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The Hindu on : Gujarat facing acute water shortage

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Sunday, September 26, 1999

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Gujarat facing acute water shortage

By Manas Dasgupta

RAJKOT, SEPT. 25. The acute water crisis facing large parts of Gujarat this year due to paucity of rains will not be a temporary phenomena. The experts in water management predict a dark future for the State even in normal monsoon years if the water conservation measures are not taken up by the Government and the people in right earnest.

The excessive use of sub-soil water, rapid industrialisation causing pollution of surface water and the Government's apathy in solving the water shortage problem on a permanent basis together may create serious water crisis by 2025 defying all solutions.

The delay in the implementation of the Narmada Dam project, the political interferences in executing the Kutch-Saurashtra pipeline projects and the failure of the authorities to realise the gravity of the situation and take necessary remedial measures further aggravated the situation in the last 25 years.

Instead of only the traditional water shortage arid zones of the Kutch and Saurashtra regions, even the comparatively better off north and central Gujarat regions and the eastern hilly tracts inhabitated by the tribals are also facing acute water crisis.

According to Mr. Shamjibhai Antala, the former chairman of the Saurashtra Lok Manch, a pioneer in the water conservation, even in normal monsoon years the state would face shortage of 7,294 million cubic metre (MCM) of water in the next 25 years.

At present, the state use a total of 49,733 mcm including 20,486 mcm of surface water, 18,047 mcm of water carried into the state through the rivers from the neighbouring states and 11,200 MCM of sub-soil water.

With no increase in the water resources, the state would face a shortfall of over 7,000 MCM of water.

The Gujarat region, particularly the heavy rainfall areas of south Gujarat, is confronting the water problem in a different way, pollution of the sub-soil water resources due to rapid industrialisation, mainly chemical industries. Random sample surveys conducted by the Gujarat Ecology Commission and other official agencies have found that the underground water in most parts of the state have not only become unpotable, it would also damage the agricultural crops in the long run.

The 450 kilometre-long ``Industrial Golden Corridor'' from Mehsana in north Gujarat to Vapi on the border with Maharashtra while fast progressing industrially, is also causing serious water pollution.

In its quest for rapid industrialisation, the State has failed to restrict setting up of dangerous chemical industries or limiting their locations to defined areas. The chemical units causing serious air and water pollutions are found almost the entire length of the Golden Corridor with heavy concentrations in the industrial estates around all the major cities and towns including Ahmedabad, Baroda, Broach, Surat and Vapi.

The State Pollution Control Board, unable to use the stick against the polluting industries often due to political pressures from the State Government unwilling to hurt the industrial entrepreneurs, have failed to play its role effectively.

More than 180 industrial estates in the State, many of them housing dangerous chemical industries, are operating without any water treatment plants in violation of the existing law.

The State Government acting on a recommendation of the centre in 1970 enacted a law to restrict the haphazard use of sub-soil water and declared 40 talukas as ``dark zones'' where the underground water level was fast depleting and reaching a crisis point, but the law was never put to practice strictly and instead in April, 1997, the restrictions in dark zone was withdrawn allowing free use of sub-soil water.

The Mehsana district alone has more than 25,000 deep tubewells while the Saurashtra region can boast of 7.50 lakh deep tubewells and over a million of borewells even as the underground water level has depleted to about 1,200 feet.

The excessive use of underground water is also creating potable water problem in over 9,000 of the total 18,000 villages in the state despite more than Rs 1,200 crores spend towards water resources in the last decade. Another about Rs 500 crores is earmarked to be spend only in the current year to construct pipelines to provide drinking water to the drought- affected villages and towns in the Kutch-Saurashtra region which, according to the Chief Minister, Mr. Keshubhai Patel, would purely be of ``temporary nature''.

With crores of rupees literally going down the pipelines, the brief monsoon session of the state Assembly scheduled to begin in Gandhinagar from Monday is certain to be dominated by the drought and water problems in the State but it is high time the State Government and the people give some serious thought towards the conservation of rain waters to solve the problem on a permanent basis instead of living from day to day and year to year.

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