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The Hindu on indiaserver.com : Bid to cash in on Mahi water project

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Friday, April 07, 2000


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Bid to cash in on Mahi water project

By Manas Dasgupta

AHMEDABAD, APRIL 6. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which controls the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC), and the party bosses running the State administration seem to have conflicting opinion on holding elections to the civic bodies in Gujarat.

While the party leaders in the AMC are keen that the civic elections should be held according to schedule in June, the ruling party in Gandhinagar is still undecided about its timings.

The BJP virtually kicked off the party's election campaign when the Union Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani, inaugurated the Kotarpur water treatment plant yesterday to augment the city's water supply by about 650 million gallons a day.

But Mr. Advani apparently did not think that he was there to kick off an election campaign, because he publicly chided party leaders at the function for making long-winding speeches. Water supply schemes and railway level crossings were not the kind of projects a Union Home Minister inaugurated. However, it was not the first time that Mr. Advani had engaged himself in small road or rail projects in his home constituency, Gandhinagar.

He gave a brief address, mostly in lighter vein. The only political reference he made was when he said that unlike in the past, when elections were dominated by corruption or scandals, the BJP for the first time had made them ``performance- oriented''.

Mr. Advani was appreciative of the completion of the Rs. 110 crores pipeline project to supply water to parts of Ahmedabad from the distant Mahi river in a record 130 days. He said that following its performance at the Centre, in the State and in the civic bodies, the voters now knew which party could serve them better.

The BJP leaders in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation want to take advantage of the Mahi water supply project. From the way it organised celebrations all over the city last evening, it was clear that the party would make it a major election issue.

After a gap of more than eight months, the Mahi project has enabled the AMC to resume supply of water in the evenings. It was also able lift the 30 minutes cut in morning supplies after four months.

But while the BJP in Ahmedabad is keen on exploiting the Mahi project to its advantage, the difficult water supply situation in the three other municipal corporation areas of Rajkot, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar, all in the Saurashtra region, as well as Baroda in central Gujarat, has forced the BJP Government to do a rethink on whether mid-summer would be the opportune time to hold civic elections.

Elections are due not only in the six municipal corporations, but also in all the 26 district panchayats and many of the taluka panchayats. With the entire Kutch-Saurashtra and the north Gujarat regions undergoing a severe water crisis and acute shortage of cattle fodder, the State Government is yet to take a final decision on the civic elections.

Though the Minister of State for Urban Development, Mr. Parmanand Khattar, has claimed that the elections would be held according to schedule, sources close to the ruling party indicated that it was in favour of postponing them till December. It was as yet undecided on whether to extend the terms of the present bodies by six months or supercede the local bodies and run the administration through administrators after the expiry of their terms.

The situation has reached a critical stage in Rajkot where water riots has become a routine feature, with water supply being maintained once in four days. Efforts are on improve it to every alternate day. The Reliance Industries Limited, which has set up a major crude oil refinery on the outskirts of Jamnagar, has promised to come to the rescue of the city by supplying water from its desalination plant. But for that, the municipal corporation will have to lay a 30-kilometre pipeline. The Government has no answer to the depleting water level in the Shetrunji dam, the only source for Bhavnagar. The State Government also feels that when a large number of people are engaged in the drought relief work, it would not be proper to hold district and taluka panchayat elections.


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