|Suresh Mehta (right) with Hemant Shah|
Has the Gujarat government taken a quiet policy decision to slash down the total area to be brought under cultivation by Narmada canal waters -- around 18 lakh hectares (ha) -- by 20.62%? It would seem so, if the official figures on Narmada canals planned to be built across the state, brought to light on Monday, are any indication.
Quoted by Suresh Mehta, former BJP chief minister of Gujarat, the official figures show that under the original plan, 90,389 km of Narmada canal network was proposed to be constructed to irrigate 18 lakh ha. In 2006, under the then chief minister Narendra Modi, this came down to 85,898 km.
Pointing out that a decade later, in a 2016-17 document, this further came down to 76,000 sq km, addressing media in a VVIP government guest house in Ahmedabad, Mehta quoted the Gujarat government's budget document, "Socio-Economic Review 2016-17", released in the state assembly in February, to say that the planned Narmada canal network has been further brought down by about 5,000 km.
Under the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP), the document says, the " multipurpose project" with a "discharge capacity of 40,000 cusecs at the point (Narmada dam) and 2,500 cusecs at Gujarat-Rajasthan border" would have a "network of 71,748 km".
Interestingly, while the latest document says that the project "is expected to provide irrigation benefits in over 75 talukas of 17 districts in the state", three-fourths of which is "drought prone", it does not say the actual area to be brought under irrigation once the canal network of 71,748 km is completed. The canal network includes the main canal, the branch canals, and minor and sub-minor canals to take Narmada waters to agricultural fields.
Alleged Mehta, "The Gujarat government has not taken any permission from the Narmada Control Authority, the Central body, which should be approached for any major policy change to be brought about for such successive reduction in the canal network. The figures have been quietly released in the labyrinth of budget documents."
Screenshot of govt document showing
reduced Narmada canal network in 2017
Well-known Gujarati publicist Hemant Shah, who teaches economics in a Gujarat University college, told media that, despite wide claims that 75% of canal network having been completed, official documents show, the actual canal irrigation, as of today, is somewhere around three lakh ha, as against the plan of 18 lakh ha.
"Budget documents and figures provided in the state assembly suggest that the actual canal irrigation was to the tune of 1.92 lakh ha in 2011-12, which remained stagnant at 2.09 lakh ha till 2014-15. In 2017-18 it is 3.30 lakh ha, and would be 3.30 lakh ha in 2018-19! It means that only 18.42% of canal irrigation would be completed in coming two years", he said.
Mehta said, "We are bringing these facts to light ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's birthday bash on September 17 at the Narmada dam. The aim of the celebration is to showcase, ahead of the assembly polls, what great work Gujarat and the Modi government have done to complete the project in order to make political capital out of it, in the same way as it did in 2007 and 2012 assembly elections."
Mehta, 80, who was BJP chief minister in 1995-96, resigned from the party in early December 2007 ahead of the state assembly polls, and joined hands with Modi's main political opponent in the party, Keshubhai Patel, who was Gujarat chief minister in 2005, and then again in 1998-2001.