Gujarat is reeling under drought. Why won't the state govt admit it?
At least a dozen districts of Gujarat are facing a water crisis. Yet, the government is reluctant to declare drought. It has instead declared a "scarcity", which is not a full-fledged drought.
This despite the Anandiben Patel government being admonished by the Supreme Court for its laxity in dealing with the drought.
The court asked whether Gujarat really was a part of India after finding that the state had not implemented the National Food Security Act.
Further, Gujarat is among the few states, along with Haryana and Bihar, that have not shared drought-related data with the central government. As a result, the NDA regime's affidavit to the SC on drought - which made headlines for saying 33 crore Indians are affected by it - does not include Gujarat.
This prompted the court to admonish the state for not filing an affidavit with details of drought affected areas, saying, "You cannot do whatever you want because you are Gujarat".
But that's what the prime minister home state has done. Several parts of the state received below par rainfall during the monsoon. As early as by October 2015, a government crop forecast centre predicted drought in 19 districts.
Yet, it was only on 1 April that Gujarat declared 526 villages in three districts - Rajkot, Jamnagar and Devbhumi Dwarka - as "scarcity-hit". Perhaps, even this was an understatement. Because within two weeks after this notification, on 15 April, the water resources minister announced measures to alleviate a drinking water crisis in 829 villages across eight districts. Vijay Rupani, who is also the state BJP president, then announced a Rs 70-crore "master plan" to mitigate the drinking water shortage.
Last week, the government declared another 468 villages as "scarcity-hit", taking the total to 994. Of these, 301 are in Kutch district, a fresh addition to the list, while the rest are in Rajkot, Jamnagar and Devbhumi Dwarka. There are now reports about villages near Ahmedabad also facing water scarcity.
The Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre, which is under the Union agriculture ministry, had in October 2015 described 19 districts in Gujarat as under "mild" or "moderate" drought. For comparison: in the same month, the severe drought in Marathwada was also termed as "mild" and "moderate".
Gujarat's reservoirs are fast running dry as well. The state's water bodies are filled to just 25% of their capacity, according to state government data as on 22 April. This data excludes the Narmada dam, which, too, has 551 million cubic metre less water than before.
At least 63 reservoirs are completely dry, while 45 others have less than 5% water.
Only three dams - one each in Surendranagar, Kutch and Mahisagar districts - are filled to over half the capacity.
Saurashtra is the worst affected. Its reservoirs are just about 8% full. Of the 11 districts in the region, six have almost zero water in reservoirs, while the rest are filled in the range of 11-20%.
On the whole, Saurashtra's reservoirs currently hold 219 MCM water, 33% less than at the same time last year. In the entire state, reservoirs hold 1,277 MCM less water than at the same time last year.
In Bhavnagar district, the remaining water resources have been designated solely for drinking purposes. There is no water for irrigation, so the farmers are up in arms against the government.
Gujarat is among the states that has a drought every three years, the most frequent in the country, according to a central government report.
At the last hearing on a case filed by Swaraj Abhiyan, the Supreme Court pulled up Gujarat for not declaring drought. According to a statement issued by the Abhiyan, the state government, on 7 April, admitted in the SC to delay in assessing drought, but said this exercise had to be done at village level and it didn't have enough manpower. To this, the court reportedly said, "Lack of manpower? We have 1.25 billion people in this country!"
The central government, meanwhile, has left Gujarat to its own decisions. At the SC hearings, Additional Solicitor General PE Narasimha said declaring a drought was the state's responsibility.
"The water scarcity in Gujarat is quite serious, and mostly in three regions - Saurashtra, parts of Kutch and the eastern tribal belt. The main supply of water is from handpumps that are 300 feet deep, but even this level is falling. But by regulation, the state can only fund handpumps up to 300 feet deep," said Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator at the South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People.