As many as 150 troops of the Narmada Battalion have been deployed in Kevadia Colony along the Narmada main canal since the day the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) issued notices to farmers to stop drawing water illegally from the main canal due to the depleting levels in the dam. From Friday, the battalion will have a tougher task as the SSNNL cuts back on the irrigation water supply from midnight, keeping in line with the decision of the state government to preserve water for drinking supply only.
State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) group XVIII are stationed along the main canal, in addition to 750 personnel guarding the dam, which reached an all-time low level of 105.5 metres. With the depleting levels of Narmada dam, the water supply for irrigation was ceased from midnight on Thursday. The SSNNL, which is executing the order of Gujarat government to preserve the reservoir of the Narmada dam, will cut back about 4,500 cusec water from the main canal even as farmers have been warned against drawing water from the canal from March 16 onward.
The SSNNL, which released about 9,500 cusec water into the main canal until March 15 — the deadline for the supply of irrigation water — will only release about 5,000 cusec of water through the Irrigation Bypass Tunnel (IBPT) from Friday onwards. While SSNNL officials confirmed that the water cut will mean that the depleting levels of the dead storage of the dam will see some respite, a water cut is also likely to affect the cities and towns that are heavily dependent on the Narmada dam. This is the first time that the dead storage of the reservoir has been put into use after the inflow of water from the Indirasagar and Omkareshwar dams in Madhya Pradesh ceased. The current inflow of water is 2,500 cusec.
SSNNL officials said cutting back on the irrigation supply would mean that the water will suffice for drinking purposes through the summer. It also added that it was not mandatory for SSNNL to supply water during the summer. A top SSNNL official said, “The cut in the water for irrigation was announced by the state government in January. We are implementing the same to ensure that drinking water can be supplied during the summer.
However, we are not obliged to supply water in the summer as the provisions under the Narmada Control Authority (NCA) do not make it mandatory for us to do so.” The decision to cut supply of irrigation water was taken at a cabinet meeting earlier this year when the dam levels dipped to an all-time low.
An SSNNL official said that there was a glimmer of hope that Madhya Pradesh will soon release water into the dam from Indirasagar, which generates power. “Until March 15, the average outflow from the dam into the main canal was about 8,400 cusec, which was lowering the water level by about 25 centimetres per day. Now that the flow into the main canal will be reduced, the water level in the dead storage will also not deplete so fast. We are also hopeful that the dam will soon receive more inflow from Indirasagar, which will help increase the level of the dam.”
The SSNNL has also deployed heavy security along the main canal to ensure that farmers do not illegally draw water from Friday. L P Zala, Deputy Superintendent of SRPF, Group XVIII, said that while the troops were patrolling the main canal to reduce water theft, the task will be tougher once the restriction on irrigation water comes into effect. “We are patrolling the area and ensuring that no one draws water illegally. The SSNNL officials have not yet requested us for an increase in deployment from Friday. If there is such a request, we will deploy additional force along the stretch of the main canal from Kevadia to Saurashtra,” he said.
Zala also added that SSNNL officials have been accompanying the SRPF personnel in their patrol and search operations to crack down on pilfering of water from the dam. The gross storage capacity of the reservoir is about 7.7 Million Acre Feet (MAF) while live storage capacity is 4.75 MAF. The dead storage capacity below minimum draw-down level is 2.97 MAF.