Hitting back at the Gujarat government for unilaterally deciding to stop the flow of Narmada water for irrigating summer crops in the state, a farmers’ body on Saturday said the move will adversely hit thousands of farmers in north and central Gujarat districts. Gujarat Khedut Samaj has claimed that the water meant for irrigation was being diverted for industrial use during the summer season.
The organisation’s secretary, Sagar Rabari, has also threatened to take legal steps against the state government’s decision. “We feel that the move to cut Narmada water for the farmers is a kind of revenge taken by the state government after the BJP suffered heavy electoral losses in the rural areas in the just concluded state assembly elections,” Rabari said.
The Gujarat Khedut Samaj said while the industries — who are last in the ladder of Narmada project beneficiaries — will continue to get water throughout the upcoming summer season, it is farmers who will bear the brunt of the state government’s decision.
On Friday, the state government-run Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) issued a circular alerting farmers not to take up the cultivation of summer crops as Narmada waters meant for irrigation will be available only till March 15, 2018. SSNNL blamed the limited water availability in the dam and poor monsoon in catchment areas of the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh.
“The Narmada dam had overflowed on July 27, 2017, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had attended a ceremony where he dedicated the project to the nation after radial gates were installed on top of the dam. Where has all the water from the dam gone? The state government should provide answers,” says Rabari. He claimed that the water level in the Narmada dam stood at 118 metres on December 31, 2017.
“Secondly, the Narmada project was designed to be a drinking water project where water allocation to industries was the last priority. So, if the farmers are not going to get water, then will the supply of Narmada water to industries be stopped?” Rabari added.
The representatives from the organisation claimed that the SSNL was non-transparent with regard to how much water it was currently supplying to farmers, how much was kept for drinking purpose and how much was being supplied to industries. “We are not sure how many farmers will be affected by the state government’s decision, but those in Mehsana, Surendranagar, Patan, Botad and Bhavnagar growing crops like bajra, jowar, watermelons, sweet potato and fodder will be affected,” Rabari said, alleging that the state government, faced with water deficit, was diverting precious water meant for irrigation to industries in Sanand, Vagra, Kutch, Jamnagar and other industrial estates operated by the GIDCs.
“The government is already supplying more than the 0.2 million acre feet water of the Narmada meant for the industries,” he said, adding that the demand for water from industries in Gujarat had surpassed the water allocation way back in 2014.
There are three distinguished agriculture seasons in Gujarat – kharif, rabi and the summer season. Out of the 125 lakh hectares of gross cropped area, 70 per cent is cultivated under kharif crops, 25 per cent under rabi and only five per cent under summer crops.
According to the figures sourced from the agriculture department of Gujarat, over 8.3 lakh hectares of land was sown under summer crop in May 2017 which largely included crops like bajra, groundnut, sesame, sugarcane and vegetables. Most of the summer crops are sown in north and central Gujarat districts.
Meanwhile, the Gujarat Congress has also criticised the move of the state government to stop Narmada waters for summer crop irrigation. Manish Doshi, the party spokesperson, said that due to the incomplete canal network, the government was forced to divert the excess water during the monsoon to the sea.
“The benefits of closing the radial gates and generating hydro power will go to the neighbouring states. The real deal for Gujarat in this project is the water of the river,” he said.
“Before the elections, the state government organised a Narmada Mahotsav and went around the state talking about how the project has benefited the farmers. Now, just a month after the completion of polls, waters meant for irrigation have been stopped. This will adversely affect the farmers,” Doshi said. He added that the government should, in turn, impose a cut on supply of water to industries and divert it for irrigation.