Farmers in the parched land of Saurashtra have been at the receiving end for decades. Draught after draught have forced people to move away from agriculture and look towards other sources for their survival, but the innovative ‘Saurashtra Narmada Avatarana Irrigation Yojana’ has come as boon for the farmers in the region. Gopal Bhai Patel, 52, a resident of Bagthala village in Morbi district of Saurashtra, says, “We have faced drought for decades, and this SAUNI project pipeline is a boon for us.” He has about 40 bighas of land, which has seen drought almost every year.
The farmers of the region mainly produce groundnut, cotton and wheat. The low rainfall has led to heavy losses in farming. “Due to the drought-like situation, our per bigha of land produced only eight quintals of cotton, while in good rains the yield goes up to 22 quintals per bigha,” Gopal Bhai Patel said. “We are hopeful the SAUNI project will fulfill our requirement of irrigation water,” he added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 30, 2016 inaugurated the first phase of project SAUNI which would help provide water to the drought-prone region of Saurashtra in Gujarat. The Rs 10,861 crore project was conceived on the directive of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal, which allocated 1 MAFT (Million Acre Feet) of water from the Narmada River to 115 reservoirs of Saurashtra region, during the monsoons. SAUNI is an irrigation and drinking water project designed to help the people of Saurashtra region.
After the inauguration of the first phase, 14 reservoirs across five districts would get 7,081 million cubic feet of water, which would help irrigate 63,688 hectares of the region. This includes four reservoirs in Jamnagar, five in Morbi, three in Rajkot, and one each in Botad and Surendranagar districts. By the end of December 2015, eight reservoirs of three districts from Saurashtra were filled with 8,758 million cubic feet of water.
With the availability of water in Saurashtra, farmers of the region will be able to grow multiple crops per year, whereas, earlier due to non-availability of water farmer only managed one crop per year.
In Saurashtra, intensive efforts have been taken to harness the rain water by constructing 471 major, medium and minor irrigation dams, 63,000 check-dams, 73,000 farm ponds etc., but these efforts could only solve the problem partially. The full capacity of these water harvesting structures remained under-utilized and the people of the region could not benefit from the creation of these infrastructure projects as envisioned.
Since the dams and other reservoirs are not utilized to the desired capacity due to insufficient rains. It was then planned that these dams can be filled up by ensuring inter-basin transfer of water from other parts of Gujarat, which receive more than required rainfall and have perennial basins with surplus water flowing to sea.
Among the various initiatives that helped in building the ‘Gujarat Model’ of development, ensuring water security for the citizens of the state has been one of the most crucial agenda of the Government of Gujarat. Water is a very critical resource in the state, with more than 70 percent of water concentrated in only 30 percent of the geographical area.
With the consistent efforts of Government of Gujarat over the years, with SAUNI being one of them, the state has developed a sustainable model to maximize the utilization of the water resources of the state. The efforts of the government have also helped a great deal in improving the irrigation facilities across the state, as a result of which the agriculture sector registered double-digit growth in the last decade. SAUNI will further strengthen the water supply system to the remotest and most arid regions of the state.
After its completion, the project will successfully be connecting 115 large reservoirs of the region, thereby bringing the available water for irrigation to four lakh hectare command areas. The approval for the project was ac
corded in April 2013. Technically, therefore, SAUNI is a link project which aims to fill irrigation dams which already have canal networks to channel water to farms.
The good thing about the project is that it will have pipeline network instead of conventional open canals. The pipeline will run underground and hence require no land acquisition.
The completion of this project will serve two purposes; firstly it will provide a real and tangible solution to the drought problem in Saurashtra. And, secondly, this project will further complement Gujarat’s already stellar record in water conservation, and present a noteworthy example of water conservation and management for other states who can also try to implement such projects.