782 lakh gallon water from bore-well without agreement since August 2008. It was imposed six times penalty and asked to seal the borewell last year in September. As on August, on this count alone, Vedanta is yet to pay Rs 92.85 lakh to the Odisha Government.
Another major defaulter is Bhusan Ltd at Hirakud. The total dues on the company till July stood at Rs 15.79 crore. According to Chief Engineer, Water Resources Organisation, N K Mohapatra, M/s Bhusan was allocated 70 cusec water by the WRD but the company paid just for its drawal. “As per the agreement and water allocation policy, companies have to pay for the allocation no matter what their level of usage is,” he said.
Meanwhile, a number of companies have moved court against the water bills raised by the government. Orient Paper Mill, which was slapped a demand of Rs 28.04 crore, has challenged it before the Orissa High Court. Mahanadi Coalfields too has approached the high court seeking that it be charged at domestic rate. It has an outstanding of Rs 24.13 crore. Similarly, South Eastern Railways’ appeal against the Rs42.82-crore demand is pending before the high court.
Incidentally, most of the corporates draw water from Hirakud Reservoir in Sambalpur which also is a major source of irrigation. In the past, huge allocation of water to industries had sparked off a spate of protests in the western districts.
It is not just water dues though. As many as 42 corporates—PSUs and private companies—as well the four power utility firms owe electricity dues to the tune of Rs 1,331.55 crore to the state.