With the Government Stopping Narmada Dam Water, Farmers in Gujarat Don't Know Where to Turn

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'engineering miracle' is yet to show results.

The diesel water pumps that farmers use to pull water to their fields in absence of sub-canals. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

Farmers use diesel water pumps to pull water to their fields in absence of sub-canals. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

For about a week now, Kantibhai Tamaliya, a farmer based in Gujarat’s Surendranagar district, has been holding meetings with other farmers in the area. They are trying desperately to find a solution to the problem of water while they wait for the impending failure of the crop that they have sown in October-November last year. Harvest time is close, but before that the crops, mostly cumin and wheat, need to be irrigated twice, with an interval of about 15 days.

The Gujarat government’s decision to stop supplying water to farmers after March 15 has come as a jolt. “They should have informed us beforehand. We would not have sown seeds in November. They didn’t announce it then because the (assembly) election was due in December,” Tamaliya told The Wire.

The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd. (SSNNL) recently issued a notification stating that it will not provide irrigation water in the Narmada command area for summer crop post-March 15. The notification further stated that SSNNL has taken this decision owing to scarce water reserves in the Sardar Sarovar dam due to scanty rain in the catchment area. SSNNL appealed to the farmers to not sow summer crop unless they have a local water source. According to the notification, the storage level in the dam is at 45% of the 15-year average.

“We will not even be covered by insurance because this isn’t a natural disaster. Farmers have taken loans that they have to pay back. They come to me everyday hoping for respite, but I neither have an answer nor hope,” said Tamaliya, who also owns cattle that will help him in this time of crisis.

“The worst hit will be the farmers who don’t have their own land. We call it bhagidari, where landless farmers work in the fields of richer farmers. If the landowner spends money on seeds and fertiliser, the farmer who worked gets 25-30% of the produce. If the landless farmer spends on seeds and fertiliser, the landowner gets about 30% of the produce. If the crop fails, these landless farmers don’t get anything, after the hard work of an entire season. What will they eat?”, he added.

“We will not be getting water for irrigation between March and September. This has been happening almost every year. This year they (SSNNL) just made an official announcement before they stopped the supply. No water means no agriculture for these seven months. Even for rich farmers who can afford a borewell, it isn’t possible as the ground water is hard water and cannot be used for irrigation,” said Vijay Dabhi, a farmer in Patna Bhal village, Vallabhipur taluka, Bhavnagar.

“Until now, SSNNL has mostly cut water supply by June or July. That gives us enough water to irrigate the rabi crop sown in October-November. For the next five or six months, when there is no work, we depend on the earnings from these crops. This year, they have declared that the water supply will be cut off from March. Some farmers want to sell their land, fearing crop failure, but there is no one willing to buy the land. Some have sought to work as labourers in the Surat diamond industry,” added Dabhi.

Dry land in summer last year. Credit: Special arrangement

Dry land in summer last year. Credit: Special arrangement

In accordance with the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal’s order, 9 MAF (million acre feet) water per year is allotted for Gujarat, of which 7.74 MAF water is meant for the irrigation of 18.45 lakh hectare area of agricultural land across the state. Another 1.06 MAF water is to be used as drinking water (especially in north Gujarat and Saurashtra) and 0.20 MAF is allotted to industries.

The notification states against the annual average of 28 MAF water, Narmada’s catchment area received only 14 MAF water last monsoon. As a result, Madhya Pradesh has been allotted nine MAF water and Gujarat has been allotted 4.5 MAF water.

“How can the government decide to stop supplying water to farmers? Wasn’t the project built by bringing up farmers’ issues?” asked Sagar Rabari, president of Khedut Samaj of Gujarat, a farmers’ rights organisation.

“How much area is irrigated by Narmada waters in Gujarat? Has 18.45 lakh hectares of land, as ordered by the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal, been irrigated in the last kharif and rabi crops?” Rabari continued, rejecting the Gujarat government’s claim that there is water scarcity this year.

Farmer Vijay Dabhi on his fields. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

Farmer Vijay Dabhi on his fields. Credit: Damayantee Dhar

On January 22, J.N. Singh, chief secretary of Gujarat, called a press conference on the issue. Singh stated, “Sardar Sarovar Reservoir Regulatory Committee (SSRRC), a part of Narmada Control Authority that decides allocation of water to Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, in a meeting on January 10 had decided to allot 4.71 MAF water to Gujarat as against 9 MAF that ideally is to be allotted to Gujarat in 2017-18.”

“This is perhaps the worst year for Gujarat in terms of Narmada water allocation. We have not increased allocation to industries in the state. In fact, we have limited it to 0.06 MAF. The drinking water remains allocation remains intact and remaining is for irrigation,” he added.

“The Gujarat government usually supplies water for irrigation till June before the onset of monsoon. This year we will not be supplying Narmada water till monsoon. As per SSRRC norms, the Gujarat government is not bound to supply water for summer crops. We have been giving to farmers in the past whenever there was additional water to spare in the period,” stated S.S. Rathore, chairman and managing director of SSNNL , said in a  press conference.

Rabari, however, accused the government of diverting more than 1.06 MAF water to industries, stating that the SSNNL doesn’t release the break-up of water provided to the industries.

“This will lead to the distress sell of land and force farmers to commit suicide,” he said.

The Sardar Sarovar project, costing more than Rs 50,000 crore was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who called it an ‘engineering miracle’. However, despite the completion of the main dam, farmers in the districts worst hit by water crises have a different story to tell.

“Patna Bhal is serviced by the Vallabhipur branch canal of the Narmada. But in most parts of the district, the canal network has not been completed. The minor sub-canals which are meant to take the water to the fields have not been built. As a result, we are compelled to buy diesel water pumps to draw water from the branch canal. A pump costs around Rs 25,000 and there is the additional cost of diesel to irrigate,” said Dabhi from Bhavnagar in Gujarat’s Saurashtra region.

“We wrote a letter to the collector and requested him to help us,” added Pratapsinh, a farmer from Botad. “But no one from the government is willing to hear us. Nobody understands that if this crop fails, we will lose everything. We are running from one office to another. The banks have told us this won’t be a natural disaster so it won’t be covered under insurance. The loans that we have taken have to be repaid. Even if we stop educating our children, we still have to feed our family.”