On April 21, 2006 the Supreme Court issued a notice to Government of Gujarat on a petition by Kachchh Jal Sankat Nivaran Samiti (Committee to solve water woes of Kachchh), demanding the drought affected district's due share of water from the Sardar Sarovar project The petitioners had appealed to the Supreme Court after the Gujarat High Court had delivered its judgement dismissing their petition.

This is very curious; exactly three years ago, in May 2003, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi trumpeted the arrival of Narmada water in Kachchh. When, away from the din of the well-managed media event, a journalist with The Indian Express asked V T Mistry, a Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board officer, a question on the cost of bringing Narmada water through a pipeline to Kachchh, he said, "for the first phase the money has come from Asian Development Bank's Post Earthquake Reconstruction assistance, and we do not know where the money will come from for the second phase of the project". This news story left readers wondering whether ADB funds meant for earthquake reconstruction were being diverted to justify the benefits of damming and rerouting the Narmada.

Ironically, while the government was enthusiastic to divert ADB's post-earthquake reconstruction assistance towards Narmada-based pipelines, it has allowed several quake-ravaged dams in Kachchh to continue in their dilapidated status without being strengthened. As a result, in October 2003 when Gandhidham town, located very close to the Tappar dam which was filled up to its brim, reported water scarcity, since water supply schemes based on this dam were left unfunded. Meanwhile, in Bhuj, the last town to get piped Narmada water in August 2003, the dream supply lasted barely a month. The only explanation Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board officials offer to various municipalities in Kachchh was that the supply was halted because the Narmada canal up to Maliya was yet to be cement lined.

The government has allowed several quake-ravaged dams in Kachchh to continue in their dilapidated status without being strengthened.

 •  A moral breach in the dam
 •  Overflowing with official view

Meanwhile, a Comptroller and Auditor General report on Gujarat (Civil) for the year ending 31 March 2005 has put under scanner the implementation of Sardar Sarovar Canal based Drinking Water Pipeline Project. The audit report covers three districts - Kachchh, Jamnagar and Rajkot – and shows that contrary to the government's claim of having covered 1342 villages and towns, the water has reached only 415, (i.e. 31 percent). Pinning the blame for this shortfall on the delay in execution of works, CAG states "the gross average daily intake during May 2003 to June 2005 was 145.17 million litres a day (29 percent) against the capacity of 500 million litres a day".

The audit scrutiny of bills raised by Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited (SSNNL) revealed that while SSNNL had sought to charge Gujarat Water supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB) for supply of 104622.23 million litres of water during April 2003 to July 2005, GWSSB claimed that it had drawn only 70701.74 million litres of water during this period - a difference of 33920.49 million litres of water, valued at Rs 21.71 crores. GWSSB attributed the differences to transmission loss (ranging between 27 and 38 percent) due to evaporation, seepage from the unlined canal, and theft (by the farmers). One can very well imagine what will be the fate of Kachchh farmers at the tail end of the canal network, if even mid-way there is so much loss from unlined canals and theft.

Irrigation - the false god

For Kachchhis, it looks increasingly unlikely that they will get a fair share from the Narmada, as promised. Indeed, in the region itself, and in Saurashtra, many have turned to rejuvenation of local water bodies, placing far greater trust in this than in promises of water that appear as mirages. This throws up an important question - is the only option before Kachchh Jal Sankat Nivaran Samiti is to bargain for a larger share of water from the Sardar Sarovar project, or should the money now being squandered on various large irrigation-based programs be instead used to ensure supply based on local resources?

In an earlier critique of Sardar Sarovar Canal based Drinking Water Project for Saurashtra region, it was shown that 12 irrigation projects in Saurashtra continued to gather dust due to non-construction of canal networks, even as the irrigation establishment continued to fuel more and more finances into the mammoth Sardar Sarovar Project. The recent CAG report shows the irrigation department has yet to learn any lessons from its past blunders.

  • Reporting the audit of Kaniyad Water resources project on river Utavali - that promised to provide irrigation to 764 hectares of land in Botad and Dhandhuka tehsils - the CAG states in Para 4.4.2 that "failure to take up the canal work after the period of five years since completion of dam work resulted in idle investment of Rs 8.11 crores and denial of intended benefits to the farmers".

  • Reporting the audit of six Minor irrigation Schemes that promised to provide irrigation to another 2941 acres of land, the CAG states in para 4.4.3 that "due to delayed acquisition of land for canals or dropping of canal works, benefits were not accrued" leading to expenditure of Rs 7.78 crores over headwork and other subsidiary and ancillary works.

  • Reporting the audit of Veradi II water resources project and Sabli water resources project – that promised to provide irrigation in 2425 hectares of land – CAG states in para 4.4.4 that "awarding works without obtaining possession of 75 percent of land as per codal provisions resulted in the idle investment and blockage of Rs 9.95 crores on incomplete irrigation projects, beside deprival of irrigation benefits".

There is no criticism of the rot that has set in the irrigation department, which pushes the Sardar Sarovar project, fuelling more and more funds into it, while small irrigation schemes continue to gather dust. There is no debate on these CAG reports in Gujarat assembly, either. Instead, bizarrely, we find that even as the Narmada debate has entered into a decisive moment, the Saurashtra Jaldhara Trust is joining hands with Modi, its faith still firmly in the gigantism that has already failed them so much. It seems that Kachchhis would serve the cause of finding a lasting solution for their water woes better by asking why the irrigation department has neglected the local resource base of Saurashtra and Kachchh.