To regulate consumption of water,drought-prone Gujarat is set to give itself absolute authority over the use of the Narmada canal water as well as private underground resources.
A Bill in this regard,opposed by the Congress as well as the Gujarat Parivartan Party and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh as anti-farmer,was quietly signed by Governor Kamla Beniwal last week. The Governor,who has held back several other Bills,cleared the Gujarat Irrigation and Drainage Bill 2013 without any questions. On Monday,her office will send the Bill to the Assembly,paving the way for the Act.
The Congress has planned a farmers convention in Gandhinagar the same day demanding a rollback of the Bill,citing its draconian measures such as a mandatory licence for sinking a bore or tubewell on any agricultural land,appointment of canal officers with inspection powers,and provision of jail up to six months or a fine of Rs 10,000 not only for water theft but also for percolation,leakage and surface flow from canals.
Gujarat has the flagship Rs 39.24 crore Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd project to irrigate 1.8 million hectares. But now supplying drinking water to nearly 10,000 villages and 131 urban centres seems to have taken priority.
Farmers are already facing the heat from a newly formed Narmada Battalion. Drawn from the State Reserved Force under the existing Gujarat Irrigation Act 1879 (which will now be replaced),and deployed at the Narmada dam site and along the 458-km main canal,it has seized 30 pumping sets and penalised violators since February.
Water shortage in 17 of the 26 districts that were at the receiving end of last years poor monsoon has,however,left farmers with no option but to illegally draw water from canals.
Not all the villages along the Narmada main and sub-canals get irrigation water. According to former BJP chief minister and sworn enemy of Chief Minister Narendra Modi Keshubhai Patel,regulating consumption of water is required,but the Bill has curbed farmers rights when canal and underground resources are their only hope for saving crops. Farmer leaders say such law can work only when a system is in place to irrigate the whole of cultivated land.
The government logic however is that the move will regularise canal water management and distribution as well as underground water resources,which in turn would help increase farmers yield.
Hiral is a special correspondent based in Gandhinagar