Ahmedabad: The Gujarat Congress on Friday announced to launch a state-wide 'Jal Adhikar Yatra' against the recently passed Gujarat Irrigation and Drainage Bill which it termed as an "anti-farmer" bill. "From April 10 we will launch a 12-day 'Jal Adhikar Yatra' from Dwarka to Ambaji against the Gujarat Irrigation and Drainage Bill which is not only anti-farmer but also gives arbitrary and draconian powers to government officials," Congress President Arjun Modhwadia told reporters in Ahmedabad.
Gujarat Governor Kamla Beniwal gave her assent to the bill in March. The bill which was passed by the Gujarat Assembly in February 2013, proposes stringent measures, including penal action against violating farmers. The bill prescribes appointments of canal officers having the rank of additional assistant engineer or above, with wide powers, including powers to detain farmers for violating provisions of the bill. There is a provision in the bill which makes it mandatory for a farmer to apply for a licence from a canal officer of his area if he wants to construct a tubewell or borewell or an artesian well, exceeding depths prescribed by the government.
Giving details of the 'Jal Adhikar Yatra' agitation, former state Congress president Siddharth Patel said that the Yatra will pass through nine districts of Gujarat, which were the worst affected by water scarcity and culminate at Ambaji in Banaskantha district on April 21. "We will go to the people of seven districts in Saurashtra and two districts in North Gujarat to explain provisions of this draconian bill to them," he said. The 'Yatra' will travel 1,267 km through more then 100 villages in nine districts including Jamnagar, Junagadh, Porbandar, Rajkot, Surendranagar, Amreli, Bhavnagar, Patan and Banaskantha.
After reviewing the severe problem of drinking and irrigation water, the Gujarat government had declared on March 26, that around 4000 villages face water scarcity. It announced that 939 villages in Gujarat face drinking water scarcity, whereas 2,979 villages were declared partially affected. The Congress leader termed the announcement as a "half hearted" effort alleging, "This shows lack of experience of the government which had never faced a drought in the past 13 years". "At present, out of total 202 reservoirs in Saurashtra region, 72 have no water at all, while 89 are on the verge of drying up and in 41 reservoirs, the water level has reached 25 per cent, which means that they would dry up soon," he said. "This government has totally failed to respond to the water problem of the people and we will launch this Yatra to spread this awareness among the people," he said.