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For a few drops more

Gujarat: Govt goes into overdrive as saurashtra dries up

Those who said last year was Gujarat’s worst ever drought are eating their words. JANYALA SREENIVAS reports

Gujrat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel had wanted to burst fire crackers when waters from the Narmada river finally reached parts of scarcity-hit Saurashtra. But the celebration seems to have died down pretty fast in these parts, which are facing a very severe shortage of water supply.

Twenty-two of 25 districts in Saurashtra have been declared scarcity-hit by the government. The summer’s only just set in, but 13,000 villages are facing the third consecutive drought, and the numbers at government relief camps have swelled from seven lakh to over 25 lakh this year. Keshubhai Patel says the government is spending nothing less than Rs 2 crore per day to supply water.
Water Supply Minister Narottam Patel searches for answers when asked if the state can keep its head above the water crisis through the crucial summer months till June 15, before monsoon sets in. ‘‘We have made arrangements to supply water through tankers, sinking tubewells and providing hand pumps,’’ he Patel.

Even the minister knows that the tubewells and handpumps are dry because after two successive failed monsoons, groundwater levels have hit rock bottom. And there are no surface sources.

‘‘Last year was supposed to be the century’s worst drought. But this year it’s worse because there are no water sources and we are heavily depending on the Narmada pipeline. Only a few towns and talukas benefit from it because pipelines are still being laid and work is in progress,’’ Patel admits.

According to the Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB), things could get worse this year because even parts of central and north Gujarat, which normally do not face water problems, are reeling under scarcity. About 30,000 water tankers are plying daily to supply water.

Says GWSSB chairperson R K Tripathi: ‘‘The situation is grim and I hope the rains are on time this year. Saurashtra is a ‘high deficit’ scenario. Besides, we have also to tackle central and north Gujarat. I think nowhere in the country has such an unprecedented mobilisation of resources has been done like we are doing in Gujarat right now.’’

The government is attempting to lift water from the Narmada pipeline and other available resources for parched Saurashtra. ‘‘The strategy is to take care of ‘major consumption’ requirements of the bigger cities and towns using the Narmada water so that existing sources could be used for the villages. Slowly, more and more villages are falling into place,’’ Tripathi claims.

The process is plagued by power failures and irregular plying of tankers. The district administrations are being stretched to the limit as the harsh summer takes over. Dharnas, protest marches and skirmishes over water are becoming common.

Says Jamnagar collector R N Pathak: ‘‘Both Rajkot and Jamnagar are dependent on just one dam—AJI III— which is down to dead storage. To how many villages can we make arrangements?’’

The situation is as bad in other parts of the state. In many of the major dams across Saurashtra, North and Central Gujarat water levels have come down to dead storage level. In Saurashtra most of them have dried up totally.

In fact, after an emergency meeting with the chief minister, water supply minister Narottam patel has been asked to go to some of the worst-affected districts in Saurashtra, north and central Gujarat to ‘‘see what immediate water supply arrangements can be made.’’

‘‘I have already visited Kheda, Anand, Dangs and Panchmahals. We have decided to start some supply schemes. Next on priority list in Banaskantha and Mehsana in north Gujarat,’’ Patel says.

The successive drought has resulted in crop failures and recession has set in business and industry. In Saurashtra, Gujarat’s groundnut bowl, only six lakh tonnes of groundnut was produced this year against 20 lakh tonnes in a good year. The cotton crop has been ruined besides wheat and pulses due to lack of irrigation.

The brass parts industry of Jamnagar, diamond-cutting units in Amreli and Rajkot district, Diesel engine and machine tools manufacturing units and cotton ginning factories are already in the doldrums.

Unemployment, poverty and the deteriorating situation in the villages is resulting in migration. ‘‘People are selling off land and cattle and moving to other cities,’’ says Dr Hemiksha Rao, head of sociology department, Saurashtra University.
At least 10,000 youth and men are already estimated to have left villages for Ahmedabad, Surat and bigger cities of Saurashtra itself. ‘‘They will only return if there is a good monsoon. Otherwise there will be a large-scale migration next year,’’ says Rajkot Chamber of Commerce President Dhirubhai Vithalani.

With nearly one and half months to go before the rains set in, the government is keeping its fingers crossed. As water supply minister Narottam Patel puts it: ‘‘It should rain on time at least this year. Otherwise we are doomed.’’

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