DECCAN HERALD Monday, May 1, 2000

Gujaratis go thirsty as water parks sprout

GANDHINAGAR, April 29 (DHNS)

The Gujarat Government was exposed in its own game of hushing up the severe drought situation when sparks flew at Keshubhai Patel`s Cabinet meeting as two senior ministers clashed over the issue, and on a later date the Congress leader of the Opposition was compelled to walk out of the all- party meeting convened to discuss the drought situation, alleging that he was not allowed to express his views of the starvation deaths and grave situation in his tribal constituency of Sabarkantha.

Minister of State for Youth and Cultural Activities Mahendra Trivedi, who represents Bhavnagar where police had opened fire earlier this month on people protesting against distribution of water, alleged inefficient distribution of fodder in his constituency. He reportedly alleged that if the government did not ensure its fair distribution, he would face the people`s wrath back home.

Gujarat Revenue Minister Mr Vajubhai Vala reportedly contested his statements and a duel ensued, thus compelling the chief minister to intervene. Mr Vala reportedly browbeated Mr Trivedi, maintaining that he was the minister in charge and ''was well aware of the proper distribution of fodder.``

Even as Mr Patel had maintained a studied silence or dodged serious issues on drought giving journalists absurd answers, he is reported to have reprimanded his revenue minister to check on the situation in Bhavnagar. Such clashes within the cadre-based and disciplined BJP indicates smouldering dissidence.

This could be the beginnings of the Patel ministry`s fall under its own pressure. Whatever be the reasons, such dialectics within the monolith saffron party could bring in a semblence of democratisation within the monolithic political party and probably a whiff of transparency.

Mr Patel`s obvious double standards were exposed when he insisted that his junior colleague be heard whereas in practice his government was despotic and refused to see reason in the drought politics.

Hence when the belated all- party meeting was convened on Thursday, months after the crisis had set in, Congress Legislative Party leader Amarsinh Chowdhry was not allowed to speak even as the meeting went on for one-and- half hours.

Instead of respecting the Opposition leader`s legitimate turn to speak, non-governmental organisations including the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and industry president and others were called upon to speak.

The Patel government was fully aware that the CLP leader would speak of the irregularities which led to the starvation deaths of three tribals in his constituency in Sabarakantha. More pertinently, his wife Ms Nishaben is the parliamentarian from the constituency where not only is there a near famine condition because of crop failure, the tribals are given paltry daily wages of Rs 4 for relief works, that too after three weeks.

Even though Mr Chowdhry flung the drought manual at the dais, the ruling party members blamed him for using foul language against the chief minister at the meeting.

Talking to reporters later he termed the chief minister a ''dinosaur who eats away others rights and a person without logic.`` Equipped with the gang book which records the daily wages, both he and his colleague Subhash Shelat walked out of the meeting.

Even as the drought situation has assumed massive proportions in Gujarat which has affected two crore people in 17 districts engulfing 9,421 villages, 79 towns and afflicted Rajkot, Jamnagar among the four cities, the Patel Government does not seem to be serious The government has sought an assistence of Rs 722 crores, even though an allocation of Rs 922 crore would be required to tide by the massive calamitiy. It expects Rs 180 crore from its share of the Natural Calamity Fund. When the State is faced with the worst water crises, its senior ministers are busy in building water parks, a money churner especially in summer.

The chief minister after inaugurating his senior minister`s water park 20 km from Ahmedabad, reversed his decision of closing down all the 16 parks, but restricted the closure only to those in drought prone areas - the number could be a mere two. Worse, an influential person who runs an avertisement agency, a news agency and close confidant of the chief minister`s son-in-law, has been advertising sponsoring live pop music show in the park by Manikchand, the infamous ghutkha company.

Even as the entire country is concerned about the grave drought situation and the prime minister has appealed to the people through a televised speech to donate towards the unprecedented drought, the Patel Government has turned the grave issue into a money churning issue. They have involved the private Pipavav port for docking in the naval vessel INS Shakti for bringing in 10 lakh litres of water in the hope of quenching the thirst of 25 villages of Amreli district. However, for the owner of the port, also a media magnate of Gujarat and a major BJP supporter, it is yet another money churning formula.

The Patel Government is seeking two million gallons per day (MGD) water from Reliance Petroleum Limited`s Jamnagar desalination plant and this is yet another exercise in public relations. The RPL has after ruining the entire ecology of the Marine National Park in the Gulf of Kutch, has also enraged the people of Jamnagar and its vicinity. Their plant and housing colony at Moti Khavdi near Jamnagar has eaten into all the water reserves of Jamnagar and the rural areas in the vicinity.

Mr Shamji Antala, a member of the Gujarat Ecology Commission is of the firm opinion that excessive withdrawal of ground water resources and lack of watershed management and water recharge has led to such a sordid state of water scarcity. Mining water in Saurashtra would have a disastrous effect on the fragile ecology.

According to CPM Secretary Arun Mehta giving paltry wages of Rs 4 a day on the relief work site is a crime which the government cannot be absolved of. `` Where is all the money going to? ''The Patel Government may as well resign if they cannot handle the crisis.``


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