Thakarshibhai Dayabhai Patel does not deny that the Narmada river waters have reached Gujarat’s parched Saurashtra region. They are, indeed, irrigating his own and also other farmers’ fields in Malod village of Surendranagar district’s Wadhwan taluka. “The issue isn’t whether the water has come, but at what cost,” says this 30-acre farmer whose village is just a couple of kilometres from the Dhanki-Botad sub-branch canal. There is enough water in this one as well as five other sub-branches — Vallabhipur, Maliya, Limbdi, Dhrangadhra and Morbi — of the Saurashtra Branch Canal (SBC), which, in turn, offtakes from the Narmada Main Canal (NMC) near Kadi in North Gujarat’s Mehsana district.
According to Patel, the problem is not with water in the canals or sub-branches, but taking it further to the fields, “for which we have had to shell out money ourselves”. He is among the many farmers in Malod and adjoining villages who have installed diesel engines on the bunds of the Botad sub-branch canal, to “lift” and carry the Narmada waters.
A typical Rajkot-made 10-horsepower diesel engine costs around Rs 40,000. It could go up to Rs 55,000 if a 16-hp engine were used, to enable pumping water over a longer distance. But the main investment is in the PVC pipes, through which the pumped water can be conveyed to the fields. “A standard 8mm pipe comes at Rs 50-55 per feet. Adding digging and underground laying costs takes it to Rs 75. For 1 km, you need about 3,300 feet of pipe, which will cost Rs 2.5 lakh. There are farmers who have installed engines and pipes to carry water to their fields even up to 10 km or more,” claims Patel.
The investments are, however, only one part. Even more is the recurring cost. A diesel engine takes about five hours to water a one-acre field of kapas (raw un-ginned cotton), while burning 1.5 litres of diesel per hour on an average. Assuming five irrigations for the crop’s entire duration, the total fuel cost at current diesel prices of Rs 62 per litre works out to over Rs 2,300 an acre. This is more than half the cost of harvesting (“picking”), which, at Rs 5/kg on an average kapas yield of 800 kg, translates into Rs 4,000 an acre.
“We were initially prepared to incur these costs, on top of investing Rs 15-25 lakh on engines and pipes, only because Narmada water was available and kapas rates, too, were Rs 1,100-1,200 per 20-kg. But today, prices are at Rs 850-900 and there is no return on our investments. Narmada has only added to the debts of the khedut (farmer),” complains Patel.
Surendranagar, which votes Saturday, is incidentally India’s biggest cotton-producing district and seen to have benefited most by the arrival of water from Sardar Sarovar, popularly known as the Narmada dam. Narendrasinh Rana, a member of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh’s Gujarat state executive body and the RSS-affiliated organisation’s former Surendranagar district president, blames the problems of Saurashtra’s farmers mainly on the poor progress in building the distributaries, minors and sub-minor canals that are supposed to take the Narmada waters to the fields.
The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd has completed the 458 km-long NMC from the massive dam at Kevadiya in Gujarat’s Narmada district to the Rajasthan border; the SBC that offtakes from the main canal at about 263 km in Kadi (Mehsana); and all its six sub-branch canals serving the Saurashtra region.
“Whatever work has been done on the distributaries, minors and sub-minors is either incomplete or shoddy. As a result, the burden of last-mile investment has virtually been loaded on to the farmer. The diesel engines you see on the canal bunds are technically illegal. But do the kheduts have a choice?” Rana points out. He cites the example of Halvad in Morbi district. This taluka receives Narmada water from three sub-branch canals — Maliya, Dhrangadhra and Morbi — fed by the SBC’s pumping station at Dhanki in Surendranagar’s Lakhtar taluka. “But all this water hardly goes to farmers’ fields. Much of it is used by industry or for drinking water supply in urban centres,” he adds.