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Tuesday 16 May 2000


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Water harvesting: No permanent solution

WATER scarcity this time in Saurashtra, Kutch and North Gujarat has for the first time spurred massive efforts to build watershed facilities - deepening the silted lakes, ponds, rivulets, digging canals and building check dams.

No doubt this can go a long way in solving the problem but some of the scholars and experts question the wisdom of hastily built water shed projects and assert that this cannot be a permanent solution.

Rohit Shukla, a research scholar at Sardar Patel Institute, said the scarcity manual written by the British was still ruling the roost. This disallowed the government to employ skilled workers for relief work. As a result, no exit for surplus water was built in the lakes. This can be done properly only by the masons or engineers. This causes destruction all around during monsoon and the surplus water flows out uncontrolled.

Secondly, at many places in Amreli and Rajkot districts, people are engaged in building check dams on upper levels of rivers which must flow ordinarily to its reservoirs on lower levels.

Once the river flow thus prevented on upper level, dams will remain hardly filled and this will create a friction between urban and rural masses.

It may happen that some of these check dams would be broken in future by the people themselves suffering at lower levels. Although, the government machinery is in a state of panic, it has not cared to correct this ugly situation.

Gujarat has no well-thought out water policy despite the existence of considerable scholars and knowledgeable rural personalities understanding the ins and out of water a lot more than the officialdom. As a result again, those having resources of their own dig up tube wells and the artisans and small farmers are left high and dry over the issue of 'ownership' of water.

On the other hand, no planning was done in advance for any village pond to be deepened. According to former finance minister and MP Sanat Mehta, a proposal sent by him to the state government in 1996 to deepen at least 622 lakes and ponds in Surendranagar district gathered dust in Gandhinagar secretariat. If it had been accomplished, at least 100 lakh cubic feet of more water could have been made available by now.

This is not to cast doubt on advisability of local water harvesting projects. But what is absent is co-ordination, planning, expert supervision and holistic solution to the problem.

Question wrongly posed by some half-baked water activists like those of anti-Narmada movement is small versus big dams. Nothing is more absurd than this kind of understanding. Question is also not whether to build water harvesting projects or not. But the question is to wake up in time, well in advance.

Look at our Kalpasar project. Any other country, with minimum zeal for growth and prosperity, would have by now handed over this 53,000 crore projects to some self-financed government or non-government corporations and the work would have already been launched on the site. But here we have a much boosted Vision 2010 of infrastructure without even a cursory mention of this wonderful project. Of course, the ruling party is never tired of loud thinking about desirability of this project. They even promised it in their election manifesto!

A daily of Mumbai reports that Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Agency had predicted last October that due to lack of two third of moisture in the cultivable lands of Rajasthan and Gujarat, it is going to be a huge calamity of failure of crops - worst than what we had seen in 1987.

Many times we hear some words like 'good governance' thrown in by the BJP leaders. They are also obsessed with one excuse all the time: Past governance is responsible for this and 'we have only inherited it'. But so far they have miserably failed to make any drastic change in the system of governance. Perhaps they really don't know what it does mean.

Point of View

By Batuk Vora

The Economic Times


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