Gujarat elections 2012: Will water woes drown Modi in Saurashtra?

The persistent water woes of Saurashtra, a scarcity-prone area of Gujarat, has become one of the main poll issues in the 2012 Assembly elections.

Rajkot: The persistent water woes of Saurashtra, a scarcity-prone area of Gujarat, has become one of the main poll issues in the 2012 Assembly elections here as people are angry that virtually nothing has been done in the last ten years to resolve the problem permanently.

Saurashtra, an area without a perennial river and having inverted pan topography, suffers from water scarcity as average rainfall is also very less here.

"The government is not serious in addressing the core issue...There is severe problem of water for drinking and irrigation, in our region," Sendhabhai Mavadia, a farmer in Jetpur town of, Rajkot district, said.

Many people in cities or in villages in the region agree that no government has brought a permanent solution to the water woes.

In all seven districts of Rajkot, Junagadh, Bhavnagar, Porbandar, Jamnagar, Amreli and Surendranagar, there is restricted supply of water.

Residents in Bhavnagar, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Junagadh and Surendranagar are getting water every alternate day and that too for 20-30 minutes.

The situation in smaller cities and villages is much worse. Gariadhar is getting water every third day, Sihor every second day and in Mahuva housewives have to keep every water storage utensil handy as they get drinking water supply only once in four days.

Saurashtra and Kutch consists of 54 assembly constituencies, out of total 182 in the state and is considered a key for any political outfit to form government in Gujarat.

Polling for these seats will be held on December 13 in the first phase of the assembly elections.

The only solution to permanently resolve the water woes of Saurashtra was to bring water from Narmada dam project and implement another major drinking water project Kalpsar.

However, building of a canal network of Narmada dam project, which is considered to be the lifeline of the state, is going on at a very slow pace and Kalpsar project is in study stage.

Out of the total 74,626 km canal network of Narmada dam, work completed so far is of just 19,885 km which comes to about 27 per cent of total work.

In the last three years, the BJP government was just been able to complete 289. 22 kms canal network work.

The total amount spent so far by the state on the Narmada dam and canal network project is Rs 24,022 crores.

Narmada being a perennial river, harnessing of its water by building a huge dam and distributing it through the canal network for drinking and irrigation purposes is a lifeline project of the state for water.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi at a campaign rally has also rubbed in the Modi government when she alleged that the BJP government has not been able to bring Narmada waters to Saurashtra inspite of ruling the state for ten years.

Rajkot city, the nerve centre of Saurashtra, which is getting 20 minutes supply of water for an approximate population of 20 lakh every alternate day, has drinking water requirement of 150 MLD and is dependent on two dams, Nyaari and Aji.

"The dams get filled in Saurashtra only when there is heavy rain in catchment areas. This has not happened this season and has resulted in low water storage levels in the dams," said Municipal Commissioner Rajkot Ajay Bhadu.

Government had promised the water supply from Dhrangadhra Branch Canal of Narmada canal network, he added.

"The work of laying the pipeline has not been completed and is likely to finish in January, 2013," he said.

"At present, the water levels in both Nyaari and Aji dams have receded sharply and civic authorities are maintaining the supply just to keep residents happy till elections," alleged Narsinhbhai Thakor, a resident of Rajkot.

At the end of this monsoon, the average water storage in dams and other schemes in Kutch was recorded at 36.40 per cent of the total capacity of storage in all the dams while that for Saurashtra was a grim 17.86 per cent.

The availability of water for irrigation is also scarce with non-completion of work on Narmada Canal network, an issue which has been used by every government since 1980s to help garner votes in their favour.

"There is no progress in canal work for the past many months. And wherever canal has been laid, the Government has priority of water supply for industry, not for common people or farmers," said secretary Narmada Abhiyan Gautam Thakar.

Thakur emphasised on the need for completion of the canal work as soon as possible to bring relief to the people of Saurashtra and Kutch.

"Known for its inverted pan topography, storage of rainwater in Saurashtra has always remained a challenge for the administration. And hence Narmada canals should be the primary source for deficit water in the region," he added.

Lately, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking a third term, had announced an ambitious Rs 10,000-crore irrigation project for the region.

The project called Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation Yojana (SAUNI) aims at filling all the 115 dams in the region with Narmada water by inter-linking 87 rivers.

The same has been included, among other promises to bring `water revolution`, in BJP`s election manifesto, released on December 4 by Modi.

Congress party, which has brought out a `charge sheet` against Modi government, has alleged that the government has not completed canal network for Narmada dam.

Keshubhai Patel, a former BJP veteran whose party Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) has fielded candidates for 173 seats with a lone aim of dislodging Narendra Modi, has also drummed up the water issue, blaming the chief minister for the water woes of the people.

"Modi is showing you stars in the daylights. In 2002 and again in 2007, he had promised to bring water here from Kalpasar project. And now again he is talking about it," said Patel at a rally in Visavadar.

His party has been accusing Modi government of being responsible for farmers` suicides allegedly because of water problems among others.

"In the past 10 years 9,829 workers, 5,447 farmers and 919 farm workers have committed suicide because of lack of irrigation water or absence of grazing land," claimed GPP leader Gordhan Zadafia, who is contesting from Gondal seat in Rajkot district.