| The Farakka barrage. Picture by Surajit Roy
Malda, June 11: Built more than three decades ago chiefly to provide water for irrigation and to keep the Calcutta port operational, the Farakka barrage is now a shadow of its former self.
Inquiries by The Telegraph show that most of the 109 sluice gates have turned rusty, some even malfunction.
A brainchild of late chief minister Bidhan Chandra Roy, the barrage, set up in 1970, is now under-funded and understaffed.
“Things could go wrong anytime. We just keep our fingers crossed,” said Prasad Sen, a member of the high-powered Farakka barrage technical committee.
On September 25, 1999, two “poorly-maintained” sluice gates sank in the Ganga under heavy water pressure. As a result, the supply of water to Calcutta port collapsed. While the barrage authorities managed to reconstruct one lock gate six months later at a cost of Rs 50 lakh, the other was never traced.
For the last decade, the remote-controlled system installed to open the sluice gates at the flick of a switch has been “out of order”. The gates are opened and closed with the help of an motor now.
The barrage authorities tried to operate the gates manually, resulting in two deaths in the eighties. “It was a dangerous proposition. We lost two workers in accidents while operating the gates manually,” said Prasanta Chakroborty, leader of the Farakka Barrage Workers Union. The cash-strapped barrage did not have money to get the remote-controlled system going again.
Chakroborty said the Centre provided Rs 22 to 25 crore every year for maintenance of the barrage, as against the Rs 40 crore needed annually.
Farakka barrage general manager M.U. Ghani, however, said there was no dearth of funds. “The funds we have been getting from the Centre for the last few years are enough.”
With several crucial posts lying vacant for years, maintenance has taken a nosedive. A retired chief engineer of the barrage said nine posts of superintending engineers and 13 posts of executive engineers in nine circles have been vacant for several years. “There is no doubt that it’s affecting the work.”
Chakroborty said the workforce in the barrage had come down from 10,000 to 2,100 over the years since few appointments had been made against those who had retired.