The Mahanadi battle: issues and politics

The Odisha government had received farmers anger over favouring the private industries by supply of water to industries at the cost of requirements of agriculture sector.


Pic: Ranjan Panda

Two eastern states Odisha and Chattisgarh have entered into a bitter political wrangling over the constructions of barrages and small dams over Mahanadi in Chattishgarh and the resultant sharing of water.

The two bordering states have almost come to a face-off as the Chhattisgarh government proposed two new projects across the Mahanadi that would hamper water flow into the Hirakud Dam reservoir, and it was also planning a reservoir-based dam across the Kelo river near the Odisha border[1]

The issue has become extremely sensitive and politically volatile as the water of Mahanadi affects millions of users in both states.

Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July 2016 seeking intervention by the central government saying that the Chhattisgarh government had already built seven pick-up weirs across the river just upstream of the Hirakud dam which would adversely impact the agriculture and industrial sectors in Odisha. [2]

Water conflict around Mahanadi and Hirakud

The Mahandi occupies a revered position in the psyche of the people of many states through which it passes through since time immemorial.

Mahanadi, originating from a small pool which is nearly 6 km away from Farsiya village in Dhamtari district of Chhattisgarh covers an area of 141, 589 sq km in five states like Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Maharastra.

Mahanadi has been draining nearly 4.3% of the total geographical area of India.[3]

After a series of floods in Mahanadi basin during 1937s, Bharat Ratna M Vishwesharya advised preparation of storage dam for flood control in Mahanadi basin.

The recommendations of Flood Advisory Committee (1938-42) were accepted and it led to the establishment of Hirakud Dam across the river Mahanadi which was inaugurated by Indi’s first Prime Minister Pt.Nehru in 1957.

The water flowing in Mahanadi has suddenly become ‘muddy’ as both ruling parties namely BJP and BJD have made it to be a prestige issue and intend to settle political scores over the waters of Mahanadi.

Moreover, with allowing huge investments in power and steel sectors in both Chhattisgarh and Odisha, both the state governments cater to the needs of the water guzzling industries in their respective states.

The Odisha government had received farmers anger over favouring the private industries by supply of water to industries at the cost of requirements of agriculture sector.

In 2008, farmers depending on the Mahanadi water gathered at Hirakud Dam and constructed a ‘Chasi Rekha’, (line of farmers ) , a border wall inside the reservoir beyond which industrial units would not be not allowed to draw water.[4].

However, the Government of Odisha went ahead and decided to allocate 138,000 cubic meter per second of water from the Mahanadi to steel giant from Korea POSCO.

It even allowed the company to build anni-cuts, check dams, barrages, drainages and storage system to take a water from Mahanadi [5].

Apart from agriculture need, the water of the Mahanadi has remained important for power sector. The power generation in Odisha and Chattisgarh has been centrally dependent on the Mahanadi.

As per the information provided by the Water resources information system of India, Odisha generates more power as compared to Chattishgarh, which is shown in the table below:

Table no 1: Powerhouses in Mahanadi basin

Sr.No Project name State Powerhouse status Installed capacity (MW)
1 Gangrel Powerhouse Chattishgarh Operational 10
2 Hansdeo Bango powerhouse Chattishgarh Operational 120
3 Sikasher Hydro Powerhouse Chattishgarh Operational 7
4 Hirakud (Chiplima) Odisha Operational 72
5 Hirakud (Burla) Odisha Operational 235
6 Upper indravati Power house Odisha Operational 600


In recent times, as power supply has emerged as the concern for the Chhattisgarh government, it has started construction of minor dams and weirs inside Chattishgarh over the river Mahanadi and its tributaries.

The Chhattisgarh government, however, claims that to control flood, few barrages and minor dams have been constructed which does not require the permission of the Central Water Commission. [6]

These include Saradi weir and Kalama weir and seven diversion weirs across river Arpa, which is a tributary of river Seonath that flows into Mahanadi.

Major projects such as Khongasara project, Salka project and Bilaspur project have also been constructed over Mahanadi and its tributaries.

In addition to it, three projects such as the Ambadguda diversion project, Salka diversion project and Lacchanpur diversion project have been under execution by Chhattisgarh which has become the bone of contention between both the states.

Two new projects, Pairy-Mahanadi intra-state link and Tandula reservoir augmentation scheme, on the Mahanadi in Chhattisgarh have also added to the tussle between the two states.

Long back, a Joint Control Board, was proposed by a 1983 memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the erstwhile Madhya Pradesh and Odisha.

However, due to various political and administrative reasons and lack of will and vision the Joint Control Board has not been constituted till today.

Politics over Mahanadi water

Pic: Santanu Biswal

Looking from the political perspective, the Mahandi river basin directly affects a huge political class spreading across the political parties.

The Mahandi river basin stretches over 27 parliamentary constituencies comprising 13 in Odisha, 11 in Chhattisgarh and one each in Jharkhand, Maharastra and Madhya Pradesh.

Going by the parliamentary numbers, the political stakes are certainly very high for every single political parties and especially the ruling BJP in Chhattisgarh and BJD in Odisha.

The battle over Mahanadi has become the focus of politics between not only the two states but between BJP and BJD.

Odisha’s ruling BJD sent a delegation to Chattishgarh in August 2016, headed by newly elected Rajya Sabha MP and former finance minister Prasanna Acharya to assess the situation and held discussion with the officials of Chattishgarh.

However, the delegation faced political resistances and protests by various political parties from Chattishgarh during their two-day visit.

The delegation cancelled its visit to Saradihi, a small town in Chattishgarh where Chattishgarh government has constructed a barrage and the Odisha government has built a gauge station to collect regular information on amount of rain and quantum of flow of water in Mahanadi.[7]

The way ahead

Looking at the trajectories of Indian democracy, after the implementation of economic reforms, it can be said that impact has remained controversial.

The two states Chhattisgarh and Odisha continue to remain at a low level in terms of poverty and backwardness. However, the two states managed to attract huge private sector investment in industrial sectors over the last two decades.

Now, caught between the immediate requirements of the industrial sectors and the requirements of the agriculture sector, both the state governments have to negotiate through tough political battle in the days to come.

Moreover, it has the potential of creating a major fissure in the federal set up.

The urgent need is to initiate political dialogues at the political executives’ level. Moreover, the immediate constitution of Joint Control Board between the two states will help in shaping the specific policy solutions to this contentious issue.

(The author is a policy analyst and can be reached at prusethsujit@gmail.com)

The author works as Assistant Professor, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi and can be reached at [email protected]. Views expressed are personal.

Selected references:

‘BJD, BJP fight over Mahanadi water’ news item published in The Hindu(English daily),06 July 2016

‘Naveen braces for Mahanadi battle’ news item published in The Telegraph (English daily),05 July 2016

‘Farmers resolute on not sharing Hirakud water’ Down to Earth, 30 April 2008.

‘POSCO to get water from Mahanadi’ Down to Earth, 07 May 2014.

‘Water war between Chhattisgarh and Odisha gets political overtones’ Business Standard,23 July 2006

‘Naveen braces for Mahanadi battle’ news item published in The Telegraph (English daily),05 July 2016


Farmers resolute on not sharing Hirakud water’ Down to Earth, 30 April 2008.

BJD pratinidhi dala Saradihi na jiba rahasya janak’ (BJD delegation not visiting Saradihi is suspicious) news item published in The Samabd (Odia daily) Sambalpur edition,14 August, 2016, page 6





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