Over the last two months, the government has cut the amount of Narmada water being supplied for rabi crops by 30 per cent.
At the beginning of the rabi season in November, the government had said that 19,000 cusecs of irrigation water will be released till the harvest of the crops. As per the official figures with The Indian Express, of the total 17,654 cusecs of water being released into the Narmada Main Canal from the Sardar Sarovar dam, 13,500 cusecs has been allotted for irrigation — 28.9% less than the promised amount.
In November, The Indian Express had reported that 22,000 cusecs of Narmada water was being released into the main canal, of which 19,000 cusecs was for irrigation. Currently, of the 17,654 cusecs being released into the main canal, 2,500 cusecs is for drinking purposes, 1,600 cusecs for Rajasthan and 107 cusecs for industrial use.
“There has been a drop in supply of (Narmada) water because the rabi crop is nearing harvest,” said a senior state government official of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL).
However, according to agriculture experts, most of the rabi crops like wheat, jeera and gram need at least two cycles of irrigation before they are harvested.
“Farmers who have sown rabi crops like wheat and gram will still require water for their crops twice before they can harvest. So, the government needs to keep supplying water as harvest usually begins by the end of February,” said Sagar Rabari, founder of the Gujarat Khedut Ekta Manch, a farmers’ outfit.
Meanwhile, experts also said that requirement for Narmada water has fallen as many farmers did not opt for rabi crops this season. As per the figures of the Agriculture Department, there has been a dip of 17 per cent in the area sown by farmers this rabi season as compared to last year — from 34.33 lakh hectares in 2017-18 to around 28.37 lakh hectares.
While there has been a dip in the sowing of wheat and gram, there has been a significant rise in drought-tolerant crops like jowar, which has seen a 45% increase in the acreage. “Initially, there were a lot of complaints from farmers as they were not receiving water from the Narmada canal. Many of them did not sow rabi crop due to paucity of water and the drop in acreage this season explains it,” Rabari said.
While the water level in the Sardar Sarovar Dam stands at 120.75 metres as on January 25, the SSNNL plans to supply irrigation water till February. “The water availability is more compared to last year when we faced water shortage. Currently, the live storage in Narmada dam is 1.17 MAF (million acre feet) which is more than the 0.3 MAF which existed at the same time last year,” the SSNNL official said.
The government has also stopped lifting water from the Mahi Right Bank Canal and pumping it into the Narmada Main Canal, thus augmenting the supply of water in the Narmada command area.
“We have stopped lifting from the Mahi command on November 6, 2018. We are reserving the Mahi waters for the summer season ahead,” the official added.