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Gujarat govt 'contemplates' bulk transfer of water at market rate to North, Central Gujarat

By Rajiv Shah
The Gujarat government appears all set to work out a new scheme for regional transfer of waters, in which farmers from South Gujarat sell waters they are "entitled to use" at market rate to water-scarce areas in the North and Centre of the state. Supposedly a “win-win” scheme for both, under it the water-abundant South Gujarat farmers earn on the “transfer” of Narmada waters to water-scarce Central and North Gujarat, whose farmers would be made to “pay” at a negotiable market rate for the waters they receive.
Giving an outline of the scheme, a recent book, published by Sage and “supported” by the Gujarat government, favours setting up of special “intermediate agencies” to make this possible. Involved directly with the government, these “agencies” can provide water subsidies, wherever, necessary, the book indicates.
Authored by former Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) managing-director S Jagadeesan and Hyderabad-based water resources expert M Dinesh Kumar, and titled “The Sardar Sarovar Project: Assessment Economic and Social Impacts”, the just-released book says, “Volumetric water transfer to the tune of 2,000 million cubic metres (MCM) can earn farmers of South Gujarat and the intermediaries nearly Rs 4 billion annually, if we assume that the farmers in North Gujarat pay Rs 2 per cubic metre for irrigation water purchases.”
Finalized after the state government’s powerful Narmada project-implementing agency, SSNNL okayed its contents, the book says, the price worked out to sell water to North Gujarat farmers – Rs 2 per cubic metre – is “quite reasonable in view of the fact that farmers from the region are paying more or less the same price for water from tubewells, which is of inferior quality due to the presence of salts.”
The authors say, this scheme is important because, currently, “farmers in South Gujarat get low net returns from a unit volume of water used in irrigation for the dominant crops of the region such as banana, paddy, and sugarcane.”
It is in this framework, the book says, they could be “incentivized” to shift to water intensive crops by “efficiently” selling water at the “market price and earn income” – all of which would be handled by the “intermediate agencies” set up by the SSNNL.
Giving further rationale for the “transfer”, the book says, this alone would stop the current “illegal lifting of water from the (Narmada) canals by the farmers who are both inside the outside the designated (Narmada) command area.” Saying that already this is a major challenge for SSNNL officials, the book suggests, only volumetric transfer of water at market rate would plug this problem.
Saying that the “intermediate agencies” could be created keeping in view that the Narmada project’s canal system would be completely automated, having “hydraulic system hierarchy”, the book points out, these agencies would be “engaged in bulk water transfer at various levels in the hydraulic system.” It is through agencies that the “actual title owners of water (farmers) in South Gujarat” would negotiate and transfer water at a market price to Central and North Gujarat farmers.
Running into 313 pages, the book insists, the “irrigation water use in water-rich South Gujarat needs to be conservative”, and “more water needs to be allocated for Central and North Gujarat” in order to “meet the needs of the farmers both within and outside the Narmada command area.”
In fact, the book believes, “enforcement of tradable water entitlements ”through the water conveyance infrastructure of the Narmada project” would motivate farmers of South Gujarat to sell to “farmers of North and Central Gujarat.”

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