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The Hindu on indiaserver.com : Water riots a new worry in Gujarat

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Saturday, December 25, 1999


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Water riots a new worry in Gujarat

By Manas Dasgupta

RAJKOT, DEC. 24. It is a testing time for the BJP Government in Gujarat. Close on the heels of last week's ``water riot'' in which three persons were killed in police firing in a village in Jamnagar district, a police party was attacked by people in Rajkot district yesterday to prevent the Government from siphoning off water from a dam.

Following monsoon failure leading to an acute shortage of drinking water in the arid Kutch-Saurashtra region and most parts of North Gujarat, many people were apprehending ``water riots'' in summer.

The lack of perspective planning and the failure to push through the Narmada dam project - held the panacea for all ills - have rendered the State, particularly the arid regions, vulnerable to the vagaries of monsoon. For years, the Government has refused to consider long-term measures to solve the problem, believing that the Narmada project is the only answer.

Only short-term measures

Every suggestion for a long-term water supply project or laying of a pipeline from the Narmada or Mahi rivers in south and central regions, to meet at least drinking water requirements, has met with strong resistance. The Government has been merely adopting short-term measures to solve the problem.

The rainfall this year, a mere 37 to 40 per cent of the normal average, has aggravated the problem. As a result the people in the region are jealously guarding the stock of water in their respective dams against pilferage.

A spell of sharp showers in October slackened the implementation of the short-term pipeline projects, creating a greater sense of insecurity among the people. The schemes, scheduled to be completed by November to ensure that at least drinking water requirements in the summer months are met have not even reached the half-way stage. The others slated to be initiated by November have by and large remained on paper.

The planning for most of the water supply schemes show the government's short-sightedness in trying to make only stop-gap arrangements. Many of the schemes for supply of water to major urban centres from one dam or the other had to be quickly revised and redrafted following stiff resistance from the locals. Even during the Lok Sabha elections, the Chief Minister, Mr. Keshubhai Patel, was compelled to change his promises because none of the dams in the region holds enough water to meet the requirements of urban centres even after satisfying the local needs.

What led to firing

The people of Falla village had long resisted the move to supply water from the Kankavati dam to Jamnagar city but the Government failed to take any decision or plan alternative sources for the city. The people of Falla had been offering a satyagraha for the last fortnight resisting the move to lay a pipeline from Kankavati to Jamnagar. The protest was called off following the intervention by the District Collector. Mr. Girish Murmu, who gave the assurance that a decision on the scrapping of the project would be taken in a day.

But the Government failed to take the decision and the people who gathered next day to ``safeguard'' the water in the dam soon turned violent and launched a ``rasta roko'' on the Rajkot- Jamnagar highway. The police intervened when some agitating villagers attempted to torch a passing gas tanker. Three persons, including a by-stander, were killed in 23 rounds of firing.

Even before the dust settled a police party was attacked by the local people at the Fofal dam on Thursday when it accompanied a Government team for laying a pipeline from the dam to supply water to Gondal town. The mob also damaged the equipment and vehicles and forced the staff to flee.


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