Jamnagar: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday inaugurated the first phase of the ambitious Rs 12,000 crore SAUNI (Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation Yojna) project that aims to satiate the water and irrigation needs of the perennially parched regions of Saurashtra in Gujarat.
Modi, who landed at the Jamnagar airport in the morning, had to drive down to Sanosara to reach the Aji dam site to inaugurate the first link of the project owing to inclement weather. The inauguration got delayed a little.
The SAUNI project, which in Gujarati means something for everyone, aims at diverting the excess floodwater from Sardar Sarovar Dam to fill up 115 dams of the water-scarce Saurashtra region through a network of canals and pipelines. The first phase would help irrigate 4.13 lakh hectares of land.
The Prime Minister pressed a button at the Aji-3 dam to open Gate two, Three and Four, to start release of the water that would fill up Aji-4 dam. Simultaneously, water would also be pumped into Uund-4 reservoir. Modi had launched the scheme when he was Gujarat Chief Minister in September 2012, and on Tuesday opened the first phase.
Officials call the SAUNI project an engineering marvel since it involves lifting huge amounts of water through hundreds of kilometres to fill the dams. "SAUNI project is an engineering marvel that will quench thirst of 11 drought-prone district of Saurashtra and bring fresh life to the region," Chief Minister Vijay Rupani tweeted earlier.
Tuesday's visit of the Prime Minister is being seen as an attempt of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to usher in again its 'development' agenda on the Gujarat political horizon, at a time the Patidar and Dalit agitations have been a reason of worry for the party. Anandiben Patel had to resign as Chief Minister in view of the agitations.
"Thank you Prime Minister. After 2 years & visiting 42 countries, you have found some time for Gujarat. Elections must be round the corner," tweeted senior Congressman Ahmed Patel, taunting Modi.
Earlier, AICC spokesperson and Gujarat Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil said it was during elections or approaching elections that Modi makes such promises for the parched regions of Saurashta and Kutch, but nothing happens on the ground.
Addressing a massive rally of locals and farmers in Gujarati, Modi highlighted the "development" works done by BJP government in the state post 2001. Modi went on to enlist a series of works he had initiated in Gujarat in the field of water management, agriculture, girl child education and energy conservation.
The Prime Minister said it was his Gujarat experience that he was putting in practice at the Centre. "I will not do anything that brings a bad name to Gujarat and will work with all my might for the good of India," he said.
Striking a personal connect with the people, he said, "Gujarat knows it very well that when a son of Gujarat is responsible for whole nation, he will never let Gujarat down and will continue to strive for the welfare of the nation in the same way as he did for Gujarat as the Chief Minister."
He also promised the people that he would spare more time for the state. "Till now I was busy in Delhi and now you will have little to complain."
Modi was joined by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, his deputy Nitin Patel, former Chief Minister Anandiben Patel (who had initially invited Modi for the function before being eased out) and legislators, for his first public rally in the state after taking over as Prime Minister.
Though Modi has visited the state for about half-a-dozen times, this is the first public gathering he addressed.
Talking of SAUNI, Modi said the scheme was conceptualized in 2007 when he was Chief Minister, launched in 2012 and work began on it in January 2014.
According to official sources, a mere 57.67 km of the total 1,126-km pipeline has been laid, only 15 per cent of the total Rs 12,000-crore envisaged spent, and less than 10 per cent of the project work is complete so far.
The Chief Minister, who had in his tweet called SAUNI an "engineering marvel that will quench thirst of 11 drought-prone districts of Saurashtra", compared Modi to sage Bhagirath (who in mythology is believed to have brought Ganga to earth) for bringing Narmada waters to Gujarat. Interestingly, it was in 1961, that the foundation for Sardar Sarovar dam was laid by former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and successive national and state governments had been working on it.