Cracked canals of Narmada

Minor Canal: Valthera, Dholka Taluka
Minor Canal: Valthera, Dholka Taluka

Located 85 km from Ahmedabad, Lothal is one of the most prominent cities of the ancient Indus valley civilisation dating from 2400 BC. Lothal is situated in Dholka taluka of Ahmedabad district. The recent excavation by archaeologists unearthed inlet channels connecting the dock with a river.

Lothal’s dock, — the world’s earliest known — connected the city to an ancient course of the Sabarmati river on the trade route between Harappan cities in Sindh and the peninsula of Saurashtra when the surrounding Kutch desert of today was a part of the Arabian Sea. It was a thriving trade centre in ancient times. The techniques and tools they pioneered in water management have stood the test of time.

In recent times, Gujarat government launched the much celebrated Narmada irrigation system. Ultra-modern technology was used to construct a web of concrete canals. Hundreds of crores were spent in this project.

Today, in Dholka, Sanand and Bavla talukas, there’s a breach in the concrete canals every ten steps. These were built just six years back. In some areas, water flowed only for a day. The purpose of this exercise was to photograph the successful completion of the project for the records. Water magically vanished soon after the contractors and the officials moved out.

Farmers who dreamt of water reaching their lands are now staring at their dry fields hopelessly. Frustrated, and with survival at stake, many are selling off their pieces of land to corporate houses at throwaway prices. Hundreds of farmers have committed suicide in Gujarat in the last decade; the main reason being failure of crops because of water crisis. Such silent deaths in the dried fields never made it to the headlines, whereas official advertisements with tall claims did.

There are approximately 50,000 hectares of agriculture land and about 5,000 farmers in each of the three talukas. The farmers of Dholka made a representation against the faulty construction of the canals to the vigilance commissioner and the secretary of Narmada Nigam in December 2009. In January 2011, a representation was also made to the chief minister. On February 18 and April 11 this year, a larger group took up the issue but there was no response from the government. These areas are covered under the command area of the Narmada dam and as such irrigation of the area is integral to the project.

The ‘Narmade-sarvade’ hoardings with pictures of gurgling water and smiling chief minister have reached every village but the water hasn’t. Even if a small fraction of the money spent on such massive publicity was spent in maintaining the canal system, those thirsty farmers would have got water. Today a large chunk of the agriculture land is dry. With water being commoditised, the dry state just got drier. Natural water bodies are available for sale to the corporate, not necessarily the highest bidder.

The astronomical amounts spent on Narmada project meant for reaching water to the farmers, went down the drains. But our chief minister continues to derive political mileage out of this project. In fact, the perception of a great rural developer that he has moulded for himself, is due to Narmada project. This condition is not somewhere in the distant remote areas of Gujarat but right in the district of Ahmedabad. Tata Nano plant travelled 2500 km from Singur to Sanand in six days but water hasn’t travelled even 250 km from Narmada dam to Dholka in six long years after the construction of the canals.

Four thousand years ago when technology was in its nascent stage and lokpal was not heard of, what lead to such good construction in Lothal? With the latest technology and a vibrant economy, why is that missing today? Have people who recently praised Gujarat chief minister for his rural development ever visited these areas? And if they did, would they be able to figure out why it resembled the ruins of Lothal which is barely 25 km from the place? Water leaked through the cracks of the canal but will the scam underneath ever get leaked?