Gujarat Elections: Breaking, Leaking Canals in Kutch Wash Away Farmer Hopes
The visible patch of the broken canal at Bidra which as of now, lies without water
Kutch, Gujarat: July 6 was a special day for the natives of Birda and neighbouring villages, in the Kutch district, of Gujarat. They were excited about the inauguration of a newly constructed Narmada canal and had been decorating the place for the customary worship since last night. A month later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to visit the canal.
When the canal released about 3 feet of water, farmers were happy and relieved. However, late at night around 4 am, farmer Govind Ramani (60) was passing by the canal to have a look at his fields. “Until midnight, it was fine. But when I was on my way to the fields, I saw the canal was broken and the water was overflowing into the bordering fields,” he says.
Govind Ramani, one of the witnesses of the broken canal in the month of July right after testing at the spot in Bidra village narrating the incident.
During an election speech earlier that month, Modi had said that when “Ma Narmada’s water reached Rayan, the villagers celebrated it like a festival and it set an example for the world to see”. However, the canal in Rayan village is leaking with farmers saying that the water is not accessible due to the lack of a proper pipeline. Rather than helping them, such canals have caused more damage, they allege.
“There are no pipelines to supply water to our fields—instead, we are losing our land to such canal projects,” adds Ramani. In the past five months, at least, three canals either broke or leaked in three villages of Mandvi—Rayan, Kedua and Birda.
Rayan, the place where the canal saw one of the most recent leakages, is now under repair. One of the workers working at the canal.
The most recent incident was reported on Monday with the canal in the Adesar Bhangera area of Mandvi breaking down completely, flooding the nearby fields.
One of the supervisors of the repair work says that both the state government and the public are partly responsible for the damage. “While the sand used as a filler is tested in labs, it should not fail to bear the load of water. This has been a consistent problem,” Rajan says.
“On the other hand, there are several farmers who do not want to sell their land for the construction of canals due to price issues. Besides, keeping the canal dry for several days was also responsible for the damage,” adds Rajan.
Farmers allege that the government doesn’t offer the right price for acquiring their land. Shamat Wala Shangar, from Pipli village, alleges that the price offered by the government didn’t include the cost of borewells and other investment made by farmers to ensure water supply. “Not including the borewell cost alone reduces the value of land to its half. This is unfair and we opposed it,” he says.
Between 2017 and 2019 alone, at least, 207 canal breaches were reported. While admitting the number of breaches, the Gujarat government while replying to Congress MLA
Shailesh Parmar in July 2019 held mongoose and rat burrows responsible for the incidents. “Water seeps into the burrows of mongooses and rats resulting in a leakage,” the government said in the Assembly adding that “poor construction of joints between old and new construction work and tampering with canals are among the other reasons for these breaches”.
Kheraj Gadhvi, president, Mandvi Bar Association, alleges that the “quality of mud used is extremely poor. Since the work is divided between several contractors, it is impossible to keep a check and hold one particular person responsible”.
Before the Bidra canal broke, “we had complained about the low-quality mud being used there. We saw them mixing mud with sand in order to save money. It was bound to fall”, he added.
Govind Ramani at the Bidra area where PM Modi was supposed to inaugurate the canal, but before that, the canal broke down
The Gujarat government sanctioned Rs 1,550 crore in May for the Narmada canal projects. Modi’s Birda visit was cancelled owing to the canal’s damage. Agitated villagers protested but to no avail. Local leaders of Ryan tried contacting the district administration, including the engineer responsible for the project and the district collector, but received no response.
Farmers whose lands are adjacent to such canals lose fertile soil during leaks and breaches. A farmer who loses his crops and fertile soil has to spend, at least, Rs 3 lakh to make a six-inch layer of soil with no compensation provided by the government.
Most of the farmers who did not receive the right amount during land acquisition refuse to speak fearing government backlash during election time.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Delhi and is travelling to Gujarat to report on the Assembly elections.
The writer is a Delhi-based freelance journalist reporting on issues of unemployment, education and human rights.
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