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Tuesday 23 November 1999
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Winter of discontent in Kutch BJP over Narmada water

AHMEDABAD: Bharatiya Janata Party leaders from Kutch are trying to pin down Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel to make a commitment for greater allocation of Narmada water to the district. Mr Patel has so far dodged the issue by not responding to two letters written by the Kutch BJP president Arun Vachharajani on the subject .

The murmurs of discontent in Kutch over allocation of water from the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) are getting louder by the day with BJP leaders owing alliance to industries minister Suresh Mehta adopting a more aggressive posture. However, BJP's Rajya Sabha member from Kutch, Anant Dave told The Times of India from New Delhi, "Everybody in Kutch wants more water from Narmada, but we don't want to make this a political issue till the Supreme Court hearing on the dam height issue on December 2."

Kutch BJP workers don't want to sound critical of the state government at present as they have been advised restraint by the leaders.

Several BJP leaders of Kutch are currently touring the district to mobilise public opinion on the subject as the possibility of another drought haunts the district. "We have faced 30 droughts in 50 years since independence, all this money which has been spent on drought relief could have solved the problem of water scarcity in Kutch forever," says Mr Dave.

The Narmada water issue had assumed immense importance during the last Lok Sabha elections as the RSS-run Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) had criticised BJP candidate Pushpadan Gadhavi for not doing anything on the Narmada issue. The BKS had issued a series of advertisements in local newspapers asking the farmers not to vote for him. "Where was this man (Gadhavi) when one lakh farmers gathered in Bhuj to ask for more water from Narmada," said one of the advertisements.

The boycott move had worked wonders with Mr Patel himself issuing an advertisement in Kutch newspapers promising more water. Kutch leaders say the SSP was initially designed to take water to Kutch. When the project was designed in 1972, there was a proposal for covering 13.5 lakh acres in Kutch. When the allocation was done, however, Kutch got Narmada water to irrigate only 31,000 hectares which was raised to the present 2.81 lakh acres by earlier Congress regime following a wave of protests.

Kutch BJP leaders say almost half of the people would migrate because of the water crisis this season. They say anti social-elements and anti-national forces take-over these villages after the migration. Hence it was essential from the point of national security that these villages get water so that the residents are present to guard the borders and the defence forces don't wilt under the water crisis.

Significantly, Pushpadan Gadhavi , who himself faced the brunt of protests during the elections, is now trying to lead the agitation for more water allocation for Kutch and has addressed a series of meetings in the district in the last few weeks. Most politicians in Kutch admit that water is likely to remain the dominant issue in the coming years and they would like to be seen as pro-active on Narmada allocation.

The Economic Times


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