President Ram Nath Kovind, who reached Ahmedabad on Sunday on a two-day visit to Gujarat, would lay the foundation stone of the second phase of link-IV pipeline canal of Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation (SAUNI) Yojana at Ghela Somnath in Rajkot district on Monday.
Kovind began his first visit to Gujarat after becoming the President in July this year by visiting the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. The President was greeted by Governor O P Kohli, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and his deputy Nitin Patel upon his arrival the Ahmedabad airport in the afternoon.
On Monday, the President would fly to Ghela Somnath, a shrine of Shiva near Pipaliya village in Vinchhiya taluka, and launch the water project for the parched Saurashtra region. The ground-breaking ceremony is being organised less than three months after the CM dedicated to public the first phase of link-IV at a mega event in Jasdan town of Rajkot district on June 9. The Opposition Congress has alleged that the BJP government was misusing the state machinery by organising multiple ceremonies for the same project in the run-up to Assembly elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had inaugurated first phases of link-I, II and III of SAUNI project at three separate ceremonies held on September 30, 2016, and April 17 and June 29 this year. During the same events, he had laid the foundation stones of second phases of these links.
“Just three months ago, the CM inaugurated the first phase of this link. Now, they are organising a huge ceremony for laying the foundation stone for the second phase of the same link. This is like holding multiple ceremonies to lay foundation stones at different junctions for a road project. The government is misusing state machinery to gain political milage out of the SAUNI project ahead of the elections,” said Kunvarji Bavaliya, working president of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee, at a meeting of party workers at Gadhadiya village near Jasdan on Sunday.
Official sources too claimed that foundation stones were laid for second phases of some links when only technical approval had been granted. “Tenders had been floated for the second phase of link-IV when its first phase was inaugurated in June. Now, the tenders have been finalised and work orders have been issued for three out of four packages in the second phase,” a source said.
Gujarat BJP spokesman Bharat Pandya rejected Congress’s allegations. “Different events are organised at different locations so that people of different areas get details of the project. These have nothing to with election. The fact that the President is coming and that majority of work on the Narmada dam project has been done by the BJP governments is an eyesore for Congress. Their criticism shows their mentality against providing water in water-starved areas,” Pandya told The Indian Express.
Every major milestone of the SAUNI project has coincided with an election. When he was chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi had announced the project around two months before the Assembly polls in 2012. Then, he laid the foundation stone of the entire project a month before the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The state BJP government has organised three ceremonies to dedicate the first phases of link II, III and IV this year when the state is again headed to polls. The project is likely to be completed in 2019, coinciding with the Lok Sabha elections.
The scheduled event at Ghela Somnath is also significant because Jasdan Assembly constituency, which also covers Vinchhiya taluka, is a fortress of Congress. Barring a bypoll victory in 2009, the ruling BJP has never managed to win the seat during its long continuous rule in the state. The constituency is dominated by the Koli community and Kovind had in the past served as president of national organisation of the Kolis, though he himself is a Dalit.
SAUNI is an ambitious project to fill up 115 dams of water-starved Saurashtra region by diverting one million acre feet of floodwaters of Narmada. The project envisages lifting water from various canals of Narmada project and pump it to these reservoirs by a 1,165-km-long network of giant pipelines. The estimated project cost is Rs 16,500 crore.
The second phase of this giant pipeline canal would begin from Sartanpar minor irrigation scheme near Ankadiya village of Vinchhiya and tail in Dhrafad dam in Visavadar taluka of Junagadh district. The designed length of the second phase is 147 km.