Home lost 5 times to Padma fury

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  • Published 28.07.08

Lalgola, July 28: Abu Bakker has changed home five times in 35 years. Each time he built a hut, it was washed away as the Padma eroded its banks.

The 60-year-old, once a well-to-do farmer, now only has a stretch of a border road in Lalgola to call home.

But Abu Bakker does not blame the government, which has given him only some tarpaulin sheets and dry food, or the river that has not stopped chasing him. “I don’t blame anyone, only my fate,” he said, sitting inside a tarpaulin tent.

His road refuge is a little over half a kilometre away from the place where his last home stood. Today, when he went to salvage his belongings, he found nothing.

Along with his home, the Padma has swallowed 200 other huts. Huge swathes of the bank fell into the river on July 21 and 22, leaving over 1,500 homeless. The river has moved in 50 metres.

“People living on the banks of the Padma have to face this torment of erosion. In the past 35 to 40 years, the river has changed course and eaten up about 15km on the Indian side,” said Shajahan Ali, the new sabhapati of the Lalgola panchayat samiti.

Thirty-five years ago, Abu Bakker had a sprawling concrete house on half an acre, plus 25 bighas for cultivation, in Old Khandoa in the Lalgola area of Murshidabad district.

“I was a young and affluent farmer with 25 bighas to cultivate. People used to respect me. Shalishis were held in my courtyard,” he said.

One night in 1973, he woke up to a rumbling, crashing sound and saw huge chunks of the riverbank falling into the Padma.

“We woke up and saw the river approaching our homes. I watched helplessly as our houses were washed away. That was the first time I became a refugee.”

Abu Bakker and his neighbours went to a vested plot — land owned by the government — 2km from his earlier home and erected a tin-roof shelter. The villagers named the settlement Notun Bhitey (new land). “I had a wife and two sons, but I didn’t worry because I had land to cultivate,” he said.

But his home at Notun Bhitey did not stand for long. After two years, the Padma gobbled it up.

“With other villagers, I marched to another vested plot a kilometre away and established a village. We called it Notun Khandoa,” Abu Bakker said, tears welling in his eyes.

“I should have gone away to some other place but could not because of my agricultural land.”

But he lost this land too when the Padma struck after three years. “This time the river took my 25 bighas. I ceased to be a farmer and started working in other people’s fields,” said Abu Bakker.

Along with his wife and sons, Abu Bakker shifted to a private plot, 5km from Notun Khandoa. He paid Rs 100 a year for a small patch on which he built a hut.

This time he was a little luckier, with the river sparing him for 10 years. But in 1988, the Padma eroded its banks again.

Abu Bakker shifted to another vested plot, where he and other settlers bought small patches and built their huts. The new settlement was called Khandoa.

“I managed to buy five cottahs gradually as my sons grew up and worked as labourers. All this was taken away by the river and I am homeless again,” Abu Bakker said.

His two sons — Enamul Sheikh and Imdadul Sheikh — both in their late thirties, work in Mumbai as labourers.

“I am now old and infirm and waiting for my sons to arrive and take the decision on our next destination,” he said.