Rajasthan farmers revive agitation over irrigation water

Wednesday 15 November 2006

while some areas in Rajasthan are still fighting to drain floodwater, in other districts, farmers have revived their agitation for more water for irrigation. On October 11, hundreds of farmers demanding water from the Indira Gandhi Canal (igc), protested in Sriganganagar, Hanumangarh and Bikaner -- districts which fall under phase 1 of igc.

The farmers demand 58 per cent of the water from igc, as was promised by the government. An agreement to that effect was signed between the government and the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (kss), a farmers' group in Sriganganagar, on December 11, 2004. The farmers allege that the government has not kept its word.

This is not the first time that farmers in Sriganganagar district have protested. For the last two years they have been agitating for more water.Earlier, clashes with the police led to firing which left six farmers dead. (see 'Farmers' uprising in Rajasthan', Down To Earth, Nov 30, 2004). The protest was called off after the agreement.

The problem with sharing started with phase 2 of igc. Rajasthan gets water from Pong dam in Punjab. According to the 1981 agreement signed between Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana, Rajasthan should get about 10.61 billion cubic metres (bcm) but receives only about 9.87 bcm, which has created a water scarcity. Rajasthan irrigation officials argue that farmers in phase 1 region are habituated to a constant supply of water. Now, with phase 2 in place, they get comparatively less. Moreover, Punjab is also releasing less water.

The farmers in phase 1 claim that they need 5.23 cusec per 400-odd ha (about 12,795 cubic metres per day per 400-odd ha). However, meeting these demands will ensure that the phase 2 area -- Jaisalmer and Barmer districts -- is left totally out of the loop. Thus, the state government has decreased water release from igc to 3.25 cusec (7,951 cubic metres per 400-odd ha per thousand acre), which has not been well received by farmers in phase 1.

However everyone does not buy this argument. "The government should talk to farmers in the phase 1 area about phase 2 and their water requirement if that is the case," says Rajendra Singh of the Tarun Bharat Sangh, a well-known ngo working on water security issues in Rajasthan. Simultaneously, the government should promote crops that require less water. Instead, the government has promoted water-intensive crops like paddy and cotton, he adds.

Singh says that the government's unwillingness to talk to farmers has aggravated the crisis.

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