Why do farmers in the seven districts of Saurashtra, the coastal region of prosperous Gujarat, have to go through a severe drought almost every other year? Why has the Rs. 39,571-crore Narmada dam project, which can help millions of farmers irrigate their land, not been completed in 20 years?
Chief minister Narendra Modi has an answer. On May 5, he told farmers that they were not getting the Narmada water because the central government “had not allowed the height of the Narmada dam to be increased”.
Modi blamed the “anti-Gujarat forces” for non-completion of the project, the construction of which began in 1982. The 121.92-metre dam will become 138 metres high once it’s completed and will pump in enough water to the parched fields of Saurashtra and enable farmers to raise two crops a year instead of just one — that too in a good monsoon year.
The Narmada Control Authority — an independent body — can allow the height of the dam to be increased. And permission has been withheld as it is linked with the relief and rehabilitation of project-affected families in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
But has the decade-old Modi administration done enough to distribute the Narmada water in Saurashtra through an efficient canal system? The numbers tell a story.
The Narmada project is expected to irrigate 1.845 million hectares in 15 Gujarat districts, of which 75% of the area is drought-prone. Once the Narmada project is completed, the state’s agriculture growth is expected to rise by 6%, said former union minister and Planning Commission member YK Alagh.
Way back in 2007, Modi announced that the project would be completed by 2010. But his government has subsequently moved the deadline to December 2014.
Experts associated with the project said the Modi government had failed to build a massive canal network with a total length of more than 75,000 km, which would bring the Narmada water to far-flung areas in Saurashtra, Kutch and north Gujarat. But as of now, the government has completed only 35% of the canal network.
“This government has completely failed to realise the potential of the project because not even 10,000 km of canals have been built in 10 years of Modi’s rule in the state,” said Sanat Mehta, one of the chief architects of the Narmada project and former chairman of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited.
Farmer Khumansinh Jadeja from Dhangadhra town summed up the prevailing sentiment of the rural community in Saurashtra: “It’s been 20 years since I have been farming and have been waiting for the Narmada water to reach my field. But unfortunately, the canals have not been laid so there is no water and I cannot irrigate my farm. I am still waiting.”