In March this year, a PIL was filed in the Gujarat High Court complaining that the Kutch branch of the Narmada Canal does not supply water to four villages — Kanthkot, Jadsa, Dhandro and Tambro. The court ordered the state government to complete the task of supplying water through pipelines to these villages in four weeks.
But these are not the only villages of the Kutch and Saurashtra regions of Gujarat awaiting water supply through the Narmada canals. Dayapur, a village in Lakhpat taluka of Kutch, is 520 km from the Narmada Main Canal. It has not got any water in the 71 years since the canal’s foundation stone was laid.
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Lakhpat, one of the 10 talukas in Kutch, Gujarat’s largest district, sees migration of local pastoral communities every summer. Most people of this arid area are livestock breeders or Maldharis, a community that migrates to other parts of Gujarat before every summer looking for fodder and water for their animals.
Sardar Sarovar Dam
The Narmada Valley Project was envisioned in 1946 to harness water for irrigation and hydropower through the construction of the Sardar Sarovar and Narmada Sagar dams as well as over 3,000 smaller dams and sub-canals and branch canals.
The Sardar Sarovar Dam was to be built in two stages – its first proposed height was 160 feet and then it was revised to 300 feet. This was further hiked to 320 feet so as to bring water to the parched Kutch and Saurashtra regions.
The Narmada Valley project had a target of irrigating 18 lakh hectares through a canal network of 74,000 km. However, since the commencement of the project, only 27,189 km or 36 per cent, has been constructed.
Even with an increased dam height and enlarging the water reservoir to its maximum that submerged several villages in adjoining Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat has so far supplied irrigation water to just 6.3 lakh hectares of land, or less than half the target.
Per government data, 5,975 km of canals are yet to be built across Gujarat as of December 31, 2022. This includes branch canals and sub-canals that are to bring water from the main canal to the fields. The 36 per cent of the project completed covers parts of central Gujarat that are primarily urban.
In September 2018, then Chief Minister Vijay Rupani laid the foundation stone of the Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation Yojana link-4, which was targeted to fill nine dams with Narmada water and provide irrigation water to Saurashtra.
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For Kutch, an area of 59,934 hectares has been set aside for building the Kutch Branch Canal but the pipelines have yet to be connected to form a network to deliver water to the fields.
The Narmada dam, initially called the Navagam dam after the village it was supposed to be built in, was envisioned smaller than 320 feet, the height at which it stands today. Gujarat wanted a much higher dam.
However, a bigger dam would submerge over 200 villages, thousands of hectares of forests and fertile agricultural lands on the banks of River Narmada in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. This led to a dispute between the states over the height and the distribution of the Narmada waters.
In 1965-66, a commission formed to settle the dispute recommended the height of the dam at Navagam to be a minimum of 500 feet. Madhya Pradesh opposed this as about 99,000 acres of agricultural land in Madhya Pradesh would drown if the dam was built so high.
The matter went to a legal tribunal in 1968-69. After a long delay, the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal passed its final award in 1979 in favour of Gujarat, giving a nod to increase the height of the dam to 320 feet. Gujarat mainly wanted this increased height to ensure water reaches the arid regions of Kutch and Saurashtra.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the dam in 2017, its canal network was yet to be completed. The branch and sub canals still remain incomplete as of March 2023, the state government told the assembly.
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In accordance with the Narmada Water Dispute Tribunal’s order, only 11 per cent of the total water allocated to Gujarat is supposed to be used for drinking and industrial use. The rest is meant for irrigation in Kutch and Saurashtra.
Gujarat is allotted 9 MAF (million acres feet) water per year out of which 7.74 MAF water is meant for the irrigation of 18.45 lakh hectares of agricultural land across the state. Another 1.06 MAF water is to be used as drinking water (especially in north Gujarat and Saurashtra) and 0.20 MAF is allotted to industries.
However, according to the annual reports of the Narmada Control Authority, set up in 1980 to implement the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal’s orders, between 2013 and 2016, Gujarat utilised more than 11 per cent of the water it withdraws for non-agricultural use. In 2016, the state used more than 18 per cent of its allocation to provide water for industrial and domestic use.
The Sardar Sarovar Dam is the main source of water supply for all the industries in the regions of Kutch and Saurashtra. Industries in these regions are taking water amounting to 844.85 million litres against their allocation of 675.88 million litres.
Lakhpat taluka, one of the worst drought-hit areas since 1919, is home to three cement factories including two power plants out of which one is owned by the Adani group and the other by Tata Power.
The Gujarat government, in its response to an RTI filed by farmers rights activist Sagar Rabari, revealed that between 2014 and 2018, industries in Mundra and Kutch received 25 million litres per day of water from the Narmada Valley Project while Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar cites got 75 million litres per day of drinking water.
In 2018-19, the state saw one of the worst droughts in 30 years. Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) issued a notification stating it won’t provide irrigation water in the Narmada command area for summer crop post March 15 due scarce water reserves in the Sardar Sarovar Dam.
SSNNL urged farmers not to sow summer crops unless they have a local water source.The same year, the state government claimed that the revenue from Narmada waters doubled in the last five years. For every 1,000 litres of Narmada water supplied, government charged Rs 3.14 from each residential consumer and Rs 25.95 from industries.
The farm sector in Kutch and Saurashtra, meanwhile, continues to struggle for water for its people’s livelihoods.