At Kheda Murar, a village about 13 km from Rewari town, I R Sharma tills his three-acre farm from “monsoon to monsoon”. “There is no point incurring heavy input costs during the dry season as return will be either low or in the negative,” said the 80-year-old farmer.
Two canals cut through the village. For the past one month they have been dry. What Sharma, being a retired armyman earning a pension, can afford, Udmi Gujjar cannot. The 65-year-old farmer is totally dependent on agriculture and is worried about his wheat crop due to lack of water. “Farming here is largely dependent on God. The canal has regular water only when it rains,” said Gujjar.
As Haryana and Punjab continue their slugfest over the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) canal, the endless wait for water is routine in villages of Rewari-Narnaul belt. The stretch is one of the driest in Haryana. While canals — if a village is lucky to have it — have irregular flow, water table have been going down steadily. It is also at the far end of the SYL canal chain where Haryana government hopes to provide water once the main channel is built and operationalised.
Dhara Singh, the village sarpanch, was a schoolboy when he had first heard of the canal. He is 47 now. “We were told there would be plenty of water. But our fields are still dry while streets are filled with water,” said Singh, pointing to the sewage that has flooded the lanes.
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“Over the years the village has only become poorer. With water table going down, one has to dig deeper. That incurs heavier cost even as crop prices remain stable,” he added. This is one reason why no one grows water-intensive paddy here.
Kheda Murar is a large village with 600 families, almost all dependent on agriculture. It is also located at the end of the water channel and “so gets less water”.
Those who can afford have set up tubewells but power supply, too, is erratic. Badlu Ram, 65, irrigates his fields with the help of a tubewell. “It’s an expensive affair; not reliable, as power is irregular. Electricity cost is also high. But we cannot depend on the canal water. I have lost many a crop waiting for water. So I got this tubewell. I had to go over 100 feet deep. Earlier water was available at 40 feet,” he said.
He is still lucky. The canal flowing through the area has helped raise the water table. In villages such as Manglesar Majri, near Kheda Murar but away from the canal, one has to dig 250 feet to find water.
Sharma isn’t hopeful that the SYL canal will “ever come”. “It’s an NDA government in Haryana, Punjab and at the Centre. If the canal can’t still be built, who do we blame,” he asked.
Haryana Irrigation Minister O P Dhankar said: “The problem of water shortage is more acute in southern parts of Haryana, including Mahendragarh, Rewari, Bhiwani and Mewat. The state is divided into five zones and each is being given water after 32 days for a period of eight days. The storage capacity of tanks is not sufficient. This is leading to acute shortage of even drinking water…Once we start getting additional water from SYL the problems would ease out…”
Irrigation department’s Engineer-in-Chief AK Gupta pointed out that of 3.5 million-acre feet (MAF) water to be received from Ravi-Beas, only 1.6 MAF was being received at present. He said additional water, as and when received through the SYL, will be sent to these areas.