Bhubaneswar, June 25: More than 50 years after the Hirakud dam, one of the first multipurpose irrigation projects of the country, was built over the Mahanadi, an expert study says it has failed to serve its purpose.
While the reservoir project, which rendered more than one lakh persons homeless by acquiring almost 47,000 hectares of agricultural land, has been a disappointment from the point of view of livelihood gains, it has also failed to achieve its basic objectives — flood control, irrigation coverage for multiple cropping in the command area and generation of hydro-electricity — in the expected measure.
According to the study by sociologist Rajkishor Meher, the intensity of floods in the Mahanadi affecting coastal plains has increased in recent years. Some estimates point out that following the beginning of Hirakud dam’s operation in 1958, the frequency of high floods in the river basin has risen from once in 3.48 to once in 3.3 years while the relatively gentler low floods have fallen to once in 3.35 from the pre-dam period of once in 3.1 years.
“It is observed that although in the initial years, the reservoir of the dam was able to provide optimum flow water irrigation coverage to the land in the downstream of the command through its vast canal system, after the 1980s, it has gradually started affecting the livelihood security of the people staying in the area. The small and marginal farmers comprising mostly the tribals and other marginalised people, living in the downstream of the river dam and the tail end of the command are now deprived of irrigation water,” says the study.
Besides, it points out, farmers at the tail end of the command cannot grow a second crop during the Rabi season due to acute water scarcity. In the drought years, they fail to get adequate water to protect their standing paddy crop.
According to the study, the dam that became operational in 1958, was expected to irrigate an area of 0.8 million acres (0.32 million hectares) with 100 per cent Kharif intensity and 48 per cent (0.154 million hectares) Rabi intensity. But the effective coverage of agricultural land under canal water of the project is much less than the planned target.
The massive displacement caused by the dam continues to rankle with a large number of oustees still unhappy with what they got. According to official reports, 22,144 families with a population of about 1,01,000 were affected by the project, a sizeable chunk of them being tribals. Many of the oustees resettled at new sites and colonies developed by the government continue to wallow in poverty.