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Rajkot is dry, but there are a lake, swimming pools & a waterfall nearby

RAJKOT, MAY 21: The contrast couldn't be more telling. Rajkot gets barely 10 minutes of water supply every two days. That is not reason enough to deter some of its residents from making a splash. Sixteen kilometres from the town, 10 of Rajkot's more affluent businessmen have together purchased 100 acres of land which they plan to develop into a farmhouse-cum-entertainment complex. Already, there are two swimming pools, an artificial lake for boating and a monstrous waterfall in the middle of the yet-to-be-constructed dining centre.

``We have dug our own tubewells for the swimming pools, two borewells which supply water to the waterfall, while government tankers meet the rest of our needs,'' says Deepak Dave, one of the promoters, who produces Hello Saurashtra, a 20-minute local news programme. Among the other shareholders are a film financier from Bollywood, who had put his money in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Aamir Khan's home production, Lagaan (and has well-known film producer Jhamu Sugandh for an uncle), a wool merchant and the owner of a local TV channel. Also among the patrons is Arun M. Sakat, Director, Prasar Bharati Corporation (Rajkot).

``When we purchased the land about seven years ago, it was worth about Rs 60 lakh. Today, the property is worth Rs 200 crore,'' says Dave, though none of the shareholders can decide on the circumference of the property (informal estimates put it between three and five kilometres). The waterfall, incidentally, was added ``not for aesthetic value but because we like the sound of water while dining.'' Obviously, the region's history of water shortage does make such things precious.

While the artificial lake is now empty, apparently as a gesture to those affected by the drought, one of the two pools is filled with invitingly blue water while the kids' pool is half-empty. ``Our wives and children enjoy spending their weekends here,'' explains a sheepish Anil Jani, who works for Hello Saurashtra.

The grand plans include sub-letting plots (25 have already been sold or leased) and farmhouses, which they will build, to interested professionals, and even promoting the area as a shooting destination for Bollywood. The unnamed property also boasts of a gym with state-of-the-art equipment, a sauna and an open-air stage with a seating capacity of 3000.

As one enters the property, its 100 acres only partly touched by constructions, but with enough stored water to bathe a posse of elephants, it's tough not to compare the visible opulence with the rest of Rajkot district.

Villages along Rajkot's periphery have reported the most severe shortage of water for drinking and irrigation in decades. For instance, the water harvesting structures in the agriculturally-rich village of Raj Samadhiyala, about 20 km away from Rajkot, remain completely dry after last year's irregular monsoon and most of the borewells yield no water.

Or take the instance of Dedakadi, which is about two hours from Rajkot, where villagers are managing only because there is water stored in dams from two monsoons ago. ``We were able to save our crops last year when there was no rain for 70 days, but the water will not last more than a few months now,'' says a worried Bhupadbhai Deora, pramukh of Dedakadi's water committee. In Malda, barely 3 km away, there is very little water for irrigation, and the rate of migration from the village to Gujarat's cities has increased in the past year. ``But they also come here to work on our land because we pay Rs 60 per day for labour as compared to Rs 32 paid by other villages which are better off this drought,'' says Arvindbhai Patel of Dedakadi.

While the villages in the district are coping with varying degrees of water shortage, Rajkot's Terrible Ten remain impermeable to the situation around them. ``We have the money, we like interacting with people, so we plan to invite guests over to this land. Anyway, how much is the state government doing to help drought victims that we should do something?'' says one of the shareholders, on condition of anonymity. Considering Rajkot is home to the school where Gandhi spent his early years, that seems decidedly un-Gandhian.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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