With the towns and cities in Saurashtra facing an acute shortage of drinking water,the state government has cracked down on farmers pilfering water from the Narmada canal,arresting at least two dozen of them in Surendranagar district alone in the past one month.
On Thursday,three more farmers were booked in two separate FIRs by Dhrangadhra taluka police for drawing water from the canal illegally.
Around 600 State Reserve Police (SRP) personnel have been deployed to guard Maliya branch of Narmada canal in Surendranagar district that supplies drinking water to Rajkot,Jamanagar and other regions in Saurashtra.
According to Water Resources Minister Nitin Patel,the government was releasing 50 crore litres of water daily into the Narmada canal of which 25 crore litres was pilfered mid-way.
According to police,most of the cases have been lodged in Halvad and Dhrangadhra talukas where farmers were found stealing water from the canal to irrigate their cotton fields.
In the last one month,we have registered about 20 FIRs in which farmers were found drawing water from the canal illegally. We have arrested 25 to 30 such farmers who are mostly poor and facing irrigation water crisis, said Raghvendra Vatsa,Superintendent of Police,Surendranagar.
According to police,farmers mainly employ two methods to steal water. They would pump water out of the canal through pumping sets or use a baknali,a plastic pipe that draws water using gravity principle. Farmers dig up to a minimum of five metres and attach the pipe after drilling a hole in the canals boundary wall, they said,adding the second method damages the canal.
Police claimed to have seized more than 500 such pipes and pumping sets and other equipment in the past one month.
The Surendranagar district administration had earlier declared the 107-km-long Maliya branch canal of Narmada as a prohibited zone.
In the past one month,Halvad taluka received only one inch of rainfall that has led to the crisis. The area is dry but the farmers need to sow their crops. Thats the reason why incidents of water thefts are on the rise, said Surendranagar district collector Pradip Shah.
President of Bharatiya Kisan Sanghs state unit Maganbhai Patel,however,said farmers had no other option since there was no rain this season for them to irrigate their fields. We have been requesting the government for years to supply drinking water through pipeline and not through open canal. If farmers cant irrigate their land because there is no rain,they would draw water from the canal no matter what charges government slaps on them, he said.