Ahmedabad: Water scarcity in major regions of Gujarat is heating up the political arena in the state, with Opposition parties and NGOs up in arms against the Narendra Modi government's "inaction" and "mismanagement" of the crisis. Passing the buck, Gujarat has targeted the Centre for denying permission to raise the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam, and stalling construction of gates over it.
The government claims that permits on the dam would have enabled it to bring water of Narmada river to Saurashtra and Kutch. Chief Minister Narendra Modi had recently said the Opposition has failed to understand the water problem in the state arising out of the Centre's stand of not allowing permission to raise the height of Sardar Sarovar Dam.
"The BJP will launch a public agitation against the central government on the the issue of Sardar Sarovar Dam," Modi had told a large gathering here on April 8, during the celebrations of 33rd Foundation Day of BJP.
Meanwhile, Gujarat Congress has decided to bring the water scarcity issue before the people by embarking on a 'Jal Adhikar Yatra' while maintaining pressure on the government to take immediate action. Covering more than 100 villages in nine districts which are badly hit by water scarcity, the yatra will commence from Dwarka on April 10 and culminate in Ambaji on April 21.
"Out of 202 water reservoirs in Saurashtra region, 72 are totally dried up, 89 are almost empty and water level has fallen to 25 per cent of its capacity in another 41," former Gujarat Congress President Sidhharth Patel told reporters while announcing the launch of 'Jal Adhikar Yatra'.
"Our aim is to generate public opinion against the inaction and mismanagement of this BJP government which has been marketing the state as the number one in development. But here people are deprived of bare minimum necessity of drinking water," Patel had said.
With the onset of summer, mercury has been on a rise in the state with cities like Bhuj (in Kutch), Deesa and Idar in northern Gujarat and Ahmedabad already logging temperatures around 40 deg C. On the other hand, shortage of water, particularly drinking water, is becoming more severe with people even in major cities like Rajkot, Amreli, Junagadh, and Surendranagar in Saurashtra region, feeling the heat.
On March 26, the state government conceded in the Assembly that there was a severe problem of drinking and irrigation water in parts of the state and declared that around 4,000 villages in 10 districts were facing water scarcity.
Revenue Minister Anandi Patel had announced that 939 villages in the state were facing water crisis whereas 2,979 villages were declared partially affected. "People in most of Saurashtra, Kutch and North Gujarat region are facing severe water crunch and state government has declared only 939 villages hit by water scarcity. This is very absurd. Government should have come out with a detailed action plan to fight water problems for whole state," Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Shankarsinh Vaghela had said while reacting on the announcement.
Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) of former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel has also decided to take the government to task on the water issue. "We are organising protests and demonstrations in every city and taluka in Saurashtra region to build pressure on government, which has failed miserably to address the water problem," GPP General Secretary and former Minister of State for Home, Gordhan Zadafia said.
Leaders from both Opposition parties have accused the ruling BJP government of not being serious to complete the construction of Narmada canals which could bring river waters to parched Saurashtra region. Some of the NGOs in Gujarat have also criticised the state government on the issue.
Sarvodaya Mandal and PUCL Gujarat branch has organised a people's hearing on Monday in the city where people from affected areas would remain present and narrate their water problems. Leaders like Shankarsinh Vaghela, Keshubhai Patel, former Chief Minister Suresh Mehta, Vice-Chancellor of Gujarat Vidyapith Sudershan Iyengar, former BJP MLA Kanu Kalsaria are going to address the gathering.
"Our aim for this hearing is to sensitise the government on the severe water problem faced by the people across the state," General Secretary PUCL Gujarat, Gautam Thakar said.