Swing in fortunes incite water wars in Rajasthan

The police and farmers clashed with each other resulting in injuries to both sides, reports Hitender Rao.

india Updated: Oct 18, 2006 20:09 IST

The predictions made by prophets of doom are certainly coming true, at least in this part of Rajasthan where farmers and government are daggers-drawn over the allocation of irrigation water from the Indira Gandhi Canal (IGC) – considered the lifeline of Rajasthan's peasantry.

The IGC water had proved to be a blessing for the parched terrains of this area as under the first stage of the project water was provided in "great abundance" to the districts of Sri Ganganagar, Hanumangarh and parts of Bikaner. Consequently, bumper crops year after year changed the fortunes of the farmers of this area.

All this, however, has changed now, as Udai Singh Rathore, a local farmer, puts it: "Once the second stage of the IGC project began, the water allocation for our area started getting reduced as water parts of Bikaner, Jaisalmer and Barmer were to reap the benefits by sharing our water."

The levels of prosperity have dipped since then and the growing unrest has been an obvious fallout of this. "What the farmers here want is supply of 5.23 cusecs of water per 1000 acres. The land in the Gharsana, Anupgarh, Rawla area is such that if does not get adequate water in a specified time, the crop dies," says Prem Saraswat, a former sarpanch of Khokhranwali village.

No wonder that with the onset of Rabi sowing the farmers are once again up in arms and the administration has to seek army’s support to combat the volatile situation.

Angry farmers got together this time too and staged a "maha padaav" about a week back amply displaying their aggressive intent. Says Ganganagar Superintendent of Police, Binita Thakur: "They pelted stones at the cops soon after burningeffigies and later opened fire at us. We retaliated with tear gas shelling and rubber bullets."

The police and farmers clashed with each other resulting in injuries to both sides. However, this is not for the first time that such a situation has developed. Two years ago, a similar agitation led to the killings of four farmers followed by curfew and army’s deployment.

Thakur said that this time too the farmers tried taking their men as hostages. The police had to take the support of army and two columns staged a flag march in the town on Tuesday.

Curfew was imposed at the epicenters of agitation - Gharsana and Rawla townships. Leaders such as Het Ram Beniwal of the CPM and Sahib Ram Poonia of the Congress who have been spearheading the farmer's agitations have been put behind the bars by the government.

However, senior officials said that the farmers were unjustified in making such demands. "The situations have changed. They got pampered when IGC water was allocated to them in more quantity than they actually required. They took full advantage of this and started sowing vast tracts of arid land. However, once the Stage II of the IGC began, the reduction in allocation was inevitable," said an official.

Bhagwan Dass Arora, an arhtiya at the Gharsana mandi, however believes that with the change in the fortunes of the farmers, the fate of traders like him has also changed for worse. However, Arora like many of his counterparts in the grain market feels that the issue of water has taken a political colour and thus was getting distorted.

First Published: Oct 18, 2006 20:09 IST