New Bill says farmers need a licence to draw water

The Gujarat government on Tuesday tabled an irrigation Bill in the Assembly which seeks to make it compulsory for farmers to get a licence to draw water from canal or ground well beyond a certain limit and prescribes penal action, including imprisonment, against the errant farmers.

The Bill also seeks to charge farmers for irrigation water reaching any cultivated land within 200 metres of a canal either by percolation or leakage, surface flow or by means of a well-sunk from the canal.

The Irrigation and Drainage Bill 2013, tabled by Water Resources Minister Babu Bokhiria, seeks to replace the existing Gujarat Irrigation Act, 1879.

The new Bill has proposed appointment of canal officers with minimum rank of additional assistant engineers who would have wide powers, including the power to detain the erring farmers.

The new Bill prescribes provisions to monitor irrigation schemes, water distribution, maintenance of irrigation channels, set up and maintain water-gauges and conduct inquiry in cases of violations of the Bill's provisions.

The Bill makes it mandatory for a farmer to apply for a licence from the canal officer of his area if he wants to construct a tubewell or borewell or an artesian well for extracting ground water if it is exceeding the depth of 45 metres as prescribed by the government. The Bill also intends to cover existing bores on any agricultural land.

"And only upon grant of licence from the canal officer can he construct a tubewell or borewell or artesian well," the Bill says.

The Bill also proposes penal action against the errant farmers, which includes imprisonment up to six months or fine up to Rs 10,000.

The new Bill triggered strong objections from the opposition Congress and Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP), which termed it as "anti-farmers" and demanded its review by a select committee of the House.

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