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The Indian Express: Top Stories
Thursday, June 21, 2001

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Gujarat wakes up and smells the rain

After three droughts, showers put smiles back on farmers’ faces, reservoirs swell with water

Darshan Desai

Gandhinagar, June 20: GOOD news and Gujarat? The two had parted ways over the last three years after three droughts, an unforgettable earthquake and the Madhavpura Bank scam. The reunion has finally taken place and rain showers have played Cupid: after months, checkdams are full, relief sites are being shut down, dry reservoirs are filling up and sowing has begun in the fields.

Descending on the stricken state a week ahead of its regular course, the rain hasn’t just relieved farmers who can now look forward to the prospect of a kharif crop. It’s also given Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, who’s still shouldering flak for the handling of post-quake relief plus battling dissent within the BJP, a breather.

For starters, more than 13,500 checkdams built in the Saurashtra-Kutch region under the Sardar Patel Participatory Water Conservation scheme have been brimming with water after four days of rain. The checkdams now have 1,520 million cubic feet of water in store, which will help in recharging ground water as well as irrigating over 52,000 hectares in drought-hit regions.

Last week’s downpour also swelled up 175 small and medium dams in the Kutch district as well as reservoirs in the Saurashtra and southern Gujarat. At least 2,600 more checkdams are being built in Saurashtra, to be completed by July end.

The respite comes after a long dry and depressing spell. Last year, less than two months after the end of the monsoon, all major dams in the scarcity-drone Saurashtra, Kutch and north Gujarat started to dry up. In September, the regions had just 20 per cent live storage and by the end of the year, there was simply no water left.

This year, even Ahmedabad and most of central Gujarat, including the city of Vadodara, bore the brunt of the drought. More than 12,000 of the total 18,000 villages and 22 of 25 districts in Gujarat were declared scarcity and semi-scarcity-hit. Ironically, last year’s drought which affected over 9,000 villages affected, was dubbed the century’s worst!

Apart from transferring the Narmada waters through pipelines from the Irrigation Bypass Tunnel of the Sardar Sarovar Project, the government had to tap overexploited groundwater all over again, operate tankers and run water trains. Drought relief sites were opened in as many as 199 talukas, engaging over 20,000 workers. The good spell of rain has lifted the shroud of scarcity from over 130 talukas, and relief works there have been closed.

Coinciding with the Supreme Court lifting a six-year-old stay on further construction on the Narmada project, the Gujarat Government also opened the floodgates of water from the Narmada dam.

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