How Gu­jarat is tid­ing over its peren­nial wa­ter short­age

A con­certed ini­tia­tive by the Gu­jarat gov­ern­ment sees the state tide over an acute wa­ter short­age – with­out a cri­sis

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - Rid­hima Ku­mar

It’s 10 am and in dhand­huka town of Ahmed­abad district, the sun is al­ready scorch­ing. A dry lake, which was de­silted and deep­ened a few weeks back, has been turned into a venue for a fete. shami­anas have been erected, women in bright sa­rees and men and chil­dren in their best clothes flock the venue, drones hover over­head, record­ing the fes­tiv­ity. No one seems dis­cour­aged by the sun. Vil­lagers have gath­ered for the cul­mi­na­tion of the month-long su­jalam su­falam Jal san­chay Ab­hiyan, a cam­paign to en­hance the ca­pac­ity of dams, ponds, canals and con­tour trenches by de­silt­ing and deep­en­ing them. Around 13,000 ponds and check­dams have been de­silted and 32 rivers re­ju­ve­nated, cre­at­ing ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity of 11,000 lakh cu­bic feet to store wa­ter when the rain ar­rives.

There’s a stage for the main event, and an­other sec­tion for the Nar­mada Jal Pu­jan, where priests are per­form­ing rit­u­als. Hun­dreds of vil­lagers have gath­ered, and among them is de­vshrib­hai Narayanbhai, of san­gasar

vil­lage in dholera taluka. A pond cre­ated un­der the cam­paign is be­ing in­au­gu­rated, and he is all praise for the gov­ern­ment. “Work on deep­en­ing of khet ta­lavdis (ponds in farm­lands) in my vil­lage is still in progress. There is no wa­ter prob­lem in my vil­lage,” he says mat­ter-of-factly. Vil­lagers aren’t an­gry, he says, even af­ter the gov­ern­ment plugged the use of Nar­mada wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion in March, and in­stead use wa­ter from khet ta­lavdis to wa­ter their fields.

Hiren Ya­dav, a shop­keeper from dhand­huka, says, “some 20 years ago, we had a huge wa­ter cri­sis, but now things are fine. We get drink­ing wa­ter from the pipe­line once in two-three days.” He goes on that a re­porter would well know the prob­lems farm­ers can face when they are not al­lowed to use Nar­mada wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion, but then changes tack: “Af­ter this scheme, peo­ple in my town are very hope­ful. We’ll ben­e­fit a lot.”

Chief min­is­ter Vi­jay ru­pani ar­rives for the Nar­mada jal vis­ar­jan cer­e­mony and con­grat­u­lates the vil­lagers on the suc­cess of the wa­ter con­ser­va­tion move­ment. “The cam­paign vin­di­cates the say­ing that wa­ter is life and that wa­ter is the ba­sis of de­vel­op­ment, a mea­sure of de­vel­op­ment – use­ful for all flora and fauna,” he says, hail­ing the May 1-31 ef­fort. “Work pend­ing on the su­jalam su­falam Jal san­chay Ab­hiyan will be com­pleted by June 8. The cam­paign un­der­taken with peo­ple’s co­op­er­a­tion has gen­er­ated huge quan­tity of loose soil/clay that will help in­crease agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion. Hav­ing launched the coun­try’s big­gest wa­ter con­ser­va­tion cam­paign, Gu­jarat has emerged a leader.”

ini­tially, the cam­paign used 527 earth-mov­ing ma­chines and 2,000 trac­tor-dumpers, and em­ployed 27,000 work­ers. By now, how­ever, 4,600 earth-mov­ing ma­chines, 16,000 trac­tor-dumpers and three lakh work­ers are be­ing de­ployed.

ru­pani leaves no op­por­tu­nity to tar­get the op­po­si­tion. “The Con­gress sees cor­rup­tion even in its dreams,” he says, re­fer­ring to al­le­ga­tions of ₹2,400 crore cor­rup­tion in the ₹200 crore cam­paign. He says the Con­gress had even al­leged “pur­chase scams” when grass was dis­trib­uted free in Banaskan­tha. He de­scribes the gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts as hav­ing noth­ing to do with the elec­tions and be­ing pro-peo­ple ini­tia­tives aimed at fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. The crowd bursts into ap­plause.

Out­side the venue, though, there are those who are not as en­thu­si­as­tic. some women com­plain that they weren’t lucky enough to get the kalashes and co­conuts pre­sented to vil­lagers af­ter the puja. That isn’t the only grouse. Ka­jal, 18, who lives only a few me­tres from the venue, points to an over­head wa­ter tank and says, “There’s no wa­ter in it. And there isn’t a tap at my house for the piped drink­ing wa­ter pro­vided. We are poor, you see. There’s a well nearby, but the wa­ter is dirty. i have to do odd jobs in ex­change for drink­ing wa­ter from a neigh­bour. We have a toi­let, but with­out wa­ter, we can’t use it.”

Wa­ter is in short sup­ply, but there’s no cri­sis – this is what the Gu­jarat gov­ern­ment has main­tained for some time now. On March 15, the gov­ern­ment stopped pro­vid­ing Nar­mada wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion, say­ing it would be used only for drink­ing. The gov­ern­ment even ad­vised farm­ers not to sow sum­mer crops. All in­di­ca­tions that there hasn’t been enough rain­fall in the catch­ment ar­eas (in Mad­hya Pradesh) of the Nar­mada, con­sid­ered the life­line of Gu­jarat.

in­deed, the wa­ter re­sources de­part­ment says that in early June, there was only 27 per­cent wa­ter in the state’s 200-odd dams and reser­voirs, to­talling a ca­pac­ity of 25,220.17 mil­lion cu­bic me­tres (MCM). The sar­dar sarovar dam has only 33.64 per­cent of its stor­age ca­pac­ity of 3,182.48 MCM. “The

Farm­ers were told not to go for the sum­mer crop. The govt stopped pro­vid­ing Nar­mada wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion, re­serv­ing it only for drink­ing pur­pose. Yet peo­ple have not com­plained. The govt is pre­par­ing for the rains by deep­en­ing wa­ter bod­ies.

Nar­mada has 48 per­cent less wa­ter this year. This year has taught us that we can­not de­pend on Nar­mada to ful­fil our wa­ter needs. We need to strengthen and re­ju­ve­nate our tra­di­tional wa­ter re­sources,” says Mona K Khand­har, com­mis­sioner of ru­ral de­vel­op­ment and sec­re­tary in the de­part­ment for pan­chayat, ru­ral hous­ing and ru­ral de­vel­op­ment. so the gov­ern­ment has launched the mass-scale move­ment for wa­ter con­ser­va­tion with the in­volve­ment of lo­cals, NGOS and cor­po­rates. Khand­har says the im­ple­ment­ing agen­cies were even en­cour­aged to take up works at their own cost, and the rest was done on a 50-50 shar­ing ba­sis.

“More­over, the ex­ca­vated silt, which is ex­tremely fer­tile, has been given to farm­ers for us­ing in their fields. The cam­paign has also gen­er­ated em­ploy­ment as we gave work un­der the MNREGA and cre­ated 57.71 lakh man days,” says MK Ja­dav, sec­re­tary, wa­ter re­sources. The gov­ern­ment is also plan­ning to in­te­grate af­foresta­tion and swachh Bharat in the next phase of this cam­paign, says an up­beat Khand­har. The jal ab­hiyan will con­tinue for an­other two years and its ef­fec­tive­ness

and im­ple­men­ta­tion will be care­fully mon­i­tored.

How­ever, the op­po­si­tion and crit­ics cry foul over the ini­tia­tive. in de­cem­ber, prior to the 2017 Gu­jarat elec­tions, prime min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi un­der­took a sea­plane jour­ney on the sabar­mati. it is al­leged that the party used stored dam wa­ter to fill the river for Modi’s smooth ride. They ac­cuse the party of wast­ing wa­ter for elec­toral gains. More­over, it was only af­ter the BJP won the state elec­tions that it is­sued warn­ings to farm­ers on wa­ter short­age. There­fore, the cam­paign to con­serve wa­ter by deep­en­ing and de­silt­ing ponds and lakes in the state was con­ceived af­ter much hue and cry. The BJP, of course, has de­nied these charges and main­tains that the party is work­ing for the ben­e­fit of peo­ple of Gu­jarat and wants to make the state “paanidaar”.

in the wee hours of the morn­ing, the sabar­mati river­front in Ahmed­abad looks serene with abun­dant wa­ter. A lit­tle over an hour’s jour­ney from

here is Ch­ha­tral vil­lage, in Kalol taluka of Gand­hi­na­gar district, where ex­ca­va­tors are work­ing in full swing to deepen a dry lake. The work will get com­plete in an­other two days, well be­fore the mon­soon ar­rives in the state, says Atul shah, deputy en­gi­neer, ir­ri­ga­tion de­part­ment. Af­ter the rains, the freshly-dug tank will recharge ground wa­ter and raise the wa­ter ta­ble. Construction gi­ant l&t has given ma­chin­ery for this project un­der its Csr ac­tiv­ity. Vil­lage peo­ple are also chip­ping in un­der the Mn­regs.

“There are 230 tanks in Gand­hi­na­gar district. Work has been done on 151. We have deep­ened and cleaned the al­ready ex­ist­ing ponds and lakes. We did not dig any new ponds as that would have meant a lengthy process of get­ting clear­ances and all,” says shah.

su­per­vis­ing the work with him is the gram­prad­han of Ch­ha­tral vil­lage, di­neshb­hai r Pa­tel. “The ground wa­ter level in my vil­lage has de­creased a lot, and some­times we have to dig 400 feet below to get wa­ter. This work will help us a lot. it will not only pro­vide us wa­ter but also save our elec­tric­ity. At present, we use a mo­tor of 60-70 HP for pump­ing wa­ter. Af­ter the ground wa­ter gets recharged we might not have to use such high power,” he says.

rub­bish­ing talk of a wa­ter cri­sis, Pa­tel says, “There has been no wa­ter re­lated prob­lem so far. We are us­ing pipe­line wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion. The gov­ern­ment’s re­quest to not sow sum­mer crops is for our own good and it is for a very lim­ited time. We are fac­ing no prob­lems.”

Though these ef­forts may look like too lit­tle, too late, yet the lo­cals and of­fi­cials are en­thu­si­as­tic about it. At a time when many in­dian cities are star­ing at a huge wa­ter cri­sis, Gu­jarat has at least wo­ken up to the prob­lem. What­ever the rea­sons, the scheme pro­vides hope that the ex­cess rain­wa­ter will not be wasted. Only time, rather, the mon­soon, will tell if this cam­paign is able to reap ben­e­fits for the peo­ple and party.

As a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial puts it, “su­jalam su­falam is a vi­sion for the next 10 years. It will ben­e­fit fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. As of now there is no wa­ter cri­sis.”

“There’s no wa­ter in the wa­ter tank. And I don’t have a tap at home. We’re poor, you see. I do odd jobs at a neigh­bour’s house in ex­change for drink­ing wa­ter.” Ka­jal, 18, (ex­treme right) A vil­lager who had come to take part in the puja in Dhand­huka to mark the Su­jalam Su­falam Jal Ab­hiyan

Chief min­is­ter Vi­jay Ru­pani at a jal ab­hiyan puja in Dhand­huka

Wa­ter bod­ies were de­silt deep­ened as part of the

ed and ab­hiyan

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.