The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Farakka rules out island job

Malda, June 14: More than one lakh people living in Bhutni face the risk of inundation this monsoon even as the state irrigation department and the Farakka Barrage authorities squabble over who should carry out the anti-erosion work on the island, 37 km from here.

Cracks have appeared in the 35-km long circuit embankment on the island that protects it from the Ganga on one side and the Phulhar on the other. A heavy shower or two and the cracks may give way to fissures. “The island in that case will become a water tank,” said an official of the irrigation department.

Concerned over the situation, Malda district magistrate Chittaranjan Das held an emergency meeting with the Farakka Barrage authorities on Tuesday. The meeting turned out to be a failure as the barrage representatives told him that Bhutni was not their responsibility. They said the barrage’s anti-erosion work was limited to the 120-km stretch from Malda to Murshidabad.

Soumen Mishra, the executive engineer of the irrigation department, however, alleged: “All anti-erosion work related to the Ganga, Padma, Phulhar and the Mahananda was handed over to the central government on the latter’s initiative.”

Built in 1972, the Bhutni embankment was maintained by the Centre till 1987. After that it was taken over by the state government. In 2004, under Priya Ranjan Das Munshi’s tenure as Union water resources minister, it reverted back to the Centre.

“Naturally, we knew that the Union government would do the work. The irrigation officials did not interfere. But now as the embankment has developed several cracks and if it is not repaired on an emergency basis, things will go beyond control,” Mishra said

Das said he had already talked to the chief engineer of the irrigation department Biplab De, who has ordered an immediate repair.

“But even then it is too late. We may not be able to complete it on time before the rains,” said Mishra.

Irrigation officials fear that the nightmare of 1995 might come back to haunt them. It had rained a little more than 48 hours then and the entire island had gone under water. Residents there had climbed atop the 12-ft high embankment to save themselves. Not only that, later, a part of the embankment had to be broken down to pump out the water.

The general manager of Farakka Barrage, Naresh Kumar, said the Rs 33 crore allotted for anti-erosion in the current fiscal has been earmarked for the repair of the 120-km stretch on the “up” and “down” stream of the Ganga.

“We have received no instruction from Delhi to include Bhutni island in our scheme,” Kumar said.

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