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Vulnerability hits Gujarat's Narmada-based canal network, adequately price, manage water: CM aide Navalawala

By Our Representative
A top Gujarat government water resources official, who has been aide to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has warned that Gujarat’s Narmada-based canal network has been “reduced to be vulnerable”, underlining it does not even have the “buffer for 15 days” for supplying water, making its “closures for maintenance” almost an impossible task.
Pointing out that things are turning bad for Narmada-based irrigation, domestic and industrial water supply, the Gujarat chief minister’s water resources adviser BN Navalawala, making a presentation in Gandhinagar, said, while Rs 9000 crore has been spent on Narmada-based water supply pipelines, and more is being spent, the limit for 0.86 million acre feet (MAF) for water to be used for non-irrigation use has already been crossed.
Former Government of India (GoI) water resources secretary and currently heading a high-level GoI committee on inter-linking of rivers, Navalawala regretted, the original plan was to consider Narmada just a supplementary source of water but today has become the “primary source.”
Speaking at a Vibrant Gujarat seminar on January 2, he cautioned the audience, who consisted of government officials, experts and industry executives, “Over-dependence on Narmada would not only badly hit agriculture but also induce much stress in water supply sector which might lead to social stress, if not unrest.”
His calculation was based on a graph which he presented at the seminar, showed that that there was continuous reduction in water availability in Narmada basin.
While the Gujarat government has fixed a norm for supplying water for domestic use to rural areas and urban areas -- 100 liters and 250 per capita day in rural areas, respectively, Navalawala said, there was yet another dimension of the stress – that “municipal corporations, municipalities and panchayats do not pay water charges”, even if they are a “token”.
Calling it a parasitical attitude, he said, “Urban areas have not been given metered water supply”, nor is there any concept of “recycling of water in urban areas which could offload the supply and effluent disposal.” He added, “Open defecation free villages and towns would need more water for sanitation and more effluent to be treated.”
Insisting that priority to domestic water should not mean eating into irrigation water, Navalawala criticized industry by crying wolf on high water tariff, even though it knows, “technological advancement could enhance water use efficiency, which India grossly lacks.”
“With technologies and methods available today, industry can cut its water needs by 40-90% and cities by 30%, with no sacrifice of economic output or quality of life”, Navalawala estimated, adding, “Fresh water is being polluted by semi-treated effluent, further stressing on water resources”.
Pointing towards how Sabarmati and Mahi rivers’ fresh water is being polluted, he added, similarly, “groundwater of Valsad and Vapi” in South Gujarat is proving to an “eye-opener” example in this regard.
At the same time, Navalawala said, “Development cannot allow backward technologies to flourish at the cost of irrigation water”, adding, things have turned worse along “Gujarat’s 1600 km-long coastline”, where “dependence on groundwater” has made entire regions “vulnerable due to sea water intrusion.” At the same time, he said, “Desalination is very costly. We need an economical and appropriate technological solution.”
Insisting that water price should have the “right place in planning and policy formation”, Navalawala emphasized “the need to collect royalty (i.e. price) on use of both groundwater and surface water.”
Saying that “water management rather than water scarcity is needed to be considered as cornerstone in policy making” at a time when “Gujarat has 5% of geographical area and population of India but only 2% of water resources”, Navalawala said, “Blind industrialization needs to be replaced by resource based and planned development”, avoiding “water intensive industries”.

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