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Lack of field channels forces Gujarat farmers to 'illegally' suck out Narmada canal water

By Rajiv Shah 
Recently, I went with a small group of friends to the south of Ahmedabad. I was part of the team which was called to enjoy rural dinner. Previously an arid, the entire agricultural land in the area, I found, has been turned green. What a site, I thought, even as I was told by a farmer that they produce different vegetables. I found small trucks reaching the small farm house where we were to dine to upload several bundles of vegetables, including tomatoes, which are in the news for their high costs.

One of the farmers took us for a walk to the nearby areas. We stopped at a small eucalyptus forest, grown on the common grazing land. The farmer told us that this forest "was sucking away lot of underground water, which we should be using for agriculture." He explained, "This is the nature of the tree. Why has the forest department grown this forest is difficult to understand." As he kept on complaining, we took a few photographs of this small patch, which stood just next to another tree plantation area, full of middle-sized neem trees.
We were simultaneously taken to the Narmada minor canal, flowing just a few metres away from the farmhouse. Walking up to the canal, I took a few photographs of the canal, as Narmada and the issues related with it have always excite me. 
What struck me were a large number of diesel pumps being used to suck out water through long pipelines from the canal. Though we are still amidst monsoon, water was being profusely pumped out. I could see the diesel pumps and their hear their sound, as also the long pipes sunk into the canal.
I have known that using such diesel pumps attached with long pipes to lift water from Narmada is illegal. During my Times of India days, officials would brief me profusely on how many such diesel pumps used for pumping out water from Narmada canal were confiscated. Their numbers would be in hundreds. This was more than a decade ago. BJP MLAs would complain to me that since there were no field channels, the farmers had no option but to use this illegal way. 
On seeing so many pumps, I got curious and asked the farmer, who had accompanied us, about it. Agreeing that this is illegal, he, however, repeated what I knew more than a decade ago: since they do not get Narmada water from the canal via field channels, which have not been built so, they have no option left but to lift water like this. Nothings has changed as far as offering Narmada water to Gujarat farmers is concerned, I thought.
The farmer told me, "Earlier these pumps used to be confiscated. But now farmers are fined for this. So, we pay that money. The officials calculate the amount to be deposited by finding out the area for which the Narmada water is being used illegally. Thus, the whole operation continues without any problem. It is very useful during summer." I could see the diesel pumps in operation attached with the pipelines sunk every 10 to 20 metres in the canal. "They are there for several kilometres", he added.


Sad, unfortunate, and not good at all for the environment.


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