Rajasthan: As govt tries hard to claim credit for canal project, Congress, farmers ask hard questions

Has Rajasthan 'surrendered' its share of Chambal basin waters to Madhya Pradesh? Why are farmers unhappy with the revived ERCP?

A Congress meeting on the ERCP in July 2023 (photo: Wikiwand)
A Congress meeting on the ERCP in July 2023 (photo: Wikiwand)

Prakash Bhandari

The BJP-led government at the Centre, which seemingly dilly-dallied on providing national status to the Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project (ERCP) when the Congress government was in power in Rajasthan, immediately cleared the Rs 45,000 crore project once the BJP came to power in December 2023.

The ERCP was planned in order to divert surplus monsoon water from the Chambal basin in both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, but was mired in political wrangling for years, with various objections raised by the BJP-led NDA government.

The project, which was hanging fire for five years thanks to objections raised by the Union ministry for Jal Shakti on some pretext or the other, was cleared once the BJP regained power in Rajasthan and retained power in Madhya Pradesh.

"I had promised as Jal Shakti minister that once the BJP government comes to power we would make the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh chief ministers sit together and clear the project with the two states signing the MoU. We kept our word,” said Union minister for Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.

Shekhawat blamed former Rajasthan chief minister and senior Congress leader Ashok Gehlot for "playing politics with water", and said he was responsible for the delay in the project, but did not cite a single example to show how this was so.

The Union government made the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh chief ministers sign the MoU in Delhi on a revised integrated ERCP, which will provide irrigation and drinking water facilities across 2.80 lakh hectares in Jhalawar, Baran, Kota, Sawai Madhopur, Ajmer, Tonk, Jaipur, Dausa, Karauli, Alwar, Bharatpur and Dholpur districts of Rajasthan.

Interestingly, during his earlier visits to the state, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would promise budgetary support from the Union government for the ambitious plan, which stood to benefit one-third of the state’s population and increase agricultural productivity. But on subsequent visits, PM Modi stopped talking about ERCP almost completely.

On the other hand, Gehlot drew the PM's attention to the project both officially and in public, urging him to fulfill the promises made to the state, but the prime minister’s office never sent a convincing reply.

In fact, the issue was handled by Shekhawat, who was elected to the Lok Sabha from Jodhpur in 2019, defeating Gehlot's son in the general elections. Gehlot and Shekhawat have remained bitter rivals and are even involved in a defamatory suit.

This bitterness, and the Centre's seeming determination to not allow the Congress government to take any credit for ERCP, appear to have played a major role in forcing residents of 13 districts in eastern Rajasthan to reel under an acute water scarcity.

Even an earlier BJP government with then CM Vasundhara Raje at the helm submitted a detailed project report (DPR) to the Central Water Commission in 2017, but the Union government would not move the project as it would offer a 50 per cent water dependability yield against the established norm of 75 per cent dependability. Thus, the idea of the ERCP as a national project was rejected.

However, in December 2022, a special committee on interlinking of rivers approved the proposal, considering the modified Parbati-Kalisindh-Chambal (PKC) link project integrated with the National Perspective Plan. But while a budgetary provision was expected for the interlinking of the rivers, the NDA government eventually did not provide any funds.

“A tripartite agreement was signed, but the Opposition wants to know the terms and conditions of the MoU, and whether the ERCP was cleared on the terms of 50 or 75 per cent water dependability. The state government should clear what volumes of water Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will get.

"When the Congress government submitted its plan to the Centre, it was estimated that Rajasthan would get 3,500 million cubic metres (MCM) of water and Madhya Pradesh would have received 3,921 MCM if water dependability was 50 per cent,” Rajasthan's leader of Opposition and Congress MLA Tika Ram Jully said.

Failing to get the ERCP the status of a national project, the Congress government took a decision to initiate the project using its own resources, and in the first phase, and the the state government made a budgetary provision of Rs 7,500 crore in the state budget of 2023-24.

“It was a humble start to an ambitious project that would have benefitted three districts with 521 MCM of water for Jaipur, Ajmer and Tonk. More districts would have been taken up in the second, third and later phases.

The Union government, which did not give a go ahead to the project on dependability percentage earlier in 2017, has now suddenly agreed to fund 90 per cent of the estimated cost of Rs 45,000 crore.

Farmers in Rajasthan are not happy about the MoU between the two states on the PKC link canal project either.

Kisan Maha Panchayat national president Rampal Jat said the 'double-engine government' of Narendra Modi has only ensured that large parts of Rajasthan get less water than was expected.

According to the 2017 DPR, Rajasthan was to get 3,510 MCM of water. “But after the revised integrated project with the PKC link, Rajasthan will actually get just 1,775 MCM. Even if 689 MCM are added from the collection of waste water from drinking water schemes, the total volume would be 2,464 MCM,” Jat said.

Jat also said Rajasthan would not get drinking water for all 13 districts under the agreement. Hence, the promise of irrigating 2.8 lakh hectares would remain a distant dream, adding that the 2017 DPR has been manipulated and "the PMO was misled" on this MoU.

Rohit Bohra of the Congress said Rajasthan's share of water has been reduced to 2,412 MCM, and claimed this was even stated by the Union  Jal Shakti minister in the Rajya Sabha. Chief minister Bhajan Lal Sharma, without giving details, has said the state will receive “adequate” water and its interests will not be hurt.

Congress MLA Murari Lal Meena said under the agreement, the state will only receive water for irrigation, and "not a drop of drinking water", urging the chief minister to have a re-look at the whole project as it will benefit Madhya Pradesh more than Rajasthan.

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