- By Sagar Rabari
Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL), the Gujarat government special purpose vehicle (SPV) responsible for implementing the mega Narmada project in the state, is known to have advised farmers not to grow water-intensive crops. Farmers have reason to wonder: Has SSNNL ever given a similar advise to its political bosses not to invite water-intensive industries during biennial Vibrant Gujarat global business summits?
The advise to Gujarat farmers was not to grow crops like sugarcane, paddy and banana, which are profitable to them. Though farmers haven’t disagreed with the advice, they are indeed asking sharp questions, which SSNNL and Gujarat government officials must answer.
The view is strong that the SSNNL intention for advising farmers not to grow water intensive crops – that farmers should get water till the last farm of the command area – is not honest. Farmers feel, SSNNL wants farmers to save water, pretending water scarcity, but is actually diverting water to industry.
Is SSNNL ready to increase its command area beyond 18.45 lakh hectares (ha), to be irrigated with Narmada water? If yes, farmers argue, they would agree not to grow water-intensive crops in the command area and save water by promoting micro- irrigation.
Farmers know: It is the same SSNNL, which has not come clean on giving accounts of Narmada waters used during the last agriculture season, on how much water did the Narmada dam reservoir receive, how much was released in the canal, how much was provided to farmers to irrigate their fields, and how much of it went to industry and drinking water.
But one thing is clear: Though there was 22% deficit rainfall in the Narmada basin the area, which mainly falls in Madhya Pradesh, the Narmada canal water, provided by SSNNL, could irrigate less than one third, or 6 lakh ha, as against 18.45 lakh ha, as planned. Then why this restriction?
Would SSNNL assure the people of Gujarat that it has not diluted its water use plan or dam manual? If not, how did it dare advise farmers, or pretend to advise them, going so far to threatening them not to use water for water-intensive crops?
Were there any restrictions when water use plan was prepared or command area was calculated? If not, then why now? Would this advisory, to save water, be applicable even during the coming Lok Sabha elections? Is SSNNL, formed to provide water to farmers, playing in the hands of ruling dispensation to gain something invisible to common people?
Sometimes it seems that Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar is right: That the dam has not being built for farmers of the state but for big corporate houses. Those who deserve the most are being denied first!
Farmers of the state must remember and remind it to others, too: Who was responsible for not supplying water to their farms last year, and because of whose failure were they forced to use diesel engines and face the blame of being water thieves?
They must use their vote to teach a lesson to those who are responsible for not building the canal network.
*Secretary, Gujarat Khedut Samaj