Ahmedabad: Farmer organizations in Gujarat plan to hold a five-day protest in Gandhinagar next month to voice concerns over the allocation of Narmada waters and demands on issues such as crop insurance and minimum support price.

“Despite repeated written presentations to Gujarat government, our issues have not been addressed. At a recent meeting attended by 30-35 leaders of various farmers’ organisations, we decided to stage a protest in Gandhinagar from 12 March to 15 March when the assembly session is on," said Sagar Rabari, general secretary, Khedut Samaj, a farmers’ organisation.

“To avoid difficulties in getting police permission to hold our protest, one representative each from three different farmers’ organizations will sit on a dharna," Rabari added. The farmers of the state, he said, are also demanding waiver of farm loans.

Farm debt in Gujarat is estimated to be about Rs70,000 crore. Over the last three to four years, farmers in the state have been facing production as well as price losses. “We want the government to waive farm loans of Rs70,000 crore. The BJP government has done this in other states so why not in Gujarat where farm distress is severe," Rabari said.

Farmer groups are also demanding accounts of the Narmada waters. Rabari said during the election months of October and November, the Sardar Sarovar project authorities had unnecessarily released water from the dam for inaugurations of schemes. “From September to November, the agriculture sector uses monsoon water and does not utilise much of Narmada waters. Hence our repeated query has been that where has the water vanished," Rabari said over the phone.

Low water availability in the Narmada Dam due to deficient rainfall in its catchment area in Madhya Pradesh is set to create a water crisis in Gujarat this year. The state government has already announced that it would not supply water for irrigation and the entire stock available will be reserved for drinking water in Saurashtra and north Gujarat regions, which are highly dependent on water from the Narmada canals.

A Gujarat government official said the cut in supply was due to reduced inflow of water from upstream sources in Madhya Pradesh. Of the total 28 MAF to be received by the four states, only 14.55 MAF has been allotted. About 5.5 lakh hectare areas in more than 10 districts in the Narmada command area would be stopped as the government has decided to reserve the water available in the dam only for drinking purpose.

In a press statement on Tuesday, the farmers’ organizations claimed that the government had been non-transparent on the Kalpasar project which envisages harnessing waters of rivers flowing into the sea by building a dam in the Gulf of Khambhat.

“Two decades later and having got budgetary allocation for several years now, the project still remains largely on paper. The government should give us a complete account on the project," according to Rabari.

Among the reasons for the fall in the BJP’s seat tally from 115 to 99 in Gujarat assembly elections was farm and rural distress. On 20 February, the state government announced its budget in which it laid emphasis on farm distress. The budget made a provision of Rs500 crore for zero-interest farm loan, Rs1,100 crore for crop insurance, Rs235 crore for minimum support prices and Rs2,800 crore for providing drinking water in tribal areas.

“The government is constantly working towards resolving issues of farmers and is functioning in the most transparent way. There are some projects like Kalpasar that are ‘work in progress’ as given its scale and impact, it takes time for implementation," said a senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Other demands of the protesting farmers’ bodies include different electricity rates for agricultural connections or free electricity.

“A farmer in North Gujarat has to consume more electricity as he has to draw water from 15 feet depth whereas in comparison a South Gujarat farmer uses less electricity for the same produce. The government should also do away with anti-farmers policies like the Special Investment Region (SIR) Act and should instead come up with a new agriculture policy," said Rabari.

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