Patna, Nov. 21: Farmers in Bihar’s Naxalite-affected Gaya district have finally succeeded in starting a debate across the state over a 35-year-old failed irrigation project.
About 1200 farmers, who have been squatting near the confluence of Falgu and Muhane rivers since early last month demanding alteration of the irrigation map of the area, notched their first victory this morning when they received a host of politicians and Gandhian activists from state capital Patna.
The farmers were joined today by Opposition leader Sushil Modi and six other MLAs after 42 days of fast and peaceful squatting. According to the farmers, the Udaisthan Multipurpose Irrigation Project — started in 1967 and meant to benefit about five lakh farmers in six blocks of Gaya district — has turned the area drought-prone while its youth have been driven to the “path of self destruction by joining the Naxalites”.
They are now questioning the viability of the incomplete dam that has been reduced to a pile of heavy machinery, some haphazard digging and a couple of concrete constructions strewn around.
Modi said the irrigation project had become a source of woe for the local farmers as the concrete barrage at the confluence of the two rivers had blocked the Mohane river. The farmers are now demanding the dismantling of the barrage or an early completion of the project, he added.
“Why are the farmers not getting any irrigation benefit even 35 years after the project was launched' The state government is paying Rs 50 lakh on payment of salaries to its employees. To maintain the small canals made to take water, the state government spends Rs 10 lakh every year. What are all these expenses for'” Modi asked.
The farmers stir was inspired by Ekta Parishad, a Madhya Pradesh-based social action group, which recently opened its Bihar chapter and a couple of local peace groups.
“For the first time in (the) Gaya-Jehanabad area, people decided to fight a different battle, not obviously with weapons but by using non-violence as a means to achieve their end,” said P.V. Rajagopal, convenor of Ekta Parishad, which has been trying to educate the locals about the project for last six months.
Bihar irrigation minister Jagtanand Singh admitted the project was still incomplete but said that the opening of the barrage would not be possible because it had helped redirecting the course of the river to irrigate 41,000 acres of two adjoining districts.
But when Patna High Court had appointed an independent commission to judge how much of land was being irrigated because of the barrage, the commission reported that a mere 5,000 acres were benefiting from it.
The farmers have now urged the irrigation minister to pay a visit to the area to personally assess the situation.