Water shortage in eastern Rajasthan districts brings ERCP into focus this election

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Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project

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Alwar: "We get just 5-10 minutes of water on alternate days, whether it is summer or winter, the misery never ends," says Usha, a resident of Kabir Colony in Alwar district where water shortage has become a major election issue this time.

As districts in eastern Rajasthan reel from water scarcity for both household and irrigation purposes, the Eastern Rajasthan Canal Project (ERCP) to divert surplus monsoon water from the Chambal basin has gained political currency. The project has been mired in political wrangling for years.

While the Congress has accused the Centre of deliberately not allowing national status to the ERCP, the BJP alleged that the ruling party in the state is doing politics instead of taking constructive steps for implementing the scheme.

The ERCP was originally proposed by the previous BJP dispensation as a permanent solution to the irrigation and drinking water problems of residents in the region's 13 districts.

The Congress has raised the pitch for national status to the ERCP in a bid to woo voters in the 83 assembly seats in the region. Setting the tone, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot launched a "yatra against the betrayal of the Centre over the ERCP" in October from Baran and covering other eastern districts.

Since the formation of the Congress government in Rajasthan in 2018, Gehlot has been trying to corner the BJP-led Centre, demanding national status for the ERCP.

Of the 83 assembly seats in the region's 13 districts, the Congress had bagged 49 while the BJP won 25 in the 2018 elections. Independent candidates won eight seats while the Rashtriya Lok Dal secured victory in the other.

"I will vote for the person who can solve our water issue but they do nothing once they win," says Usha, who lives with her parents and works as a house help.

Residents in even posh areas complained of water shortage, with some claiming they get a supply every three days.

"We are dependent on tankers. I have friends in Scheme 8 who are unable to go out anywhere in the evenings because they get the water supply for just 15 minutes every couple of days. Things are bad in every area," says Geet, a resident of Manu Marg.

Congress candidate from Alwar (rural) Tikaram Jully, who was also a cabinet minister in the Ashok Gehlot government, said that the water crisis in the area was a key issue and he has promised the citizens that he would bring water supply via ERCP to Alwar.

"I am mainly focusing on the issue of water here. This problem persists in all villages.

"As an MLA, I had set up tube wells in several villages earlier and even approved several schemes to provide them relief. However, due to lack of groundwater, the schemes aren't working well. We even brought a scheme a few years ago through which we sanctioned Chambal's water here but then the pandemic happened," Jully told PTI.

"I even got my constituency added in the ERCP and have promised the citizens that I would bring water to Alwar via that project," he added.

Jully said that the project could have been "easily implemented" as Rajasthan has BJP MPs in Lok Sabha from all 25 seats and accused the Centre of "deliberately halting it".

Refuting his statement, BJP candidate from Alwar (rural) Jairam Jatav said that the Centre "never refused to provide funds" for the ERCP.

Jatav said that if voted to power, the BJP would take up the matter in the first session of the state assembly.

"Ashok Gehlot said that PM Modi is not issuing funds for the project, whereas the Centre has never refused any funds.

"If a state government seeks funds for an important project, why will the Centre neglect it? Be it Rajasthan or any other state, it is the central government that issues funds. If voted to power, we will take it up in the first assembly session," Jatav told PTI.

Ashok Verma, who hails from Parsa Ka Bas village and is a BJP member, said the drinking water problem is mostly in urban areas while the rural areas are not getting water for irrigation due to a drop in the water table.

"The state government could have worked on alternative local projects like diverting water from Siliserh Lake but instead of doing that they are making noise to divert attention from issues of illegal mining and rampant land grabbing in Alwar," he alleged.

The Congress candidate, however, said the prime minister had announced in Jaipur and Ajmer that ERCP would be implemented "but nothing happened".

"Rajasthan has given 25 MPs in Lok Sabha yet they did not do anything about the ERCP.

"Congress will complete the project in the next two to three years if voted to power," he said.

The project, which is estimated to cost more than Rs 40,000 crore, will help augment irrigation facilities on 2 lakh hectares in the 13 districts.

Eastern Rajasthan covers Jhalawar, Baran, Kota, Bundi, Sawai Madhopur, Ajmer, Tonk, Ajmer, Dausa, Karauli, Alwar, Bharatpur and the Dholpur districts.

The Congress is also targeting the sitting BJP MP, who is now a candidate from Tijara assembly constituency Baba Balaknath, on the ERCP issue.

"People of Tijara should give him a befitting reply and ask what he has done as an MP from Alwar. Has he ever reminded the Centre about the ERCP project that is important for Alwar? He hasn't done anything for the people here and hence, he is bringing a communal angle to this election fight now," general secretary and media in-charge of Rajasthan Congress Swadim Chaturvedi said.

Minister of State for Jal Shakti Bishweswar Tudu had, in a written reply in Rajya Sabha, said that a detailed project report (DPR) of the ERCP was submitted by the state government to the Central Water Commission in November 2017.

"However, appraisal of the project could not move further as the project is planned on 50 per cent dependable yield against the established norm of 75 per cent dependability. Thus, the ERCP does not fulfil the criteria laid down for inclusion under the National Projects scheme of this Ministry," the reply said.

However, the Special Committee for Interlinking of Rivers has in December 2022 approved the proposal of considering the modified Parbati-Kalisindh-Chambal (PKC) link project integrated with ERCP, as a part of the National Perspective Plan, and declared the phase-I of the project as a priority interlinking project, it said.

Assembly polls in Rajasthan will be held on November 25 while the votes will be counted on December 3.