By Amit Cowper
Gandhinagar, April 8: Facing salinity ingress for years and disappointed with official apathy, hundreds of farmers and their kin from across 30 villages in Gujarat’s Saurashtra region have taken matters into their own hands to build a small dam.
After failing to get the government to build a weir for the last 25 years, people of Methda village in Bhavnagar district have now crowdfunded a project to build the low head dam across the coast.
The salinity ingress has led salt water to invade the area which earlier contained only fresh water, leading to crop damage. The Gujarat coastal areas, especially villages lying within 20-25 km from the seashore, are affected.
Now the Methda villagers have come together and resolved to tackle the problem on their own. They have started work to build the weir they badly need.
The low head dam will be a barrier across the horizontal width of the river that alters the flow characteristics of the water resulting in the change in the height of the river level.
The salinity ingress is so acute that it has turned large swathe of land barren.
It has even affected the underground water, making the well waters salty as dry river bed of the Baghad has made the salty sea water enter the area with ease.
“An adjoining region — some 10-15 km away — had faced similar situation. It persisted till the Nikol and Malan weir were built. Today, both the areas have turned fertile and farmers are reaping rich rewards,” said Manubhai Chavda, president of a state-wide farmers’ body.
“In 1992, the state government had approved the proposal to build a weir across Baghad river to curb sea water from entering inland. They even sanctioned the finances required.
“However, despite repeated memorandums, successive governments failed to build the weir. So farmers in Methda have now decided to build a 12-km-long weir on their own,” Chavda said.
“The locals feel that once this Methda weir is built, their land too will turn green,” Chavda added.
Over the last 10 days, several villagers, including women and children, have been toiling throughout the day to build the weir. Many are voluntarily contributing equipment and heavy machinery as well as crowdfunding the project.
The Gujarat government is yet to lend a helping hand.
“We will issue instructions to the Collector and mull over as to what process we should put in place so that the issue can amicably be resolved,” Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said.
Minister for Water Resources Parbat Patel said they have sought a report from the district administration.
“The Methda weir is already an approved project and Rs 80 lakh have been sanctioned for it. We are awaiting the report and will act once we get information,” he added.
“There may be some issue of forest land and regulatory sanctions because of which the project may not have been implemented,” Patel said.
The other reason being attributed to the delay is the presence of huge quantities of limestone and lignite present in the area.
“Big cement companies want to mine these minerals. The people know that if you remove the natural wall of limestone from seacoast, the sea water would come in and make their land barren,” Chavda added.