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Network hiccups: Narmada waters still to reach many parched areas
Vibha Sharma writes from Sanchor (Rajasthan)

A farmer inspects a sprinkler system in Sanchor
A farmer inspects a sprinkler system in Sanchor. Photo by writer

In the remote Kailashnagar village (Jalore district), on the border of Rajasthan and Gujarat, lives Parbhu Ram, a farmer who has never been to either Punjab or Haryana. But Parbhu knows about the grievous damage to once-fertile soils of India’s grain bowl — all due to years of overuse of chemical fertilsers and water.

“Farm productivity in Punjab and Haryana has decreased due to injudicious use of fertilisers and water. Our land is new, so for the first three to four years we will not need fertilisers. When we eventually do, our aim is to maximise the use of organic fertilisers,” he says.

It is a resolve that may not sound particularly heartening to chemical fertilisers’ manufactures but will definitely work wonders for the health and productivity for Parbhu’s land in the long run.

Ever since the Narmada waters entered the arid lands of Jalore and Barmer districts in 2008, the soil here has come alive, showering upon its tillers love and affection in form of bountiful produce.

However, a sizeable population in the region is yet to witness the prosperity that comes naturally with water. This is due to inordinate delays in completion of the distribution network of the Narmada Canal Project.

Consider this: The reach of the network is 2.46 lakh hectares. But the irrigation benefits are reaching only 78,000 hectares. The lift distribution system, which will ensure supply in elevated areas, is complete. However, the pumps are yet to be installed so the system is not operational.

Since the distribution network is incomplete, the precious Narmada water, which could have been supplied to people, who until now were forced to drink the harmful flouride-laced groundwater, is currently being wastefully discharged into the Luni river.

While the target was to cover 1,336 villages and three towns, only some villages are currently receiving the potable drinking water.

Of the planned 1,793-km distribution network, 415 km is incomplete. Incomplete distribution system also means that some areas have become submerged and swampy, rendering them useless, at least till the time they are revived with scientific means. Around 20 villages in the Deltaic region of Luni have suffered on this account.

Holding the Centre responsible for the delay in NCP completion, Jalore MP Deviji M Patel says: “Benefits of the project are being nullified. There’s an urgent need to speed up the project so that its benefit can reach the maximum number of people,” he says.

Farmers want cheaper power

Farmers, who claim to have lost a sizeable crop to unprecedented cold winter this season, are now demanding the government’s help and also cheaper power.




Lessons learnt from experiences

For whom the canal has started bearing fruitful results, there are lessons to be learnt from the experiences of those who suffered due to lack of knowledge and technical expertise.

Water-logged areas in Punjab, Haryana and even in Rajasthan which are irrigated by the Indira Gandhi Canal served as lessons for Narmada Canal Project planners. The engineers explain how in some areas irrigated by the IGC, the direct supply of water through open courses resulted in an increase in the level of groundwater and soil salinity. As a result, the fields were rendered infertile.

Learning from these mistakes, the engineers made drip and sprinkler systems the core of NCP. Sprinkler irrigation is mandatory in this project for controlled and efficient use of water. Sprinklers do not flood the soil and also reduce the chances of underground salinity surfacing, point out officials. Sprinklers also reduce water application and seepage losses, thereby increasing the system efficiency and controlling the rise of groundwater table.

Construction of a diggy, the source of water at an outlet, and installation of pumping units at the site is an integral part of the project.




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