Receding water level leaves a spectrum of fear
By Bharat Desai & Robin David
AHMEDABAD: The firing at Falla village in Saurashtra three months back, in which two persons were killed over the issue of water, had the foreboding of a disaster.
It is now at the doorstep with an NGO in north Gujarat complaining last week that if financial aid does not come in shortly, some 70,000 heads of cattle, which had found shelter in its camps, would perish for want of water and fodder.
Gujarat faces the spectre of violent water riots this summer with all large reservoirs having gone dry, rivers exposing their sandy bottom and tube-wells left with no water to pump out.
The monsoon failure was bound to happen. In the coming months, government machinery in most parts of the state will focus on carrying out relief works, sending water to parched areas by train and rushing fodder to remote villages which have already witnessed large-scale migration.
The spectre is frightening with the saline water gushing in at a rapid pace because of over-exploitation of ground water. The government has come up with knee-jerk reactions to the problem. Like the Raska weir in Ahmedabad and the sinking of 120 tube-wells in Wankaner to keep the taps running.
Experts have pointed to a lack of a wholesome approach towards the problem which has been dogging the state for decades now.
Gujarat is, in fact, the most scarcity-prone state in the country with almost 70 per cent of its area prone to drought, as against the national average of 19. Population-wise, 11 per cent of the country's people are vulnerable to drought, against 27 per cent in Gujarat.
The situation has led to excess exploitation of ground water and some 42 talukas have only 15 per cent of the ground water left .
Water from the Sardar Sarovar project, which is held out as a panacea, is still a far cry because of the slow progress of work in the wake of cases, opposition from environmentalists and financial constraints.
But such is the dire need for water that it is feared that water would never reach the tail-end of the command area, particularly Kutch and Saurashtra. In any case, resentment is brewing in Kutch that its allocation from the Narmada project is too low considering the size of the district and the magnitude of the problem.
One hears off and on about the Kalpasar Project, the dream of Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel, which is tipped to provide relief to Saurashtra. But critics dismiss it as a figment of imagination.
Water will be an intensely debated issue in coming months, but if experience of some non-government organisations is to be taken into account, the answers are not as complicated as they are made out to be.
Proper harnessing of rain water through water-shed management and innovations like roof-top harvesting by individual communities have worked wonders.
Kheecha village in Amreli is a case in point. With help from Development Support Centre, a voluntary organisation, 11 farmers pooled in Rs 170,000 to sink a percolator well. From just 15 hectares earlier, farmers there now irrigate 45 hectares collectively. They take more than two crops a year and have even stopped depending on tankers for drinking water to a large extent.