Bihar’s Stalled Irrigation Projects brought into focus

Rohtas, 18 July-2014, NDTV: Bihar is on the brink, with the state facing a rainfall deficit of about 15 percent, as per latest figures from the Meteorological department. As many as 22 out of the state’s 40 districts have had less than normal rainfall.

Bihar’s Stalled Irrigation Projects brought into focus

Bihar's Stalled Irrigation Projects brought into focus

In times like these, irrigation projects such as reservoirs and canals could have gone a long way to help farmers save their crops.

Irrigation projects like the Durgawati reservoir in Rohtas district, which once complete is expected to irrigate over 30000 hectares of land. The project will benefit, through a system of canals, Rohtas and adjoining Kaimur, an area known as Bihar’s rice bowl.

The Bihar government says this will be a boon for thousands of farmers in both these districts. But here’s the hitch. This project has been under construction for over 37 years now. In 37 years, the cost of this project has escalated from just over 25 crore rupees to well over a 1000 crore rupees.

If the project were to become operational, among the first few to benefit would be 55 year old farmer Sri Kamal, whose village is the first after the reservoir. Sri Kamal has about 10 acres of farm land where he plans pulses and other crops that require less water.

Sri Kamal says, “I have been seeing this construction since I was a small kid. I am totally dependent on rainwater for irrigation and I am not even sure it will ever start”

Durgawati is not the only major irrigation project in Bihar where work has been on for decades. Across the state, many such projects have missed deadline after deadline and there is still no word on how soon they will be completed

In the case of Durgawati, the Bihar government says the delay has been because of environmental clearances and that the project should be complete by this year end

But across Bihar, at least three other major irrigation projects have been in the works for decades now. The cost overrun in each case runs into hundreds of crores, and the reasons for the delay range from incomplete distribution systems to land acquisition issues.

These projects include the Western Kosi Canal Scheme, started in 1972, the North Koel Reservoir Scheme, started again in 1972 and the Bateshwarsthan Pump Canal Scheme started in 1979.

The cumulative cost of these projects has escalated from a little over 200 crore rupees to well over 2000 crore rupees .

Vijay Chaudhary, Water Resources Minister in the Bihar state government says, “We will certainly complete Durgawati by the year end. You see in the other projects there are many problems. For instance in Western Kosi we faced major land acquisition issues. Now in any future project we will first focus on land acquisition.”

An example though, of the government’s s misplaced priorities, can be found in the Munger district. The Dakra Nala Canal project could have become a lifeline, for farmers in this district east of Patna.

Except, since its inauguration in 1994, it has not received a single drop of water. Reason: its pumping station has been constructed at a faulty location. Something, the government has still not been able to correct.