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Is BJP denying Narmada water to Gujarat farmers to appease MP in run-up to the polls?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 25 January 2018, 19:18 IST
(Arya Sharma)

The Gujarat government's announcement that it will not be supplying Narmada water for irrigation from March 15 is all set to snowball into a major confrontation with the farmers in the coming summer season. The BJP was virtually wiped out in rural Saurashtra during the Assembly elections and this issue is likely to intensify in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections next year.

While the government is citing the water scarcity in the Narmada basin, the farmers are not buying its argument pointing at misplacement of priorities. Meanwhile sources point out that the BJP is intent on providing maximum Narmada water to the farmers in the poll-bound Madhya Pradesh and then turn its focus to Gujarat. They say that the announcement of scarcity of water in Gujarat was delayed because of the Assembly polls in the state. Whatever the case, the upcoming months are all set to witness politics on Narmada taking a centre stage in Gujarat.

Gujarat’s water shortage

It needs to be pointed that the overdependence of Gujarat on Narmada water is getting exposed. Sources reveal that in its over enthusiasm on Narmada project, the state government has ignored other projects and now stands on a sticky wicket. Sources say that 80 per cent of urban and almost 50 per cent of rural Gujarat is dependent on Narmada water. The dependence is so much that the canal water flow cannot be stopped for a day even for maintenance.

It was in the second week of this month that the Gujarat government advised farmers against any sowing during the summer season if they are dependent on the Narmada river for irrigation as the water level in the Narmada reservoir remained below average during the last monsoon season.

"In the past monsoon season, the catchment area of the Narmada river received the lowest rainfall in the past 15 years. The Sardar Sarovar reservoir received 45 per cent less water this year as the catchment area of the Narmada received 50 per cent less than its total capacity of 28 Million Acre Feet (MAF). Hence, the Narmada water will not be available for irrigation after March 15 this year. Farmers are requested not to take up cultivation in the summer season, unless they have other sources of water available," the government reportedly said.

It further stated, “The Narmada Control Authority (NCA) has cut short the supply of the Narmada water to the partner states [Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh] and it was decided in a meeting of the NCA held in New Delhi on January 10 that Gujarat will receive only 4.71 MAF of water against the prescribed supply of 9 MAF. The water stock will be reserved for drinking water supply in summer days."

Farmers’ anger

This led to the general secretary of Khedut Samaj (Gujarat) Sagar Rabari to write an open letter to Chief Minister Vijay Rupani in which he said, “ Your government has suddenly announced that the farmers would not get water for their summer crop as there was a shortfall of water in the Sardar Sarovar dam! It was also necessary for the government to make some clarifications, such as:

What has caused the water shortage as it was reported that the dam was overflowing? Farmers have not consumed water for their monsoon crop and now they will get it only for the winter crop. In the circumstances, what has the water been utilised for? The gates of the dam were closed in September and large areas were submerged. After all this, how come the water from the dam has vanished? Is it not farmers’ democratic right to know where has their share in water been used up? How is it, that water is not available for the post-election summer whereas it was available for pre-election summer?”

He aired apprehensions that the farmers are being blamed for drawing water beyond their assigned quota so that it can be used to cover up the illegal supply to the industry.

The government has dismissed the charges that the water is being diverted to the industry and has pointed that even the supply to the industry would be stopped from March 15. Chief secretary JN Singh reportedly came out with more details on the water crisis on January 22 saying that against a storage capacity of of 5,860 Million Cubic Metres (MCM Gujarat had a mere 455 MCM water on January 21. The figure for the said date last year was 1,173 MCM water in the reserves.

He said, "Water availability is certainly in a critical situation, but drinking water supply will not face any issues. We have instructed local authorities like municipal corporations in Ahmedabad and Vadodara and other agencies to plan their water budget depending on local sources other than Narmada canal water."

He contested that it was because of closing the Sardar Sarovar dam gates that the government was able to store more water and stop it from flowing to the sea.

This has once again led to Rabari putting forth some important questions while seeking an accounting of water utilization in the state. He has asked the government and Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) to spell out how much Narmada water is being released in the Sabarmati river front that was developed as a cosmetic tourist destination by Narendra Modi led state government in the past along with the water being provided to some major residential townships developed by prominent industrialists, the much touted GIFT City developed in Gandhinagar and the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation (GIDC) estates. Rabari has asked for figures on how much land can this water irrigate.

Rabari has underlined, “We, as farmers organisations, request you not to mislead real masters (the people) to please the nominated masters (the political bosses). If you are true to your calling then:

Release the data on the Narmada water – availability and usage for each head – drinking water, irrigation and industry.

What were the priorities when Gujarat pleaded its case before Tribunal and Supreme Court? When was it changed? Who changed it? When was it discussed in the Assembly?
Can you and the chairman say on affidavit that not a single industrial unit is drawing water from the canal illegally?

Is the water supplied to small or big industrial units legal?

How much quantum of water is lost to evaporation?

If there is transparency in the present government, why is this data not available on the SSNNL website?

Can we jointly check entire canal to find where the pipes fitted during canal construction goes? Let us check it!”

He says that the farmers not only demand water, but demand transparency in the account of water, money spent, employment generated in the industries using Narmada water and water distribution and management.

“We request you not to harass farmers. We are aware of the massive police force at your disposal to threaten farmers and your ability to summon more paramilitary forces too but ultimately this is not good governance, which this government and administration claim to be. Every threat by government and the SSNNL reminds us of the World Bank warning of water wars! Please avoid it,” he said in a statement.

The farmers are asking the government not to compel them to lift water from the Narmada canal. “Narmada water is farmers’ right, NOT THEFT. Farmers are not thieves. Institute inquiries into the accounts and doings of the real thieves. Please come clean with an account of every drop of Narmada Water used before and after election,” Rabari said.

MP polls

Meanwhile sources say that the real issue is of providing ample water to the farmers in Madhya Pradesh ahead of the assembly polls there. They point out that the recent Mandsaur farmers' agitation and the Vyapam scam have put the Shivraj Singh led BJP government on the back foot. Media reports suggest that Shivraj has been announcing more irrigation schemes in the run up to the polls in his state.

The summer is set to be harsh. The BJP government in Gujarat is hoping for a good monsoon. The focus of the party right now is Madhya Pradesh polls after which it will try to quench the thirst of Gujarat so that it gets the required support in the 2019 parliamentary polls.

First published: 25 January 2018, 19:18 IST