The Indira Gandhi Canal was previously known as Rajasthan Canal. It was renamed after the assassination of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. It is the longest canal in India. Stretching up to 650 kilometers, it starts at the Harike Barrage in Harike and draws water from the Satluj and Beas rivers in Punjab. Finally, it drains in the Thar Desert in northwest Rajasthan. In the Desert, it serves as a crucial source of irrigation. The construction began in 1952 and the final portion of the Canal was completed in 2010. It cuts through three Indian states- Rajasthan, Punjab, and Haryana. Kanwar Sain, a hydraulic engineer, was the first to suggest the construction of this canal.
The Rajasthan’s Indira Gandhi Canal is 445 Kms long. From 1458 RD (Reduced Distance), the name of one branch is Sagar Mal Gopa Branch (SMGB). However, this his branch is 96 Kms. From SMGB, a sub-branch is born. It is the tail of the Main Canal. This Baba Ramdev branch is 92 Kms long. It drains in the Gunjangarh Village of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.
Important Features of the Canal
The Indira Gandhi Canal irrigates a vast amount of the Thar Desert. Carrying water directly from Beas and Satluj, in Punjab, is useful in the growth of the flora of the desert, on which a large chunk of the Desert’s economy depends; after tourism. It is also this Canal that is the main source of Hydroelectric power generation in the region.
Improvement in Living Standard:
In addition to providing water for irrigation, the canal also improved living standards in the regions it cut through by supplying clean drinking water. The crop production has also increased by large margins, uplifting farming communities financially.
Sand Dune Stabilization:
The canal prevents the sand dunes in the Thar Desert from eroding, thus keeping desertification of the fertile area in check. It requires the plantation of a series of ‘shelterbelts’ and plantations blocks by the dunes. The swathe of green grew gradually to cover 175,000 hectares by 1970; 360,000 hectares by 1980; and now the figure has reached up to 420,000 hectares (or 4,200 sq km) and still growing. When the workers completed the construction of the entire distributary, right down to Jaisalmer; another 730,000 hectares got access to the irrigation system which totals 11.50 lakh hectares.
Green Revolution in Rajasthan:
With the successful construction of the Rajasthan’s Indira Gandhi canal, the irrigation facilities are now available to a vast area of a total of 10,477 kilometers square. Mustard, cotton, and wheat crops are grown here. This also replaced the previously arid soil. The annual agricultural output of approximately Rs. 1750 crores, owing to the India Gandhi Canal. In an arid zone rated as barren all through history, wheat production last year was 250,000 tonnes; cotton 80,000 tonnes; guar, gram, and mustard, each in excess of 50,000 tonnes and even 32,000 tonnes of paddy.
Accessibility of Water:
Very recently construction of a new branch of the canal got completed. The branch, namely the Leehva Branch, is 90 Kms and penetrates through the most inaccessible regions. Due to the region being wavy, seven lift canals were built to lift the water up to a height of 60 meters. The canal water now reaches more than a hundred villages that previously did not get clean water.
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The Pandemic’s effect on the Indira Gandhi Canal
Amid the second wave of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Rajasthan and Punjab restored nearly 70 Kms of a few branches and sub-branches of the Canal. The workers were able to complete the entire construction within the timeframe of just 60 days 1.75 crore people, huge amounts of cattle, and an Indian Army cantonment benefitted from this.
The event received little attention outside Rajasthan on the completion of the 650-km-long Indira Gandhi main canal; nearly 29 years after it had begun. This scheme of the Canal to draw water from snow-fed rivers to the green farms is among the most ambitious developmental projects not just in India, but also globally.
In vast stretches – with rainfall of 10 inches and less – where nothing survived before, the annual value of crop output today is over Rs 200 Crore. Nowhere else in rural India has the change been so remarkable. The Indira Gandhi Canal has made it all possible. The greening of the desert has meant many things to many inhabitants, one outstanding fact is that the coming of water has brought the kind of security the villagers’ ancestors never had. Despite all the controversy surrounding it, the canal and the area stand as a triumph of man as a pioneer – a miracle in the desert.
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