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
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.’’