Thursday, December 19, 2013

Narmada washes away saltpan workers' livelihood

Times of India: Rajkot: Thursday, December 19, 2013.
Gujarat's lifeline is sounding a death knell for thousands of poor saltpan workers. Millions of gallons of precious water that could have quenched the thirst of the needy and irrigated fields has flooded saltpans in the Little Rann of Kutch near Santalpur in Patan district as well as Kharaghoda in Surendranagar district.
The water spread over roughly 40 square kilometre has washed away all the saltpans at a crucial time when the salt begins to crystallize.
"It is impossible for us to live with our families inside the Rann. I sent back my family home as there is no water to drink and we are unable to bring anything inside as large parts are marooned with Narmada water,'' a saltpan worker Anu Rajgor (62) said.
The saltpan workers had collected around Rs 70,000 to construct a temporary road over river Banas in October so that they could enter the Rann to make salt. This structure has also been washed away and the money collected as gone waste.
"How can we live inside the Rann. There is no drinking water, medical vans or any other vehicle also cannot enter now," a saltpan worker Ayub Raja from Rajusara village, who is staring at a loss of Rs 50,000, said.
Bachu Degana of Degama village in Kharaghoda said, "The Narmada waters have spread over a large area, leaving many saltpans submerged. We have been making repeated complaints every year, but no one hears our pleas."
A member of Agariya Hit Rakshak Manch, Santalpur, Ghanshyam Zula said, "We have repeatedly requested to the government and Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd (SSNNL) officials to stop this discharge of water in the Rann. But in vain."
Besides hitting their livelihoods hard, waterlogging in the area has badly hit the education of hundreds of children of saltpan workers. The government is unable to start Rann Shalas (temporary government schools) for the children inside the Rann due to water.
Activists said there couldn't be a more cruel irony here. Every year, that too in peak summer, saltpan workers struggle to get drinking water. "However, here, millions of gallons of water is simply going waste right in front of their eyes," Zula said.
When contacted, executive engineer, Chanasma Circle, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited R R Rajpal said, "We occasionally release Narmada water into river Banas, taking into account the safety of Narmada canal. Two days ago, we did release water, but we need to find out how it has reached so far into the Rann."

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