With Governor Kamla Beniwal giving her approval, the decks have been cleared for a controversial Gujarat law that makes possession of licence mandatory for sinking a tubewell, borewell or artesian well on any agricultural land and also has a provision for imprisonment.

The BJP government steamrollered the Gujarat Irrigation and Drainage Bill 2013 in the Assembly on February 27, despite stiff resistance from the Congress and Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP).

Even the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, famers’ wing of the sangh parivar, is opposed to the Bill, saying farmers have no option other than sinking tubewells for water requirements. As many as 17 out of the 26 districts in the State are suffering drought conditions.

The Bill seeks to regulate sinking of borewells on any agricultural land along with use of groundwater available from it. Violators will be punished with imprisonment up to six months and a fine of Rs 10,000.

The Congress made a representation to the Governor that the Bill was against farmers’ interests. The GPP organised State-wide protests against the “draconian” measure.

The law will replace the 134-year-old Gujarat Irrigation Act 1879 that permitted sinking of borewells if the depth exceeded 45 metres.

The new Bill is also tough on use of groundwater from wells or bores for irrigation. “It is shocking that the Bill vests canal officers with powers to inspect any land to check for violations,” GPP leader Gordhan Jhadaphia told The Hindu.

Any farmer owning cultivable land within 200 metres of a canal will have to pay for its water reaching his fields by percolation, leakage, surface flow or by means of a well dug from the canal.

Gujarat Bharatiya Kisan Sangh chief Maganbhai Patel said: “Though regulating water consumption is important in the water-starved State, this Bill has been passed in haste.” He said farmers especially in agriculture-dominated and water-scarce Saurashtra, Kutch and North Gujarat had no source other than borewells to meet their water requirements.

“All irrigation projects, including the ambitious Sardar Sarovar Narmada Project, are originally envisaged for irrigation but as it has happened in Gujarat, they end up getting milked by urban centres and industrial houses,” says Kanubhai Patel, who heads the Gujarat Farmers-Power Consumers Association.