Narmada water finally flows to Rajasthan villages

March 27th, 2008 - 9:55 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Narendra Modi
By Kavita Bajeli-Dutt
Lalpur (Rajasthan), March 27 (IANS) It was a dream come true for many as the Narmada water Thursday finally reached the barren, desert Rajasthan, bringing relief to 4.5 million people living in two districts in the western part of the state. The water, coming from the Sardar Sarovar dam in central Gujarat, will pass through a 74-km canal through some of the worst drought affected areas of Barmer and Jalore districts where people have to travel some kilometres to fetch drinking water.

“People have not seen water. They have just heard that Narmada water is coming to their state. When I saw the water I had tears in my eyes. The moment is theirs,” Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhra Raje told reporters here while releasing the water into the canal and performing a small religious ceremony, as over 100,000 people cheered and clapped, rejoicing the moment the water gushed through the canal.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi could not attend the event.

After the water was released, women wearing colourful lehngha-choli and decked with silver jewellery, filled pots and carried the water home to worship it. Children tugged behind their mothers, while men donning colourful turbans stood along the canal or tried to take a dip in the water.

At the rally organised at Lalpur village in Jalore district, 175 km from Mount Abu, Raje said Barmer and Jalore districts faced perennial water shortage. “But now the dream of the people has come true.”

“This river is no less pious than the Ganga river,” she said first in Marwari and then in Hindi.

She said the water could not reach Rajasthan earlier as it had not paid Gujarat its share of Rs.6.46 billion towards the project cost.

The project has long been mired in controversy as the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) criticised it on environmental grounds as well as for displacing a large number of tribal people in the Narmada valley.

In 1993, the NBA approached the Supreme Court, which gave a stay on its construction, which was lifted only in 2000.

Moreover, the participating states - Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan - were also at loggerheads over their share of the water and hydropower.

The Narmada is the largest westward flowing river, emerging near Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh and merging into the Gulf of Khambhat in Gujarat. With a length of 1,312 km, it is the fifth largest river in the country.

Though, the plan to harness the river for irrigation and power generation was proposed in 1949, it got final shape in 1979. But the inter-state disputes delayed the project further.

The Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal (NWDT) was set up to sort out the inter-state disputes.

The tribunal allocated 0.5 million acres feet (MAF) of water to Rajasthan, while Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat were allotted 18.25 MAF.

For the people of Rajasthan, it will not only mean end of water scarcity, but will also help 233 villages in the area to irrigate 250,000 hectares of land.

Apart from this, 518 areas in Jalore and 589 areas in Barmer - a total of 1,107 villages with a population of 4.5 million will be able to use the water for drinking purposes.

A total of Rs.15.41 billion has been proposed for the project, of which Rs.11.88 billion has been invested.

The area, wearing a festive look, with camels decorated with patchwork mats, saw people coming from far to see the water being released into the canal.

For many, it was no small wonder to see the water of a distant river at their doorstep.

Phula Ram, 63, who travelled 40 km to witness the event, said they sometimes went without taking bath as they feared that the rainwater they had collected in their tanks will not last for long.

“For irrigation we can depend on the rain gods. But for drinking water we depend on our storage. Our women travel kilometres to get drinking water. People don’t want to marry their daughters into our village as they fear their daughters will be just busy fetching water all day around,” he said.

“But the situation will be different now,” he said, giving a toothless smile.

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