Bisalpur revisited--10 years after protesters were shot, killing 5

Despite many plans, neither rural nor urban are water secure thanks to the Bisalpur Dam since it was constructed in 2007.
Kisan Sewa Samiti, Chaksu struggling for drinking water allocation from Bisalpur dam (Source: CECODECON) Kisan Sewa Samiti, Chaksu struggling for drinking water allocation from Bisalpur dam (Source: CECODECON)

Ten years ago five farmers were shot protesting the diversion of waters from Bisalpur dam to Jaipur city, located about 130 kms away. People from villages en route the pipeline insisted that their drinking and domestic water needs be met before catering to urban demands. A crowd of around 2500 people had assembled at Soyla village in a gripping mark of unity – but five of them did not return home. This included Hansa Devi, a pregnant woman. The police had opened fire.

The incident deepened the rural-urban divide. The firing was opposed and the government promised to come up with a rural water supply scheme. Construction of the drinking water cum irrigation project with a storage of 38.7 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) was completed in 2007. The reservoir was supposed to provide drinking water to the urban centers apart from providing for irrigation. The planned water allocation from the reservoir was: 11.1 TMC and 5.1 respectively for the drinking and domestic water needs of Jaipur and Tonk, and Ajmer, Beawar, Kishangarh and Kekri. Allocation to villages en route was included after the protests. Apart from this, 8 TMC was for irrigating 81800 hectares of land in Tonk and Sawai Madhopur districts.

So how is the situation ten years since the Bisalpur firing? How has the project fared as regards irrigation, urban and rural drinking water supply?

Irrigation from Bisalpur

A study of the performance of dams in Tonk indicates that the actual inflow into the dam is 77.34 percent of the designed inflow because of the changed hydrological characteristics of the basin. “Like many other dams in the district this one too is receiving less water than its designed capacity”, says Prem Prakash Sharma of CECODECON, a Jaipur based NGO. The Rajasthan High Court too noted in the year 2004 that the water inflow in the dams (in Rajasthan) is declining year after year. While the demand from irrigation continues to increase, the dam's storage capacity will only decrease with time. This means that much less water is available than expected for irrigation purposes.

As per the Water Resources Department’s data the annual irrigation is 55,224 hectares, which is 67 percent of that planned. Irrigation water crisis occurs every now and then.

Only last year, the Irrigation Department had to stop drawing water for irrigation purposes and allowed water only for drinking water purposes during a dry spell of over 15-20 days. Less inflow into the dam also means low rainfall and less river water. This is when the wells too run dry, and farmers can no longer grow wheat or jeera, the common crops grown in the area. There were isolated occasions when “water was discharged from the dam for irrigation that went into the tributary of the Chambal River”.

While irrigation in the command area of the dam suffered, the low inflow had implications for water bodies in the basin’s catchment from where it receives the flow. The Government of Rajasthan instead of accepting the design failure went ahead and banned 27000 private anicuts in the Banas basin. Through the 1990s and early 2000s the Government had provided technical and financial assistance to farmers to construct these minor anicuts. This policy reversal was ironic and can be attributed to the “need to redirect the flow of water from the rural to the urban".

Nothing significant has been done to improve the water efficiency in the command area. In the meanwhile, plans are underway on the “transfer of inter-basin water of two rivers — Brahmani and Banas — to feed the Bisalpur Dam”.

Jaipur still in the grip of a water crisis

Water started reaching Jaipur from the dam from 2009. The city was too dependent on groundwater after the Ramgarh Lake, the only surface water source for the city, dried up. The Bisalpur Jaipur Water Supply Project (BJWSP) was thereafter planned for transferring water from the Bisalpur Dam into the city. The consultant who designed the Bisalpur project admitted that it was by no means a long-term solution. It could cater to the city’s immediate drinking water needs till 2021 only. A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report too highlighted the "deficiencies in planning, execution, monitoring and vigilance by the Departments of Public Health Engineering (PHED) and Urban Development and Housing".

Over extraction of groundwater by the people as well as public agencies depleted the resource. Groundwater tables are falling at an alarming rate of up to six metres a year compelling users to drill deeper, as per a study. Even now, the per capita water supply in Jaipur is 85 litres per capita per day (lpcd), which is way below the norms of 150 lpcd as recommended by the Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organisation, the CAG report notes.

Villagers en route too face water scarcity

Water is yet to be released through the planned rural drinking water supply networks. “Around 167 villages of Chaksu and Phagi blocks are yet to receive drinking water from the dam”, says Giriwar Singh Rathore of CECODECON. He has been shoring up a ‘Campaign for Bisalpur Water Supply’ here. “Many of the villages out here are faced with the grave problem of excess fluoride in drinking waters accessed through handpumps and tubewells”, says Ritu Tiwari of CECODECON.

Farmers are not buying assurances from the State Government any longer. Kisan Sewa Samiti, Chaksu, a CECODECON promoted federation has been struggling with this for the last three years. With Jaipur being a priority, the Kisan Sewa Sangh felt that the rural water supply had been largely ignored. This prompted them to engage with local elected represtatives and organise rallys on the issue. “I was determined to get water for the area and worked with Sarpanches for that. We submitted memoranda to PHED and the State Government. They were forced to take notice and promised to adress the problem”, says Moti Singh Rathore, Treasurer of Kisan Sewa Sangh. However, the promise of dam water for various uses has not materialized yet.

The rough schism between the farmers and the state is worrisome and a flash due to water scarcity can ignite the situation. If nothing else, the government must recall the stark reminder that is the Soyla shooting from ten years ago and respond quickly and positively.

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