Hundreds of farmers from the Aurangabad region have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking him to complete the Kutku dam, something he had promised during his campaign.
Addressing a rally in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls in Gaya, Modi had made an issue out of the Centre stalling construction of the dam — part of North Koel irrigation project, in Aurangabad district — citing environment concerns. He had even tweeted, asking the Centre and Bihar: “Why the delay in Kutku dam? Crores have been spent but nothing has happened.”
Hundreds of farmers have now reminded Modi of his concern and hoped he would take up the unfinished work. Once completed, the North Koel project, pending for over 40 years, could irrigate about 1.24 lakh hectares in Aurangabad and Gaya districts of Bihar and Palamau district of Jharkhand, and also generate 24MW of hydel power. The project is a joint venture of Bihar and Jharkhand. The states signed an MoU in June 2006, under which Bihar would share 90 per cent of the cost and Jharkhand 10 per cent.
Work on the dam commenced in 1975 but stopped in 2007 following a directive from the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF), which objected to construction of an iron gate for storing water. The ministry stalled the construction saying water accumulated in the dam would threaten Betla national park in Chotanagpur plateau of Latehar district in Jharkhand and the Palamau Tiger Reserve. Following the directive, Jharkhand government put the construction on hold. But construction of the gate alone would help irrigate about 1,000 acres in drought-prone districts of Bihar and Jharkhand.
Though initial outlay of the project was estimated at Rs 30 crore in 1972, around Rs 755 crore has already been spent. The Central Water Commission revised cost of the project four times, the last time in 1998, putting the estimated cost at Rs 1,289 crore. The project got delayed due to Bihar’s division in November 2000, after which the project became an inter-state one. The dam, barrage and part of the main canal fall in Jharkhand while rest of the main canal and distributaries remain in Aurangabad and Gaya districts of Bihar.
A four-member team constituted by the MoEF in 2011 inspected the under-construction dam site to decide on clearance for construction of its iron gate, but nothing concrete happened. Even Maoists are opposing construction saying it would displace residents and forest dwellers. Also, the project, when completed, would flood 15 villages, five within the tiger reserve.
Aurangabad MP Sushil Kumar Singh said farmers are suffering because of the delay. “This project would improve livelihood significantly by increasing agricultural productivity,” he said. While environmental issues are undoubtedly important, it is vital to keep the area’s backwardness in mind, he said.