Simply Put: Gujarat – Little rain, just one key river

In a state that depends hugely on Narmada and where large regions have limited water resources, rainfall shortage has led to drought or water scarcity in parts of 17 districts. A look at the situation on the ground.

Gujarat is facing a severe water crisis this year with 96 of the state’s 250 tehsils, spanning 17 districts, having been declared either drought-affected or scarcity-hit, a majority of these in Saurashtra and North Gujarat. The Gujarat government has declared that there is enough water for drinking until July 31, but water for irrigation is critically unavailable.

What is behind the crisis?

NARMADA SHARE: There was a water crisis last year too, but that was largely because of low rainfall in the river Narmada’s catchment area in Madhya Pradesh. Instead of its share of 9 MAF (million-acre feet) following a normal monsoon as decided by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal, Gujarat got only 4.71 MAF last year. Gujarat itself had not been short of rain in 2017, and most dams were filled up in 2018. This year, though the availability of Narmada water for Gujarat has increased to 6.6 MAF, 6.35 MAF of it has already been released for irrigation, drinking and industry.

LOW RAINFALL: Saurashtra received just 317 mm in 2018 (38% below the normal of 511.3 mm) while the rest of Gujarat got 687.6 mm (28% short of 956.3 mm). The rainfall distribution too has been skewed. Kutch district received the lowest at 111 mm, against 464 mm in 2017. In North Gujarat, Patan, Banaskantha, Mehsana, Sabarkantha and Gandhinagar districts recorded significantly lower rainfall than during last year. In Saurashtra, Surendranagar received the least rainfall at 247 mm in 2018, a third of the 856 mm in 2017. Districts like Rajkot, Morbi, Jamnagar, Devbhumi Dwarka and Botad too received significantly less rain.

Why is the crisis so severe in Saurashtra and Kutch regions?

These two regions, together 55% of Gujarat’s area, hold only 20% of its water resources, with Saurashtra (33% of the geographical area) holding 17% of the resources, and Kutch (22%) holding just 3%. Most of the rivers here run short courses. Except in coastal patches in Mangrol, Mahuva and Talaja and parts of Surendranagar and Morbi districts, quality groundwater is very limited, making the region largely rain-dependent. A number of herdsmen have migrated out of Kutch in search of fodder and water. Though it has huge agricultural potential, Saurashtra sees a drought almost every four years.

How much water is stored in the state’s reservoirs?

According to a Central Water Commission bulletin of June 5, the live storage in the 10 major reservoirs of Gujarat was 2.568 billion cubic metres (1 BMC = 0.81 MAF) against their total storage capacity of 17.191 BCM, or just 15%. Only Kadana (34%), Panam (35%) and Karjan (32%) were close to one-third of capacity.

In dams, live storage was only 4.52% in 59 dams of Bhavnagar irrigation circle and 5.28% in 79 dams of Rajkot irrigation circle. Water Resources Department officers pointed out, however, that for drinking water, one accounts for gross storage which includes live and dead storage. When live storage is short of capacity, authorities only restrict release of water for irrigation, they explained. Thus, they said, the present gross storage in dams (6.13 MAF, 30% of capacity) in the state is sufficient to last till July-end.

How does the government plan to address the water problem?

The state government’s strategy has revolved largely around the Narmada Dam project. The project is designed to irrigate 5.15 lakh hectares in Saurashtra and 1.12 lakh hectares in Kutch. This is about one-third of the 18 lakh hectares that is the total culturable command area of the Dam project.

IRRIGATION: To augment irrigation facilities in areas not under the Narmada project command area, the government plans to implement the Saurashtra Narmada Avataran Irrigation Yojana. The Rs 16,000-crore project envisages filling up 115 major dams of Saurashtra by channeling floodwaters of Narmada to Saurashtra through existing canals and pumping it to these 115 dams by laying a 1300-km network of pipelines. The project is still incomplete.

DRINKING WATER: In this aspect, too, the government has looked largely at the Narmada for Saurashtra, Kutch and North Gujarat. The government has laid an extensive network of pipelines connecting almost every village, town and city of the regions of Saurashtra and Kutch. However, all pipelines invariably draw water from one Narmada canal or the other. Bulk pipelines have also been laid for North Gujarat.

Although Narmada water is not routed for irrigation of summer crops, many people pilfer water from the bulk pipelines that carry the river’s water to Saurashtra and Kutch. Officials have lodged around 70 police complaints, mainly in Saurashtra and North Gujarat.

What steps have been taken to counter the drought?

The state government has declared 51 tehsils drought-affected and 45 tehsils scarcity-hit. The first 51 have received less than 250 mm rainfall, and the other 45 have received rain in the range 251-400 mm. The government is providing tankers to areas short of drinking water, with 850 tankers making 3,800 trips every day.

The government is providing crop input subsidy to farmers in these regions, besides financial assistance to 493 cattle camps, 419 gaushalas and 88 panjrapols (cattle pounds) as of now. This is helping farmers maintain over 5.34 lakh cattle. Fodder is being provided at a subsidised rate of Rs 2 per kg. The government has set up 299 fodder depots at various places, issued 3.68 lakh fodder cards, and distributed over 11.50 crore kg fodder.

What are the alternatives to the Narmada?

The government is exploring ways to conserve fresh water. Gujarat is the first state to introduce a Water Reuse policy under which treated waste-water will be provided for industrial and domestic use and for gardens and parks. The government is also exploring an option of seawater desalination plants.

Recently, the government has started looking at more options. In March, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of 100 million-litres-per-day seawater desalination plant at Jodiya in Jamnagar and more such plants are in the pipeline. The Jodiya plant, which is being set up at the cost of Rs 800 crore on a public-private-partnership, is likely to be commissioned by end-2021.

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