The small dam before Hitendrasinh Kanaksinh Jadeja does not quite have the majesty of a Taj Mahal, but he certainly looks at it with the pride of Shah Jahan.
“I built this,” says Jadeja, the deputy chief of his village council. “There are two more dams not too far away.”
Across Gujarat, more than 100,000 check dams have come up in the past five years, tapping water, lost to the sea and soil, for irrigation. This and other interventions in agriculture are billed as one of Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s biggest trophies.
“Gujarat is the topmost state in the country in terms of growth of agriculture. While the national average is struggling around 3 per cent, in Gujarat it has notched more than 10 per cent,” said Ravindra Dholakia, IIMA professor.
A short walk from Kana Chhikari village, the arid shrubby landscape suddenly transforms into an expanse of cool, placid water. The check dam is at the meeting point of Panna and Sasoi rivers. It was built under a scheme where villagers helped with construction and paid Rs
1,000 per acre for land they possessed — the government provided the rest.
“The check dam movement is quite a success towards making villages ‘drought-proof’,” said R. Parthasarthy, director of the centrally funded Gujarat Institute of Development Research.
The Opposition Congress dismisses the praise.
“Farmers have had to face a power crisis, and they are not getting inputs like fertilizers and seeds in time,” said leader of Opposition Arjun Modvadia. “Farmers will vote for the Congress. We are definitely going to win this time. Development is a canard spread by Modi. It is based on lies.”
Still, in Kana Chhikari, the check dam has had a cyclical effect. Success in agriculture is what kept people like Jadeja from migrating to the city. He stayed back in his village, where he has more water — he can now grow three crops a year instead of two — and more earnings. And the water table has gone up.
Staying back also pushed him into politics. He was chosen the deputy village head. “My life would have been very different today if it wasn’t for all that Modi has done.”
The government claims 108,000 check dams have been constructed during Modi’s tenure, against only 4,000 in the past 40 years. A staggering 137,000 ponds were created, and another 48,000 recharged. Around 50 dams were built on 17 rivers of the Saurashtra region. Twenty one rivers have been interlinked.
The prosperity has touched the life of panchayat member Praful Gami, 30 in ways unimaginable even for him some years ago. “My income was rising here. I thought I should go on a bigger scale,” said Gami. He went to Mumbai and started a small computer vending business.
“I run an IT company now,” he said.