Amid protests by farmers against reserving waters of Bhadar dam for drinking water supply for Rajkot city and a few other villages, Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC) wants to renew its contract with irrigation department to draw 40 million litres per day (MLD). Civic officers are set to meet officers of the irrigation department in this regard on November 1.
Farmers of Jetpur, Dhoraji and Upleta have raised their voice against reserving water for drinking purpose for Rajkot city every year. They sat on a dharna, sang Ram dhun and played garba in an empty stretch of the main irrigation canal of Bhadar dam, near Jetpur town on October 11. A few of them were detained by police. Later on, the farmers submitted a memorandum to Jaydeep Patel, deputy engineer of Jetpur sub-division of Rajkot irrigation circle.
In the memorandum, the farmers demanded that the agreement the irrigation department signed with RMC in 1989, which expired on June 16 this year, should not be renewed. They contended that Rajkot city was already getting Narmada waters to meet its drinking water requirement and therefore, waters of Bhadar dam should be made available exclusively to farmers. They underlined the fact that Bhadar dam was conceived as a major irrigation project and that diverting waters for non-irrigation usage defeated its purpose.
Farmers allege that every year, more and more water is being diverted for non-irrigation purpose. “Initially, when the agreement was signed in 1989, the agreement was to reserve 10,000 million cubic feet (mcft) water of Bhadar for Rajkot. But this quota has been progressively revised upwards and now they are reserving around 20,000 mcft every year. This quota is cutting into the water originally meant for farmers to help th em irrigate their crops,” Manoj Marwaniya, a farmer from Zanzmer village in Dhoraji taluka of Rajkot, said.
Marwaniya is husband of Shilpa Marwaniya, sitting member of Rajkot district panchayat and a leader of the farmers.
Completed in 1964, Bhadar dam was designed to irrigate 36,842 hectares in riparian Jetpur, Dhoraji, Upleta talukas of Rajkot district and Junagadh taluka in Junagadh district. It also supplies irrigation water to a dozen upstream villages in Gondal taluka of Rajkot and Vadiya-Kukava taluka of Amreli district. The irrigation department has created irrigation potential of up to 17,540 hectares so far. However, during droughts between 1985 and 1987 in Rajkot city , even water trains had to be run. To provide water security to Rajkot, the state government decided to allot 1 million gallons per day (MGD) or around 37.85 MLD water to Rajkot and it was formalised on June 17, 1989.
RMC laid a 65-km long pipeline to pump water from Bhadar dam near Lilakha village in Gondal taluka to Rajkot city. Under the agreement, a copy of which is with The Indian Express , RMC paid Rs 2.20 crore to irrigation department to modify the dam structure. The water-supply agreement was valid for 30 years. It expired in June this year and RMC says it wants to renew it.
“We need the 40 to 45 MLD water from Bhadar otherwise our water-distribution schedule in the city would be disrupted. There-fore, we shall request renewal of the agreement,” Mahendra Kamaliya, RMC city engineer in charge of waterworks and water supply, told The Indian Express.
Rajkot has a population of around 1.5 million and RMC distributes over 280 million litres per day. However, it requires more than 300 MLD raw water as gets rejected during treatment while some is lost during distribution. The city primarily gets water from Aji (115 MLD) and Nyari-I (75 MLD) dams located on its outskirts. It also gets around 75 MLD Narmada waters through the pipeline network of Gujarat Water Infrastructure Limited. The balance 40 to 45 MLD comes from Bhadar, engineers of RMC said.
Despite the agreement having expired, RMC continues to draw water from Bhadar. “Water is one of the basic necessities of humans and we cannot stop it arbitrarily. Therefore, we are allowing RMC to draw water while billing the civic body,” says deputy engineer Patel in whose jurisdiction Bhadar dam is located. The agreement provides for this, and gives irrigation department the discretion to charge RMC more.
From the pipeline offtaking from Bhadar dam, Gondal town and 42 villages of Jetpur taluka also get drinking water.
Bhadar dam has gross storage capacity of 6,000 mcft. After Shetrunji, it has second largest storage capacity among dams in Saurashtra. It was linked to Narmada dam in June this year and Narmada waters reached Bhadar through link-III pipeline of Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation Yojana (SAUNI). Similarly, Aji and Nyari dams are connected to Narmada through SAUNI. After four years, Bhadar overflowed this year thanks to good rainfall in August-September and SAUNI pipeline discharged 1,028 mcft water into it.
“Aji, Nyari are already connected to Narmada, and the city also gets Narmada water through other pipelines, and yet draws water from Bhadar. Our protest is to press the government to supply required water to Rajkot from Narmada sources while allowing our full share of Bhadar water for irrigation,” Marwaniya said.
A top irrigation officer of Rajkot circle admitted this is the first time in 30 years that farmers have protested. “Technically, their demand is just and we have taken cognisance of it. But it being a policy decision, we shall escalate it to higher levels of government before the agreement is renewed,” an officer said on condition of anonymity. RMC officers say they have sought a meeting with the irrigation department on November 1. Rajkot district collector is also expected to attend the meeting.