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How Modi’s inauguration spree on Narmada may have plunged Gujarat farmers into a possible drought

B Nilima | Updated on: 13 February 2018, 18:14 IST

Officially, summer is a few months away in Gujarat but the heat has already started rising in the state, especially on the supply of water. In January, the state government had made it clear that it will not be in any position to supply water for irrigation from Narmada after March 15.

In effect, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani asked farmers not to sow the summer crops unless they have alternative means of irrigation. The water level of Sardar Sarovar dam has gone down to perilously low levels. For the record, summer crops like sesame, millets, pulses — lentils, groundnut and paddy are cultivated on about 1.5 million hectares across Gujarat.

Apprehensions of a drought and resultant large-scale migration from rural to urban areas is now bothering activists.

While the official reason for the shortfall of water remains the deficient rainfall in the catchment area of Narmada last year, it is now being alleged that the spree of inauguration of projects related to Narmada in the run up to the Gujarat elections is responsible for the depletion of water level in the river, which is often touted as the lifeline of Gujarat.

Farmer-activist Sagar Rabari, who has been raising the water shortage issue for a long time, points out that according to data available on Narmada Control Authority's website, the water level on July 1, 2017 was 114.97 meters at the beginning of monsoon season. It reached 120.69 m on July 31 and rose to 124.43 m on August 31, 2017. With addition of September rain water, the level reached 130.59 m on October 1. Since then, the water level started declining.

On October 31, water level was 128.69 m, 1.9 m lower than overall level and on November 31, 2017, the water level fell to 124.22 m, implying that SSNL released 4.47 m water during the period.

On 31st December 2017, the water level fell to 118.33 m, a decline of 5.89 m, and on 12 December, when the campaign officially ended, the water level at the dam site fell to 115.95 m.

“A simple calculation indicates that during the Assembly election campaign in October and November, the SSNL played a mischievous role on behalf of the ruling party; it agreed to the misuse of precious water to appease the ruling party, perhaps at its bidding. During the two and half months of electioneering, the SSNNL has generously but altogether unnecessarily released water from the dam for ‘inauguration’ of schemes as a vote-catching ploy. Not surprisingly, the water level fell from 130.59 to 115.95 meters, meaning that the ruling party and the SSNNL together wasted 14.64 meters of precious water, snatching it from the people of Gujarat”, Rabari stated.

“An important fact to note here is that September, October and November are officially monsoon months. Agriculture, the sector that is the biggest beneficiary of the water, does not utilise much water during these months. Hence our repeated query – where has the water vanished?” he added.

It may be noted here that BJP had made Narmada its poll plank in Gujarat during the state election last year with a host of Narmada-related projects being inaugurated across Saurashtra and other parts of the state. BJP leaders had even taken out a Narmada Yatra in September with 84 vehicles travelling across the state, reaching out to the voters. The yatra had culminated at Dabhoi town in Central Gujarat on September 17, the birthday of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi, on the occasion, had dedicated the dam to the nation amid much fan-fare.

However, voices against the jamboree had started to grow even during the process and former Gujarat chief minister Suresh Mehta had questioned the grand show, alleging it to be a ploy to misguide the people ahead of the Assembly polls.

As it was to be constructed for the purpose of providing water for irrigation and drinking water, the project has attracted criticism for helping industries more for a long time. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General had severely criticised SSNNL for the same, a decade ago.

Mehta too had pointed out that the dam water has reached just 11.67% of the 17,92,000 hectares land that was to be covered under the project. So far, the project has covered only 2,09,057 hectares of land. Mehta had called the yatra a ploy to misguide the people ahead of the state Assembly elections.

However, such concerns took a backseat with electioneering taking priority. Activists like Rabari now allege that water was simply drained to put up grand shows across project sites and to provide grand photo-ops on Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad, leaving the farmers of the state high and dry.


First published: 13 February 2018, 18:14 IST