Gujarat govt knew there would be paucity of rainfall, yet it took no advance steps to tackle scarcity

Children wash their hands in a partially dried-out natural pond at Badarganj village, in Gujarat

By Mahesh Pandya*

“With the onset of summer season in Gujarat, dry farms, migration of livestock and cattle breeders, farmers enduing the problems and pleading to the God for help, has become a talk of the past. By putting in to place several schemes on the multi-faced water management front, my government is making ceaseless efforts to ensure that people of Gujarat get drinking and irrigation water. The government has adopted approach of minimizing dependence on underground water and to make as much use of surface water as possible.”

This is an excerpt from the speech delivered by the Governor of Gujarat, OP Kohli, on February 22,  2016 in the Gujarat Legislative Assembly.

From the government’s own submission, it becomes clear that the government made the Governor to speak a falsehood. Even today the farmers have to plead the God for help. What kind of administration or wisdom of dynamic Gujarat is it, when there is deficit in rainfall for just one year, resulting in disastrous collapse of the entire water management system? It is for we the people to scrutinize the sanctity or veracity of utterances of the Governor.

The Governor in his speech said that, in the entire country, Gujarat ranks first in providing fluoride-free water to the people. Ironically, The Gujarat government, which had prepared the speech for the Governor, confession in the Assembly in answer to unstarred questions tabled in the House on March 15, 2016 that in Kutch, Kheda, Mahisagar, Mehsana, Banaskantha, Bharuch, Bhavnagar, Vadodara, Valsad, Surat, Surendranagar, Tapi and Botad districts, the level of TDS in drinking water is much higher than the prescribed limit.

This government, boasting of ‘tanker-free Gujarat’, has admitted in the Legislative Assembly that, during the last five years, drinking water was being supplied through  tankers, in 349 villages of Banaskantha, 77 villages of Bharuch, one village each in Bhavnagar and Botad, 5 villages in Dangs, 41 villages in Dev Bhumi Dwarka, and 19 villages in Amreli.

Now the question arises as to why in the villages of Dangs, Surat, Valsad, Navsari, and Tapi, where there is maximum waterfall, permanent arrangements for water supplies have not been made, as a result of which dependence has to be made on water tankers?

Government is hiding information:

In reply to an unstarred question on the year-wise expenditure incurred for transfer of water from one river to another, the government has said that expenditure had been incurred on evolving the scheme but no expenditure has been incurred on discharge and transfer of water. Why is this state, called model on counts of transparency and good governance, hiding information? The government avoided on giving out information on expenditure.

Yet, facts speak for themselves: During the last five years there have been instances of breach in Narmada canal for some 35 times in the district of Mehsana, Banaskantha and Patan. During the years 2014 and 2015 breaches in Narmada canal took place in Banaskantha district for 22 and 7 times, respectively, resulting into inundation in the standing crop and farms, but no assistance or compensation has been offered by the government for the damages.

The Finance Minister has allocated Rs 102 crore for preparation of Feasibility Report for Kalpasar project. For the last 10 years, a lot has been talked about preparing the pre-feasibility report (and now Feasibility Report), yet even now, the government has not been able to prepare the Feasibility Report. How long will it take to implement the Kalpasar Project? This raises the question on speed or pace of work in dynamic Gujarat.

In a reply tabled in the Legislative Assembly, it had been informed that Bhadbhut Project will be commissioned in January 2013. Now, only recently, a sum of Rs 50 crore has been allocated in the budget of 2016-17 for Bhadbhut barrage.

Thus, even in the absence of any obstacle in the form of legal hitch or people’s agitation, the State government is creating the ‘mirage of water’ by taking a weak or indifferent stand on Kalpasar Project and Bhadbhut barrage.

Since no anti-Gujarat elements have come out to oppose, why is there a delay?

Irrigation Position:

Details of actual irrigation (in hectares) which took place during last 4 years:

irrigationFrom the above table, one will be able to see that during the years 2011-12 to 2014-15 there has been decrease in groundwater irrigation. This means that farmers have done away with the process of sinking bore wells.

During the years 2013 and 2014 there has not been rise in the irrigation based on check dams and lakes, either. Moreover, during the year 2014-15 irrigation has decreased as compared with the year 2013-14. Further, there has not been any increase during the years 2013-14 and 2014-15 under the Sardar Sarovar scheme. This directly means that there has been decrease in irrigation during the years 2013-14 and 2014-15. Due to this, we have experienced quite a large impact on agricultural yield.

Plight of Farmers:

The Chief Minister of the State informed a public meeting held at Jamnagar that farmers shall not receive irrigation water during this summer. On the other hand, some 21 large industries continue receiving water from the Narmada canal. If there is no cut on industries, then why is there such a cut on farmers? The main Narmada canal has been fully executed; but the works for branch, sub-branch, petty branch etc. are incomplete to a large extent.

Execution of Narmada Project:

Despite a sum of Rs. 50,681 crores having been expended on the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Project, waters have so far not reached to the farms of farmers. The Gujarat government, which has been indulging into tall talks for the last 12 years has not laid the canals; then how can water reach the end-users? If we look at the present statistics of Narmada Project, they are asunder:

canalsAnti-Farmers Policy:

In the absence of branch, sub-branch and petty branch canals, farmers have no alternative but to draw water from the Narmada canal, which this government calls ‘pilferage’.

Earlier also in the year 2012 (prior to the Assembly polls) there were dark zones, during which time, permissions were not granted to the farmers for tube wells for irrigation purpose whereas industries did indeed had such permission. On the one hand, farmers do not get irrigation facilities, but if they secure or draw water on their own, then they are called ‘thieves’.

If an irrigation canal is passing through some point and the farmers benefit from it, then the farmers might be asked to pay charges, but if indirect damage occurs to the farms on account of breaches in irrigation canals, then the government does not seek to provide any compensation. In fact, it seeks to brush aside the farmers’ plea for compensation by saying that the canal got breached because of holes in the canals created by rats!

Decommand for Farmers but ‘Open’ for Industries:

The State government has so far ceased to allocate Narmada waters to 26,210 hectares of land. For want of irrigation water, farmers in Gujarat were compelled to dispose of their costly fertile lands. For acquisition of lands for the industrialists, the State government conceived such a conspiracy that, with the stoppage of waters from Narmada canals, these fertile lands have been today rendered water-starved. Hence, farmers have been compelled to dispose of their lands.

The area decommended by the government during the last five years:

decommandThis decommanding of the Narmada command area is taking place even when there are no hurdles like social movements and legal battles for building the Narmada canal network. It is another thing that almost Rs. 51,000 crore has been spent on the Narmada project, yet canals have remained incomplete.

Polluted Water:

The Prime Minister is known to have declared that, after having “purified” Sabarmati river, it is now the turn of Mother Ganges. But the report of the CAG exposes quite otherwise as regards the pollution levels of Sabarmati. CAG in its Report of March 2012 had given sensational details about polluted rivers of the State, as a result of the government’s neglect, inefficient management and free hand given to the industries for causing pollution. The CAG report for the year ending March 31, 2015, exactly after three years, has highlighted the same issue again.

The speed of dynamic Gujarat has increased the pace of pollution. On the one hand, there is crisis of drinking and irrigation waters, on the other, industries, in the name of ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ or ‘Make in India’,  have been offered permits for polluting.

The CAG report for the year 2015 states that, in the State there are 37 Common Effluent Treatment Plants in the joint sector, out of which 33 are operational and of these, based on capacity utilization and region-wise, 12 plants were selected.

The CAG examined record for the period from April 2012 to March 2015 of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board, from which it has been proved that all these 12 common effluent treatment plants have not been functioning up to  the GPCB’s prescribed norms, and contaminated water is being discharged. Due to this, sea, creek, lakes and river have been polluted.

The CAG stated that due to ineffective process, design and ineffective follow-up monitoring on the part of the GPCB, processed polluted water was being discharged which were being drained into natural lakes or ponds.

For these joint sector effluent treatment plants being operated with financial assistance from the State and the Central government, an amount of Rs. 212.31 crore has been spent from 2012-13 to 2014-15.

The government was aware that there would be paucity of rainfall and hence it needed to take necessary steps in advance, yet it is making vain and futile attempts. Last year there was no massive drought like that of the years 1986-87. Further, in those years there were no Narmada canals. Therefore, a question arises: If there is less rainfall in a single year then why is there so much of serious water crisis? Where have ‘people’s schemes’ (Sauni Yojana) gone; the lakes of the state were to be filled up with the help of people’s schemes!

In the cities like Ahmedabad the lakes or ponds which had been designed by the Urban Development Authority have been rendered completely dry and barren. Why these lakes were not filled up with Narmada waters? Why is Chandola lake of Ahmedabad empty? Is there some secret agenda of the government?

The government had popularized the slogan of ‘People’s Support and People’s Progress’ but it still needs to involve the people in the planning for water. Water committees were formed under a WASMO project, but the time has come to think as to what other options can be there for water. Which types of experiments need to be made?

The then chief minister and the present Prime Minister has been demonstrating development of other countries and development models of other cities every time taking along various industrial houses to foreign tours. Then why such an opportunity was not offered to the farmers of Gujarat?

In Gujarat water resources have been spoiled due to industrialization. In the city like Ahmedabad we have become victim of fatal diseases caused by polluted or impure water.

Meanwhile, a Climate Change Action Plan was prepared in the face of drought situation, but this Climate Change Action Plan has been reduced merely to be the syllabus of a University or School Text Books Board! Indeed, we are not equipped to fight against excessive rains and floods, nor are we able to face the challenge of droughts.

*Paryavaran Mitra, Ahmedabad.  Contact : 9714839280; maheshrpandya@gmail.com

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