Rae Bareli, Dec. 18: Sonia Gandhi today reaped plaudits for reviving a canal her mother-in-law had opened in 1969 but which had choked under 18 years of neglect.
Finally, the state government has agreed to begin work on the canal. The Centre has sanctioned Rs 105 crore to desilt the old canal system and ensure flow of water for at least 165 days a year, Sonia said to applause from a crowd that had gathered to thank her for the effort.
Such was the joy when water flowed through the Sarda canal, inaugurated by Indira Gandhi, last Saturday that the farmers did not mind the minor inconvenience of a low-lying village being submerged by the surge. The 50 affected families were quickly shifted.
Addressing the rally at Bhojpur village, one of those that will gain from the revival, Sonia recounted how she had persuaded the state government to ensure the canal was linked to its source of water in Unnao, 100km away.
We knew your problem, 90 per cent of the land became barren. There was not a drop of water. The greenery was drying. I felt bad. I spoke to the previous state government and the present government. I am glad to know that water has finally flowed in, Sonia said.
The Sarda canal is a part of the Hardoi irrigation branch system, a larger network of canals criss-crossing the state. It once irrigated 22,000 hectares but almost went dry in the past 18 years as non-Congress governments devoted little attention to its upkeep.
The result was a silt-choked canal and street protests by farmers, some of whom even threatened suicide. The former Mulayam Singh Yadav regime pleaded helplessness, saying it did not have the cash to keep the canal flowing.
The tide turned this July, when Union water resources minister Saifuddin Soz visited the area and told the state irrigation minister that the water problems of farmers had to be solved.
Today, Sonia congratulated Soz, present on the dais, for the initiative but reminded the gathering that while the Centre was sensitive to farmers problems, it was the responsibility of state governments to use central funds effectively. The Mayavati regime had requested Delhi for funds.
The minister said the revival was a tribute to Indira Gandhi, who represented Rae Bareli in Parliament. We are just paying a tribute to her vision by desilting the canal.
The revamp will be completed in two years, at the end of which the canal should irrigate 306,055 hectares.