Former Chief Secretary of Gujarat Dr J N Singh, while addressing a web lecture of the Department of Political Science of the MS University of Vadodara, spoke about the shift from ground water pumping to surface water irrigation as well as the long term goals of the Gujarat government in enhancing water supply to far flung areas of Saurashtra and North Gujarat, which have traditionally recorded much lower rainfall than the national and the state average.
Singh is also an alumnus of the university. The lecture was held to throw light on the issue of “Farmers as an Interest Group in Gujarat and the Issue of Water”.
“The rural economy gets boosted by 1.8624 lakh crore annually from agriculture and allied sectors. This importance of agriculture is also reflected in the number of elected representatives in the Gujarat Assembly, where 56 seats are urban but 126 predominantly rural. Output of agricultural sector in Gujarat has been largely dependent on South-West monsoon, according to a socio-economic survey in Gujarat in 2019-20. The average rainfall in Gujarat is quite poor compared to all India figures…,” Singh said.
Water, Singh said, was also an integral requirement of the dairy sector which has in the last two decades grown in the North Gujarat region.
Singh said, “As green fodder is an important input for the dairy livestock and there is poor availability of natural biomass in the region, farmers take to growing fodder grass, especially alfaalfa and elephant grass, with the help of irrigation. As alfaalfa is highly water intensive, the entire dairying is heavily dependent on the availability of access to water for irrigating fodder crops.”
Highlighting the shift in demand from pressure groups of the agricultural sector, Singh said, “The demand was to use the state to have fullest possible extraction firstly of groundwater resources by gaining cheap electricity to pump out underground water. After the success of ground water resources, the demand has been to have surface water resources, largely by inter basin transfer. This was largely the pressure and tactics adopted by agriculture interests. From 1986 to 2005, the pressure was to provide cheaper electricity to enhance ground water availability. But in 2005, when (Narendra) Modiji was the Chief Minister and it was evident that the electricity supply was turning unsustainable, the focus shifted on enhancing surface water irrigation.”
Speaking of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Irrigation project, Singh said, “Irrigation to 18.45 lakh hectares, covering 3,112 villages of 73 talukas of 15 districts of the state as well as drinking water to 173 urban centres and 9,490 villages within and outside the command area, with a projected target population of 40 million by 2021 became possible due to the cooperation of farmers with the government in setting up surface water projects.”
Singh also added that the government is now working on a project after Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation (SAUNI) Yojana to also enhance the availability of water from Tapi Pari Yojana to ensure surface water supply to tribal areas of Central and South Gujarat.