Rajasthan's Sriganganagar district is not the most parched in India. It gets a regular supply of water from the Indira Gandhi Canal (IGC). So why does the district come close to erupting into water riots with unfailing regularity around this time of the year?
Farmers here say water from the Indira Gandhi canal is not enough for their rabi crops. But the government says the farmers get more than what they need — they are pampered.
This argument is not entirely wrong. In 1975, water from the first stage of the IGC gushed into parched fields in Sriganganagar and Hanumangarh. This was the manna the farmers needed to change their fortunes. And it did. They reaped bumper crops year after year. But things changed once the second stage of the IGC project began. Sriganganagar and Hanumangarh had to share the water with Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Barmer. That meant less water to farmers used to surplus.
Levels of prosperity among farmers have dipped since then and the growing unrest is an obvious fallout. “Farmers here want 5.23 cusecs of water for every 1,000 acres. The land in Gharsana, Anupgarh and Rawla areas is such that if it does not get adequate water, the crop dies,” said Prem Saraswat, former sarpanch of Khokhranwali village.
Senior government officials said the farmers were not justified in making such demands. “When the project began, the farmers got more water than they actually needed. They took advantage of this and started sowing in vast tracts of arid land. But the water was meant to be shared with other districts,” said an official.
Bhagwan Dass Arora, a trader in Gharsana mandi, said less water was bad news not just for farmers but for people like him. Which meant agitations like the one on Monday had the backing of traders. Farmers got together to stage a ‘mahapadaav’ and displayed their aggression. Ganganagar SP Binita Thakur said: “They burnt effigies, pelted stones at us, even opened fire. We retaliated with teargas and rubber bullets.”
At least 50 people, including seven policemen, were injured in the battle that followed. Two years ago, four farmers were killed when a similar situation got out of hand.