Even as the villagers in dried-up Satara stare at a bleak future, their eyes look accusingly at the green measures that have come up in these dry hinterlands—the numerous windmills aimed to provide the state grid with clean energy. The one question that has returned to haunt them is: Are the windmills driving away the monsoon?
It was nearly 10 years ago that the farmers fraternity along with local politicians were first found discussing how the biggest wind site in Asia, which is currently adding 1600MW to the state grid, would affect the rain pattern in their region. The project began in 2000. Though the GB Pant committee concluded four years ago—that there was no impact on the rains, villagers think otherwise. Former deputy sarpanch of Gopuj village, Anandrao Gaikwad (83), says,”Speedy rotation of the nearly 200metre high windmill structure causes a diversion of clouds towards Konkan, which is now receiving more rainfall.”
Apart from the a distinct drop in rainfall over the past few years, Khatav and Mann talukas did not witness any rain in 2011 despite a normal monsoon in the state. This was not the case before, say farmers. Nearly 1,100 wind mills have been installed by only a dozen companies (13 in all) in the past 12 years in four talukas-Khatav, Mann, Phaltan and Satara taluka, as the appropriate plateau height (2,000 feet) along with perfect wind speed and density make it ideal for windmills.
Besides the rain debate, farmers point to the windmill companies for their situation, at least partially. Alleging that windmill firms have grabbed their land after offering little relief, farmers say nearly 75% land was transferred through ‘Kulmukhtar Patra’. While agreeing that the “infertile” land was sold cheap, the farmers feel cheated as the windmill firms are raking in big moolah by selling power, and they face extreme droughts.
Many complain that the windmill firms are using their farms without permit or even purchasing it. According to Tanaji Bitle (50) of Raneshwar village in Khatav, “We were growing jowari in our fields, but the vehicles of these companies would run over our farms destroying the crop. As the area is now dominated by their goons, we have no option but to keep mum.”
The bone of contention though is the little or no tax the windmill firms are paying the gram panchayats, as required by law. The villagers have been demanding that windmills pay Rs94,000 anually towards every MW generated as tax for using the villagers’ wind. After a long battle under the leadership of activist Dr Bharat Patankar, the government last year issued a GR ordering the firms to pay an annual tax of not less than Rs15,000 for every MW. “But, none of them have paid their dues in full to panchayats till now,” said Dr Patankar.
Pointing out that for the first time in these many years, Aundh received Rs7,000 in February, its sarpanch Deepak Nalawade said, “When we inquired with them, we were told that the minimum amount is now Rs7,000. We took whatever they gave. Other villages too have a similar story.”
Satara collector Dr Ramaswami N was unavailable for comment. Refusing comment, district administration officials insisted there was no change in the last year’s GR.
Villagers are now preparing themselves for yet another court battle demanding a hike in the wind tax, apart from issues like operating certain windmills without a no-objection certificate from Maharashtra Energy Development Agency and the district administration.
“Rather than giving private players to run the windmills and then purchase the power at very high rate, government should have either invested itself or should have encouraged farmers to do so. That can be the best option to benefit the poor in drought area,” said Dr Patankar.