Water crisis looms large over Gujarat since the day the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) said that farmers cannot draw water anymore from the main canal due to depleting water levels in the dam.
150 troops of the Narmada Battalion have been deployed in Kevadia Colony along the Narmada main canal to prevent farmers from using water.
From midnight, the irrigation water supply has been stopped by the state government and water will now only be used for drinking purposes, reported The Indian Express. 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.
The state government has asked the SSNNL to cut back on the 9,500 cusecs of water released to 5,000 cusecs and has warned farmers from illegally procuring water from the canal starting today. As per The Indian Express report, SSNNL said that cutting down water supply would bring a respite to the decreasing water levels and will serve as drinking water the entire 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, reported The Indian Express.
Narmada water released multiple times last year during PM Modi’s campaign for Gujarat polls
Last year when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was campaigning ahead of the Gujarat polls in November-December, farmers and opposition claimed that huge amounts of water were wasted from the Sardar Sarovar Dam, reports The Quint. According to sources, government officials were aware that the state would face a water crisis in 2018 but chose to remain silent as elections were around the corner.
When the PM had inaugurated the Dam in Narmada district’s Kevadia seven weeks before the elections, the water level in the reservoir was 129.58 m, just one metre short of the all-time high it has ever reached. Official records show the high level that day was achieved mainly because BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh released an unusual amount of water from upstream dams over five days until the inauguration, reports The Indian Express.
Sources in the irrigation department, under the condition of anonymity, said that government authorities were aware that Narmada water would not be available for irrigation. Yet, they say, the state irrigation department filled up reservoirs that fall under Saurashtra Narmada Avataran Irrigation (SAUNI) Scheme, months before the Assembly elections, reported The Quint.
The sources said that even after knowing about the acute water shortage, water was released to celebrate Narmada Festival, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself attended. Apparently, water was even released from Sabarmati Riverfront where Modi, on the last day of his campaign, flew in a seaplane.
The Quint spoke to Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel about the allegations levied against the BJP government over the misuse of water resources, which he denied, adding, “There is no reason to worry about the summer, as there is no shortage of drinking water this summer.”
Uncertain future for farmers
No water available would mean that farmers will not be able to irrigate their summer crops. “The crops are in the near-ripening stage and need a couple of rounds of watering before they can be harvested in March-April. We are trying to secure water for these last rounds of irrigation before the government cuts off water supply,” says Sanjay, who has grown wheat, cumin and garlic on his 3 hectares field, reported Down To Earth.
The prevent farmers from using water, the state was stationed CRPF force instead of helping the farmers who are trying hard to save any water they can in low-lying areas.
A government advisory issued on January 22 asked the farmers to not grow summer crops. “But summer crop is an important source of fodder,” says Jayram Bhai Patel, a marginal farmer from Khirai.
Farmers in our country are already in a state of crisis with growing debts. Summers will dry up their produce without any water for irrigation. The government needs to come up with policies and part with political appeasement strategies that secure a vote bank but marginalise farming communities.