CHIEF MINISTER Vijay Rupani on Thursday blamed the Congress for the rise in farmer suicides in Gujarat, stating that successive governments headed by the party failed to complete the Narmada dam project on time. It ruined agriculture in Saurashtra and “parched people to death”, he said.
More than half a dozen farmers have committed suicide over the past four months in drought-hit Saurashtra, allegedly because of rising debts resulting from crop failure.
The chief minister was addressing a public meeting near the site of Shetrunji dam in Palitana taluka of Bhavnagar district, after launching the second phase of link-II of the Saurashtra Narmada Avataran Irrigation Yojana (SAUNI).
Rupani said the Congress thwarted attempts by the BJP governments in the state to complete the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada. “For years, Saurashtra was kept longing for drinking water, leave alone their need for irrigation water,” said Rupani. “Villages and towns of the region were struggling for water. Women had to walk miles for a potful of water. We have seen such scenes.”
The Rs 18,000 crore SAUNI project will divert floodwaters of the Narmada dam to 115 reservoirs of Saurashtra region by a 1,300-kilometre long network of giant pipelines. The inauguration comes just weeks ahead of a Parliamentary election whose dates are expected to be announced shortly.
Water is a sensitive issue in agrarian Saurashtra. BJP’s performance in the region in the 2017 Assembly election was its worst in 22 years. Its tally was reduced to 19 seats from the 30 it had won in 2012, even as Congress improved its numbers to 28 from the 15 it won in the 2012. For the past three years, the Central government has been procuring groundnut, the second most important cash crop of Saurashtra, in huge quantities, to support the farmers.
Rupani asked why the Congress could not complete the Sardar Sarovar dam for decades after laying its foundation stone in 1960. “For years, lakhs of cusecs of water drained into the sea even as Saurashtra, Kutch and north Gujarat went thirsty,” he said, adding that the Congress government at the Centre had denied permission to install the gates of the dam when Narendra Modi was chief minister of Gujarat. “You committed the sin of parching to death the people of Gujarat for seven years,” he said.
Modi granted that permission within 17 days of assuming office as Prime Minister, Rupani said. “If you give water and electricity to farmers of Saurashtra, they have the capacity to produce food for the entire world,” claimed the chief minister. “Why did you (Congress) not give them water and electricity on time? Instead, you are shedding crocodile tears in the name of farmers,” he asked, blaming the Congress for “burying farmers under a mountain of debt”.
The Rs 56,000 crore Sardar Sarovar dam across the Narmada river was inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi in September 2017. The project is designed to irrigate 18 lakh hectares of land in drought-prone Saurashtra, Kutch and north Gujarat. Although Dholidhaja dam in Surendranagar district has been receiving Narmada water since 2007, the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL), an undertaking of the state government, is yet to complete the network of canals to take water to the farms.
Modi had announced the SAUNI project in 2012 when he was Gujarat chief minister. The project is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year. As part of the project, the irrigation department is laying four trunk lines called link I, II, III and IV. First phases of these links were inaugurated in 2016-17. Modi inaugurated the second phases of link I and III in Jamnagar on Monday. On Thursday, Rupani opened the second phase of link-II, which begins from Bhimdad dam in Botad district and ends in Shetrunji dam, the biggest reservoir in Saurashtra.
Link-II takes off from Limdi Bhogavo-II dam and tails in Raydi dam near Khambha in Amreli district. The CM also laid the foundation stone of the third and last phase of link-II.