| The site of the Durgawati irrigation project in Rohtas. Picture by Sanjay Kumar Choudhary |
The Durgawati reservoir is all set to be opened to thousands of farmers in south Bihar districts on June 15.
This would be the first major project to be inaugurated by the newly formed Jitan Ram Manjhi government.
The work on the project was resumed in 2012 after a gap of seven years after the state water resources department complied with most of the conditions laid down by the Centre for approving the project.
Water resources department minister Vijay Kumar Choudhary said: “It is one of the oldest irrigation projects of the state and I am happy to say this that finally the time has come that farmers in a vast tract area will be benefited. Work on the reservoir is almost on the final stage and we have set the target to inaugurate in June. If everything goes according to the schedule, the project is likely to become operational by June 15.”
The Durgawati project was conceptualised in 1975 and after several hiccups, a major part of the work was completed in 2005. However, commissioning of the project was not allowed as it was completed in violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, and Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Once the matter was taken to the Supreme Court, it issued certain directives in the light of which the Centre laid down certain conditions for making the project operational.
Once known as the “rice bowl” of Bihar, the area holds the potential to feed the entire state if irrigation facility is available. The project holds great importance for farmers of Kaimur and Rohtas districts, as it would provide irrigation facilities to 3,24,678 hectares of arable land.
Choudhary added: “The RJD government, with Jagadanand Singh as irrigation minister, had created the problem by transferring 64.75 acres of forest land in Kaimur district for the Durgawati project without getting clearance from the Union ministry of forests and environment. This made the Centre put a stay on the project and after that even the Supreme Court had stayed the project. The apex court also directed action against the state officials responsible for the transfer of the forestland without clearance from the ministry.”
In 2008, the Supreme Court directed the state government to seek clearance from the ministry of forests and environment to start the project. According to the apex court order, the Centre had given sanction for the project, setting 22 conditions for the state government to fulfil.
The Planning Commission of India has sanctioned Rs 25.30 crore in 1975 and then Union agriculture minister Jagjivan Ram laid down its foundation stone for the construction of the reservoir. The completion amount of has gone up and now the revised cost is Rs 983.10 crore.
About the work going on at the reservoir, water resources department chief engineer (monitoring) Indu Bhusan Kumar said: “At present, the work is going on in a fast pace and three major works are going on which including levelling the soil up to 134m and so far the we have done up to 117m. The second work is reinforced cement concrete and construction of distributary.”
About the area which would get the benefit from the project, Indu Bhusan added: “In Kaimur district, blocks like Bhagwanpur, Rampur, Kudra, Adhaura, Mohania and Durgawati, similarly in Rohtas district blocks like Chenari, Shivsagar and Sasaram will be benefited.”
On the other hand, Jagadanand attacked the state government and held them responsible for delaying the project. He said: “Most of the work on the Durgawati reservoir was completed in my tenure and only 10 per cent work was left. The project was completed several years ago and it was just two to three months’ work left.”
In the recently concluded general election, most of the top leaders did not miss the opportunity to talk about the Durgawati reservoir. Even Narendra Modi has raised the issue and attacked Congress candidate Meira Kumar and said that she has failed to fulfil the dream of her father who had laid its foundation stone.
Later, Sonia Gandhi, while addressing a rally in Sasaram, held responsible to the state government for a delay in the project. Similarly, former chief minister Nitish Kumar held several rallies gave credit to his government for nearly completing the project.