Rajkot, Apr 14 (PTI): Narendra Modi may be on a campaign selling his model of governance, but Gujarat is reeling under severe drought that has left Saurashtra and Kutch regions parched and people battling odds to get even a pot of drinking water.
An estimated 10 to 15 per cent of the cash crops may have failed because of the drought this year that has come on the back of 11 normal monsoons. The water situation in half of the state has worsened with the onset of summer as big and small water reservoirs have dried up, forcing women in rural area to travel long distances, sometimes two to three kms, everyday for water.
Modi had, in his speeches in the national capital and in Kolkata recently, made claims regarding supply of piped water for long distances, thanks to Narmada projects. But familiar scenes of people jostling to get a bucket of water when a tanker arrives once in a while in their village or urban area are common in Kutch, Saurashtra and some northern parts of the state.
“Our children are thirsty as there is severe drinking water problem. Officials here are merely giving us hollow promises. No steps have been taken for regular supply of water by tanker to us,” said Saroj Makwana, a resident of Jetpur town in Rajkot district where water is supplied every 10 days.
“Ours is the remotest area where drinking water is being supplied once in 15 days. And despite our repeated representation to local municipal officers, the condition is unchanged,” said a frustrated Champaben Rabari of Amreli city. Protests and bandhs are order of the day in affected areas. Amreli city had observed a total bandh recently on the issue of non-supply of water. Women taking out protest marches with empty water pots has become a common scene in affected areas.
Saurashtra, Kutch and North Gujarat had witnessed acute water scarcity in 1998 and 1999 when successive years of deficient rains had made life difficult for the people of these three regions of the state. But 11 good monsoons from 2001 to 2011 had made people forgot those years of scarcity, driving Gujarat to double digit agriculture growth.
The state government also appeared to have taken the situation lightly when the rain goods were smiling as two major projects — Sardar Sarovar Dam on Narmada river and Kalpsar project — conceived to solve drinking water problems of scarcity-prone regions, have not progressed as per schedule. Modi took over as the Gujarat chief minister in 2001.
Seventy-five percent of the canal network of Sardar Sarovar Project still remains to be completed by the state government, which is an impediment in taking water of big dam constructed on Narmada river to the parched lands of state, as per the data presented in the state assembly.
While the Kalpsar project was conceived to build a reservoir with dam in the Gulf of Khambhat to harness flood waters of nine rivers during the time of Keshubhai Patel government in 1998, it is still in the study stage mode even after 14 years of conceptualisation.
On March 26, Revenue Minister Anandi Patel had declared water scarcity in about 4,000 villages and towns in 10 districts of Saurashtra, Kutch and North Gujarat. However, the opposition has said this is too little, too late.
“The state government should have anticipated the situation of scarcity last June itself as many areas of Kutch and Saurashtra had deficient rain and still it has done nothing to avert the situation,” says Leader of Opposition Shankarsinh Vaghela, whose Congress party has launched a 12-day ‘Jal Adhikar Yatra’ to highlight the water woes experienced by this region.
The government, on the other hand, has been denying the existence of the water crisis. It claims it has been supplying more water to this region for the last six months and is resolved to implement on “war footing” a contingency master plan of Rs 134 crore to provide water to Saurashtra and Kutch.
Government spokesperson and Finance Minister Nitin Patel, while brushing aside Congress claims, charges opposition leaders with ‘misleading’ the people by ‘spreading lies’ on the water situation. “We have already been providing enhanced water supply to cities like Rajkot, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar, Junagadh and Amreli,” Patel said.
Narmada water and Sardar Sarovar Dam issues have also been raised by both the state BJP and opposition parties for scoring brownie points over each other. Congress and Gujarat Parivartan Party have accused the Modi government of ‘inaction’ to complete the construction work of the Narmada canals.
“Since 2006, the height of Sardar Sarovar Narmada Dam has reached to 121.92 meters and that was enough for the storage of water which could have been used for irrigation in 10 lakh hectare agriculture land and provide drinking water to 11,000 villages and cities, but they have not completed the canal network,” Vaghela said.
However, state BJP has alleged that as the central government has been stalling the permission to raise the height of the dam to 138 meters and to build gates on the dam, people of Saurashtra and Kutch were facing acute water situation. Rajkot, Jamnagar, Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar are the worst-hit districts in Saurashtra where people are supplied water once in three to fifteen days in different areas. Around 500 villages and some towns in these areas have to depend on water supplied to them by tankers.
“Though we are yet to ascertain production loss due to deficient rain, it must be between 15 to 20 per cent in cash crops and about 20 per cent in other crops including vegetables in Saurashtra and Kutch area,” a state agriculture department official said. He said the Rabi season has witnessed 15 per cent less sowing in comparison to the last year due to less rains.
Agriculture expert and former Director of Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA) Dr Y K Alagh said “though the figure have not come out yet, if you compare the date of State Gross Domestic Product (SGDP) of previous two years, you can at least very conservatively say that because of deficient rain 15-20 per cent crop has failed in the state”.
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