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The Asian Age Online

Oriental Bank Of Commerce  

Politics, corruption play havoc in drought-hit Gujarat

By Ketaki Ghoge
Kutch (Gujarat), July 7

As the second spate of drought hits Gujarat, water in this area has almost become a dirty word. Disputes, politics, corruption all comes in play to acquire water rights and everyone here is intensely aware that water values more than half a dozen kingdoms put together.

Even as Narmada Bachao Andolan activists will begin satyagraha against the Sardar Sarovar project from July 15 at Domkhedi, Maharashtra, and Jalsindhi in Madhya Pradesh, Kutch, which has been allocated 2 per cent of total water granted to Gujarat, has reiterated its demand for a fair allocation of water from the Sardar Sarovar.

A petition filed against the Gujarat government by an NGO in Kutch, Kutch Jalsankat Nivaran Samiti, asking for the yardsticks on which the government had allocated water from Narmada to different districts of Gujarat, will be heard in the Gujarat high court on the July 12.

Kutchis are affronted at the Gujarat government that had put forward Kutch as a means to increase the height of the dam but has granted the region only 2 per cent of water. As Liladhar Gada of the Kutch Development Forum said, “The last government gave the criteria of population for allocating water. Kutch has only 2 per cent of Gujarat’s population, but it also possess 25 per cent of Gujarat’s cultivable land.

If population is the criteria then the government can wait for another 15 years, by that time Kutch may have no population. In the last 50 years, half of Kutch’s population has migrated away.” Another prevalent feeling among Kutchis is that the government did not put forth Kutch’s cause capably before the Narmada tribunal. Shasikant Thakkar, who was a Class I government official and has thoroughly studied the Narmada water issue, said, “The Gujarat government put forward the case for Rann of Kutch and Banni (grasslands) for irrigation, ignoring the existing cultivable land 6.59 lakh hectares in Kutch.

Further the government failed to submit details asked by the tribunal of the experiment for turning Rann and Banni into cultivable lands.” He adds there is no political pressure on the government from Kutch. While the tribunal clearly stated that irrigation should be the first priority, followed by water for drinking and then industrialisation, the existing situation is the opposite. Water is granted more to industrialised areas.

As Deepak Mepani of the Kutch development Forum points out, “Even the 2 per cent water to Kutch is spread to Mandvi, Mundra areas that are relatively developed and industrialised. Talukas like Abdasa, Rapar, Lakhpat that depend on agriculture have been deprived of a water source.” The main occupation of the people in these talukas is agriculture, cattle breeding when it rains and relief scarcity work when there are famines.

The farmers lament that lack of water has turned their fertile lands barren. In small areas where water is available, the yield of crop is excellent. A big trader Memon Mahmud Usman of the Abdasa taluka said, “Certain areas of the taluka even in this bad year have produced Rs 8 crore worth of cotton, Rs 4 crore worth of gawar and Rs 2 crore of isabgol. In a good year (water avaibility) Rs 12 crore worth of cotton can be produced.” He adds that even a small check dam of 10 lakh can make 50 acres of land cultivable.

While the need to built check dams, medium-sized dams has been emphasised by all farmers and NGOs alike, the problem is that the water table is depleting due to lack of rains. Kheeraj Kara Maheshwari, a farmer of the relatively prosperous central region of Kutch, said, “Fifty years back, sub-soil percolated water would automatically come out, there was no need for wells. Today we have to go 300-400 ft down to pull out water by motor pumps.”

Lt. Col. Jadeja (Retd.), who has been fighting for the rightful share of Narmada waters to Kutch for the last 40 years, negates the belief that water-harvesting structures can be a substitute to the Narmada waters. He asks, “Where is the water source? Farmers have grown cash crops; the sub soil water has reduced considerably. There are droughts every alternate year. We have no perennial rivers, unless water is got from outside, Kutch will remain barren.”

Liladhar Gada of the Kutch Development Forum points out, “Medha Patkar of NBA is fighting for ecology and against migration. We are also fighting for the same. Kutchis have been migrating for ages due to lack of water and our ecology is getting destroyed.”

He refers to the grasslands that sported elephant grass and where the traditional occupation of Banni people was cattle grazing and breeding. He adds that today, Banni that stretches for miles together is barren, all it needs is avaibility of water, not even irrigation facilities to rejuvenate it.

The sentiments among the Kutchis fighting for their “right” over Narmada waters run high and their angst against the Gujarat government for letting them down is palpable. All they want is their share of water, if not canal water then the overflow waters.

They point out the gravity canal that can reach waters to remote areas of Kutch is possible but purposefully the avenue is ignored by the government.

The NGOs have done their homework, they have their facts, figures correct, they have appointed engineers to study the project, taken help from Rajasthan engineers where a gravity canal was made possible and worked. The only catch is their optimism for getting the Narmada waters is not shared by all.

Mahesh Thacker, ex-MLA and president of the Bhuj District Congress Committee who like many blames Keshubhai Patel for the existing situation said,“Keshubhai was the irrigation minister at he time of Narmada tribunal, today he is the chief minister, till Keshubhai is there Kutch will not get Narmada waters.”

He makes a valid point stating that until there is political pressure from Kutch, nothing will happen. Keshubhai who comes from Saurashtra will ensure water reaches his region, if he was from Kutch, water would have made its way to Kutch. He admits that Congress also did not do much to ensure water to Kutch.

The final word comes from Kirti Khatir, the editor of vernacular paper Kutch Mitra, who said,“Water harvesting structures, the waters of Narmada both are a necessity but it is doubtful that Narmada waters will ever reach Kutch. In all big dam projects more often than not tail-enders never get their proportion of water. For instance Indira canal waters never reached Jaisalmer.”


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