Narmada waters quench thirst, bring hope to RajasthanMarch 30th, 2008 - 10:29 am ICT by admin
By Kavita Bajeli-Datt
Lalpur (Rajasthan), March 30 (IANS) For the last 25 years, 40-year-old Sandhya Devi has been walking 10 km every day to fetch drinking water for her family of seven. This has been the way of life for almost everyone in this part of western Rajasthan. But her already-wrinkled face wears a happy look as she sees the gurgling Narmada river waters coming from the Sardar Sarovar dam in central Gujarat through a 74-km canal that passes through the drought affected areas of Barmer and Jalore districts.
“I have never seen so much water. My children went crazy and jumped with joy. My middle son doesn’t know how to swim, but promptly jumped into the canal and had to be rescued as he was drowning,” Devi told IANS as tears welled up in her eyes.
Devi and her entire village had travelled in tractors, buses and jeeps to witness the Narmada waters being released here by Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Thursday. For nearly 4.5 million people living in this water-starved area of Rajasthan, life has changed forever - as the waters of the Narmada, the largest westward flowing river, have come into their state and their life.
“We had to walk for at least 10-15 km in search of water. Our lives were centred on this precious commodity,” Devi said, as she filled pots of water to carry home to worship.
Echoing her sentiments was the chief minister. “People have not seen water. They have just heard that the Narmada water is coming to their state. I know people have travelled kilometres to see the water. I can understand their feelings. When I saw the water I had tears in my eyes. The moment is theirs,” Raje said.
Raje addressed a rally of about 100,000 people after releasing the waters.
“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 switched to Hindi.
Scoring a point over the opposition Congress party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader said: “The water could not reach the state earlier as it had not paid Gujarat its share of Rs.6.46 billion towards project cost. But we got it done.”
For politicians, the Narmada waters - which emerge near Amarkantak in Madhya Pradesh and merge into the Gulf of Khambhat in Gujarat - might be a sure way of getting votes in the elections slated for later this year. But for the people of Barmer and Jalore it means social and economic change.
Said 27-year-old Rajkumar Chauhan: “Life will change for us socially and economically. Earlier, our main worry was water. We had no life and used to wait for rainwater to bring joy to our barren desert land,” he said.
An agriculturist, Chauhan said drinking water would reach 518 areas in Jalore and 589 areas in Barmer - a total of 1,107 villages - and would also help 233 villages irrigate nearly 250,000 hectares of land.
Chauhan’s is one of the villages to get water from small tributaries connected to the main Narmada canal. “We will be getting electricity and water to plough our land,” he said.
For 50-year-old Katna Devi, water means marriage for her eldest son.
“We have been looking for a bride for him. But no one wants to marry their daughter to our village as it is known as the desert of Rajasthan,” she said.
Phula Ram, 63, who travelled 40 km to witness the event, said villagers sometimes go without taking a bath as they fear that the rainwater they collect in their tanks will not last for long.
The project has long been mired in controversy as the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has criticised the Sardar Sarovar dam 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. This 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.
For 60-year-old Gawari Devi, water means education for her 10-year-old granddaughter. Wearing a colourful lehnga-choli and decked with silver jewellery, she said her granddaughter would now get time to go to school.
Shouting “Narmada Maiya Ki Jai”, she said, “Our days have changed forever”.
(Kavita Bajeli-Datt can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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