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Saryu Canal – A Watershed Project for Uttar Pradesh

The Saryu Canal connects to the National Irrigation Project that would help meet the growing irrigation demands of three million farmers while opening the doors for the precision and modern irrigation systems in the State

By Prof. Venkatesh Dutta

A flowing river is a living ecosystem – it supports and nurtures our soil, forests, wetlands and irrigates our farmlands, while performing many critical functions. The politics of irrigation development in Purvanchal just a decade back, mirrored this: no real strategy to resolve local irrigation issues, coupled with periodic losses from floods. Flooding is a part of natural cycle – but flood impacts can definitely be minimised using sound water management.

A strategic commitment is required to solve the problems of flooding and conjunctive management of water. This is even more important when the water demand in the state of Uttar Pradesh is growing manifolds. With the new water framework and governance starting from 2017, many new water schemes and pending projects are being revived with a new lease of life.

The Saryu Canal project was incepted in 1978 and eventually got lost within different governments. It was revived and completed in 5 years after four decades of long waiting period. The inauguration of the Saryu Canal Project is a watershed moment as this is also the area where Gautam Buddha resolved the first water conflict in the recorded history, the water sharing between Rohini and Rapti rivers. For the ‘Panchsheel’ theory which Gautam Buddha gave, the water sharing became the starting point. The water will be judiciously used and returned back to the nature and will also act as a recharge to aquifers. And when the groundwater improves, the flow in the rivers also improves. 

The Saryu Canal connects to the National Irrigation Project that would help meet the growing irrigation demands of three million farmers while opening the doors for the precision and modern irrigation systems in the State.  The irrigation facility will be expanded in Bahraich, Gonda, Shravasti, Balrampur, Basti, Siddharthnagar, Sant Kabir Nagar, Gorakhpur and Maharajganj of Purvanchal. For long, for farmers like those in the region, it seems that no matter how significant the social or economic benefits of their less formal practices, the politics was likely to continue to lead to them being dismissed by those in authority. But we realised that with robust water governance, quality of life of marginalised and small farmers could be substantially improved.  Furthermore, the capacity of irrigated area has increased from 3.12 lakh hectare to 14.04 lakh hectare. This project is not having any adverse ecological impact on the rivers because the rivers are not being allocated over their required ecological in-stream flows.

Helping farmers cope with flood, drought

Uttar Pradesh covers about 28.68% area of the Ganga basin. It has most fertile and productive land with vast water resource potential – thanks to many rivers and water bodies. With about 4 million tubewells and one of the largest canal networks in the country, the state has about 87% irrigated area while the national average is only 49%. Groundwater has a prominent share of 70% in irrigated agriculture, while providing about 90% of rural domestic supplies, more than 75% of urban water demands and also meeting about 95% of industrial requirements.  The State of UP is particularly vulnerable to extreme events. Climate change will further negatively impact the rain-fed agricultural system. Therefore, we need a resilient and robust water management system in the State. With the commencement of the Saryu canal project, the surplus water can be used in far-flung areas, and flooding impacts are likely to reduce in Mahsi, Kaiserganj, Nanpara and Motipur tehsil areas of the district. Five rivers have been connected through the link camnals in this project, which include Ghaghra River, Saryu River, Rapti River, Banganga River and Rohin River and 6600 km of canals have been added to the 318 km long main canal.

Saryu canal has been taken out from the banks of Girjapuri barrage on Ghaghra river in Bahraich. With this water will be brought to the Saryu barrage built on the Saryu river. The Saryu canal has been taken out next to it. Rapti Link canal has been built in Shravasti ahead of it, which will be used for Rapti main canal. Two branches have been made for Basti and Gonda districts from the Saryu main canal itself. Similarly, arrangements have been made to transport water from Rapti main canal to Balrampur, Siddharthnagar and Maharajganj and Gorakhpur in Shravasti.

Livelihoods revived

More importantly, the project would also help stabilize the farming economy in the long run. The project will now provide farmers with enough water for agricultural production in the dry season while protecting them from floods in the rainy season.

Supporting smallholder irrigation through finance and technical assistance will significantly improve productivity and incomes of the farmers.The government is already creating an enabling environment where farmers have information on the various systems, financial services to help them invest, and market access to sell their produce.

Also Read: Gorakhpur fertiliser plant- boost to food security and key to the rise of Purvanchal

(The author is a professor at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Babasaheb  Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow.  The views expressed are personal and exclusive to India Narrative)