| The site of the Barnar reservoir project in Sono block of Jamui. Picture by Amit Kumar |
Nitish Kumar’s ambitious agriculture roadmap for changing the fate of farmers has had little impact on the Jamui Lok Sabha constituency, where more than 80 per cent population is agrarian.
Even agriculture minister Narendra Singh, a native of Jamui, has failed to solve the irrigation problems, which have turned into a nightmare for the peasants here.
The Barnar and the Kundaghat water reservoirs in Sono and Sikendra blocks, respectively, both classic examples of the government’s negligence, have emerged as the most important poll issue among farmers in this drought-prone Jamui Lok Sabha seat. Decades-old apathy and false assurances over irrigation issues have started mobilising farmers this time.
Located in the Batia valley, the Rs 46.96-crore Barnar water reservoir project was started in 1972 with an aim to irrigate more than 22,000 hectares spread across, Sono, Chakai, Jhajha and partly Jamui blocks by blocking the Barnar river with a proposed dam from the two ends of Batiya hills.
Gammon India Limited was assigned the task of construction of a dam on Barnar river, the deadline was set for September 2, 1980. Gammon failed to meet the deadline and abandoned it because of non-availability of explosive licence, irregular electric supply and criminal activities.
The irrigation department and Gammon India are at present locked in a legal battle for fixing the responsibility of not completing the project. Two cases are on in the local courts of Patna. “One can see the irrigation colonies, unfinished construction work and even the cement bags, which converted into rocks, at the site, which has turned into a rebel safe zone now,” said Pradeep Kumar of Batia Bazaar.
The problem pertained to the transfer of 406 hectares of plain land to the forest department in exchange of the same amount of land required in the project. “The irrigation department has been trying to facilitate plain lands from 2000 at Jamui in futile,” said a source in the irrigation department.
In December 2008, Nitish laid the foundation stone of the Kundaghat water reservoir project in Sikendra block in this constituency, rekindling the hope of irrigation in more than 35,000 acres here. “The project, pegged at Rs 41,55,00,000 then, was a non-starter,” said Pinku Singh, a farmer at Sikendra.
“During the 2009 general polls, the JD(U)-BJP alliance mentioned the project in their poll manifesto but now, no one, especially from the ruling party, avoids commenting on it,” said Mani Mandal of Mathurapur. “Sitting JD(U) MP Bhudeo Choudhary too failed us in the Kundaghat project. How can we trust the present JD(U) candidate, Uday Narayan Chaudhry?” asked Umesh Pandit, a farmer at Sikendra.
“How can you blame the government? We have initiated the compensation drive for those whose land was acquired for the Kundghat project. Barnar is caught in legal tangle. But we are trying to arrange land for the forest department so as to revive the project,” said Narendra Singh.