Food for work, but no water

NEW DELHI, MAY 6. That the Government perception of relief measures in a drought situation is far removed from reality became obvious during a recent visit to drought-affected districts of Saurashtra and Kutch in Gujarat. The Central Government was quick to announce allocation of additional foodgrains and 2 kg food-for-work programme without even acquainting itself of the situation on the ground. Foodgrains was not the immediate requirement. Water was.

Again, the food-for-work programme had not even taken off, while the Centre was reeling off figures of work-days created and food given for work.

A tour through Morvi, Maliyan, Bachao taluk, Chotilla, Bamambore, Laliyana, Tramba, Kotna Sangoni and Gondal villages in Saurashtra and Kutch regions showed that at a few places people affected by water scarcity had been employed along roadsides. Instead of the Rs. 40 per day, some of them said they got barely Rs 10. or Rs. 8.

Work was being created to give relief money to people, whereas the opportunity could have been utilised for desilting the large number of dams that have been choked. The Gujarat administration has maintained that it lacks the resources and labour for desilting, whereas the requirement for desilting a dam would be about Rs 1.5 crores. Instead of employing people along the roadside and claiming relief measures on paper, the administration could use resources and labour available to dig out the choked dams and construct check-dams and stop-dams to hold rainwater so that the depleted water table is replenished.

Lopsided priorities

Mismanagement of water resources and lopsided priorities have led to a situation where borewells dug as deep as 1,000 ft or more have not hit water. For instance, all the 12 dams in Rajkot district were earmarked for irrigation - not for drinking water - till the crisis developed. Even the much-touted Sardar Sarovar Project initially had allocation only for irrigation purposes. The drinking water component was added later. Even so, of Gujarat's total share of 9 million acre feet (MAF), from SSP, the State has allocated only 0.86 MAF for drinking water, while the rest is for industrial use and irrigation. Schemes for supplying water to Saurashtra and Kutch from alternate and more feasible sources like Mahi river have been altered several times in the past, in consonance with the changing perceptions of the party in power.

Even when the Bhadar dam, which was providing the Rajkot district, dried up during the last monsoon and the Machchu dam in Morvi district is slated to provide only till May 15, the State Government, preoccupied as it with SSP, did not wake up.

``Saurashtra is dome-shaped because of which the surface water run-off is high. The underground strata is rocky, so perforation is scanty. Bigger dams have not achieved the desired results. The solution should, therefore, be area- specific,'' said Mr. K. Jagdeshan, Special Secretary in-charge of providing water to scarce areas in Rajkot district.

Role of panchayats

Interestingly, the panchayats are playing a major role in recognising people's needs and at least making a noise about providing them. But mismanagement and caste frictions were obvious even here. In Chotilla village, for instance, as some women were complaining at the lone borewell about lack of enough sources, the sarpanch, Ms. Shantoben, appeared out of nowhere. Asked about the non-functional borewells, she said the motor was out of order for the last 15 days. ``Why wasn't it repaired?'' ``It has just been repaired and water will come soon,'' she was quick to say.

But Shaheen and Ruksana were not convinced. They further complained that Ms. Shanto, a Dalit sarpanch, had dug two borewells in Dalit bastis and ignored them. Ms. Shanto would not let the allegation stick and the women got into a mild row.

Ms. Jiyaben, sarpanch of Tramba village, also faced accusations of inaction, but she said she had written for permission to dig borewells and was awaiting a reply from the local administration. Till then, she personally supervised the water collection by village women at a sole source ``to ensure that there were no quarrels''.

Along with panchayats, NGOs have a strong presence in Saurashtra and Kutch. There are several villages which are thriving on water harvesting projects undertaken over the years. According to Mr. Shayamjibhai Antala, an NGO worker credited with recharging several hundred wells in the region, said every farmer can do water harvesting and then manage the resources well. This would help them meet 50 per cent of their needs in an inexpensive manner.