Days after the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) forewarned the farmers in Saurashtra and north Gujarat regions that they would not be supplied water from Narmada for irrigation of rabi crops due to the unavailability of water in the Sardar Sarovar dam, tribal leaders in Vadodara and Chhota Udepur districts have demanded supply of irrigation water to the tribal pockets through which the Narmada Main Canal passes.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Congress MLAs Mohansinh Rathwa (from Chhota Udepur), who is also former Leader of Opposition, and Sukhram Rathwa (from Pavi Jetpur), former Lok Sabha MP Naran Rathwa and former Congress MLA from Nasvadi Dhirubhai Bhil said the state government had been doing “great injustice to the tribal population by denying Narmada water for irrigation in tribal areas”.
Former leader of Opposition Mohansinh Rathwa, 74, who won the Assembly elections for the 10th term in December 2017 and is the longest-serving MLA in the state, said, “There is unrest among the tribal youths of Garudeshwar, Nasvadi, Chhota Udepur, Kwant, Bodelli and Pavi Jetpur talukas because the villages of these talukas are not getting Narmada water though the Narmada main canal either passes through some of these talukas or is located very close to these talukas.”
“I took up the matter with the state government several times but the fact is that no one listens to tribals,” the veteran tribal politician said. He said, “It is strange that the farmers of Saurashtra, Kutch and other regions are benefiting from Narmada water but the tribal farmers close to the Narmada dam have been deprived of the benefits of its water. There does not seem to be a political will on the part of the state government to give Narmada water to tribals.” He added, “The time is not far off when the tribal youths may come out and forcibly stop the supply of Narmada water to other areas. The government must understand it.”
His party colleague and MLA Sukhram Rathwa said, “We are not against Kutch and Saurashtra farmers being given Narmada water. Our contention is that tribals are also citizens of India. Tribal farmers are like any other farmer in Gujarat. The tribal farmers deserve the same facilities that are being extended to other farmers. Our demands is that tribal farmers also be given Narmada water for irrigating their fields.”
He said the arguments advanced by the state government is that the topography of the tribal areas adjoining the Narmada canal is uneven and hence, gravitational flow of the canal water to these areas is not possible. “But the same position is in other parts of the state. If Narmada water can be taken to Saurashtra and Kutch region through life canal system, the same technique can be used in tribal belt as well,” he said. The MLA said that if the irrigation water is provided, it would boost the local agriculture economy and prevent the migration of tribals.
Stating that he would raise the issue in the forthcoming session of the state Assembly, Sukhram Rathwa said, “We will start the agitation for Narmada water from the site of the dam to the state capital if the state government does not consider our demand.”
Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, who also handles Narmada affairs, said, “The allocation of water to different regions was settled by the Narmada Control Authority in 1978. The tribal areas of Chhota Udepur, Narmada and Vadodara districts were not incorporated in the Narmada command area and hence, they can’t be given Narmada water for irrigation.”
SSNNL chairman-cum-managing director S S Rathod, however, could not be contacted despite several efforts,
The Narmada water, besides being supplied to Kutch, also goes to irrigate fields in Barmer and Jhalore districts of bordering Rajasthan through 458-km-long Narmada Main Canal.