Gujarat: The River Runs Dry

Rutam Vora Recently in Saurashtra | Updated on January 27, 2018 Published on May 13, 2016




In the worst-affected Saurashtra region, there’s no water for agriculture, only for the survival of humans and livestock

Nirali Nikumbh, a schoolgirl in Harshadpur village of Devbhumi Dwarka district in Saurashtra, is learning about water conservation the hard way. Her family and 2,500 other village households get potable water once a week through the panchayat connections. The supply for about 15-20 minutes, with no fixed day or time, is the village’s only source of water; most dams and reservoirs nearby, and even borewells, have gone dry in recent months. The uncertainty keeps residents anxious all day and all night.

The situation in Amreli district, about 260 km from Nirali's village, is no different. People depend on water traders to purchase potable water and fodder for their livestock. Ironically, while Jamnagar and Devbhumi Dwarka districts received deficient rainfall, parts of Amreli, Bhavnagar and Rajkot districts received rain in the range of 96-186 per cent of the normal. The flash floods in Amreli district and parts of Bhavnagar eroded fertile land, and hampered water conservation efforts.

Today, dams in Amreli district have less than 7 per cent of live storage. Dams in Jamnagar, Porbandar, Devbhumi Dwarka and Botad districts have absolutely no water.

In early April, the State government declared 994 villages as scarcity-affected. Of these, 479 are in Jamnagar district and 150 in Devbhumi Dwarka, which makes the region one of the worst-hit in Saurashtra.

Low priority for agriculture

Last year, Devbhumi Dwarka received 411 mm of rainfall, which is 68 per cent of the average annual rainfall of the past three decades. That was insufficient to fill the nine irrigation and water storage facilities. With water resources going dry, the panchayats were asked to source water from the pipeline networks of the Narmada. The priority is drinking water, for humans and for cattle. Agriculture currently figures low on the priority list, unless groundwater is available in individual fields.

“Forget about agriculture,” says Pratapsinh S Jadeja, Chairman of the Agriculture Produce Market Committee in Jamkhambhaliya. “We are trying to first meet our drinking water requirements. In some parts, there is no tap water, and residents have to buy tanker water from private suppliers, spending Rs600-800 for a tanker of 5,000 litres. The government’s supplies are inadequate and uncertain. Even Ghee Dam, the nearest here, has dried up. “

The Ghee river, whose name testifies to the region’s abundance of resources in an earlier time, skirts Jamkhambhaliya. But today, it is bone-dry. A majority of Jamkhambhaliya’s population depends on animal husbandry and agriculture. Devbhumi Dwarka district has relatively few industries, which could otherwise have provide employment for villagers in times of drought.

“Our region has two of the world’s largest industries - Reliance Industries' petroleum refinery and Essar Oil's refinery and power plant,” notes Ketan Nakumbh, a 27-year-old farmer in Harshadur. “But there are no other small industries that can employ rural youth, which leaves them completely dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry,” says Ketan Nakumbh, a 27-year-old farmer at Harshadur. Nakumbh grew cotton, groundnut and vegetables on his 30 bigha (12-13 acre) land last year, but could hardly recover his costs as commodity prices remained subdued.

“There are no fodder depots in the vicinity,” says Nakumbh. “We therefore have to purchase fodder for Rs 230-250 per 20 kg. Each animal requires fodder worth Rs100 a day. Survival is a struggle, and there’s still a month to go for the onset of the monsoon.”

The saving grace

Grim though the situation is, there have so far been no reports of large-scale migration or mass deaths of cattle in the region.

The administration claims there is sufficient grass and water available for the cattle. “We have started distributing grass carts and opened grass depots in a cluster of five affected villages in the districts,” a revenue department official said.

To mitigate the water scarcity in the rural areas, the State administration is supplying 30 litres of water per household per day and 20 litres per head of cattle per day. “We conduct 220 tanker trips everyday,” says KB Thakkar, Resident Additional Collector, Jamnagar district.

Paresh Dhanani, the Congress MLA from Amreli, alleged that the State government had neglected the district in spite of repeated representation made to authorities.

“The water situation is getting graver with each passing day,” says Dhanani. “There have been announcements about relief plans, but no action is visible on the ground. Farmers are yet to receive compensation, and the State government has not formed the District Scarcity Committee, which will have local stakeholders, including the administration wing and the political wing. There has been complete mismanagement of available water resources. Amreli city is facing the drinking water shortage,” he adds.

Lessons not learnt

In 2013, when Narendra Modi was Gujarat Chief Minister, the State had faced a severe water crisis, which led the government of the day to declare over 3,900 villages in 10 districts as scarcity-hit. That year, too, Saurashtra was the worst-hit area; over 98 per cent of the affected villages fell in this region.

But no lessons appear to have been learnt from the past experience. Work on pipelines and the canal network to connect interior regions with the Narmada canal network has progressed at a snail’s pace.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) may have predicted a good monsoon this year, but farmers in the Saurashtra region are gazing forlornly at the sky, hoping the life-sustaining rains will not desert them, their families, fields and animals this year too.

Published on May 13, 2016
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