The Bengal irrigation department on Friday took possession of around 1,000 acres to dig two more canals under the Teesta Barrage Project to channelise water for agricultural purposes.
The move will help bring more farms under irrigation in Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts but may upset Bangladesh where the Teesta flows into from north Bengal. Bangladesh has been waiting for the Teesta water-sharing deal with India for more than a decade to solve the water scarcity in the northern parts of the neighbouring country.
On Friday, the Jalpaiguri district administration handed over around 1,000 acres to the department in the presence of state irrigation minister Partha Bhowmik. The land will help the administration create two canals on the left bank of the Teesta. Water from the Jaldhaka, another river which flows through Jalpaiguri district, will be also diverted to the canals for irrigation.
“According to the plan, a 32km-long canal to draw water from the Teesta and the Jaldhaka will be dug till Changrabandha of Cooch Behar district. Another canal, which will have a length of 15km, will be built on the left bank of the Teesta,” said a source in the department.
According to administrative sources, once the canals are dug, around one lakh farmers will benefit from irrigation. The barrage is located at Gajoldoba in the Jalpaiguri district. “The irrigation department will assess in due course the total agriculture area that will benefit from the canals,” said an official.
The Teesta Barrage project was launched in 1975 with a plan to irrigate 9.22 lakh hectares of agricultural land in north Bengal. The plan was to route water from the Teesta through canals on either bank of the river. On the way, the canals would be fed by other rivers which flow through the region.
The project, however, suffered for decades and water reaches only around 1.04 lakh hectares now. “The Jalpaiguri district administration has transferred 1,000 acres to us for digging the canals. The central government had announced it as a national project (in 2009) but is not providing funds. Even if we do not get funds, we will try to finish the work (of creating the network of canals) in phases,” Bhowmik, the irrigation minister, said on Friday.
His department will repair another canal in the Dhupguri block of Jalpaiguri district. “Once this canal becomes operational, irrigation facilities will be available on 32,000 acres of land in the block,” said a source.
The Bengal government’s decision to dig new canals under the Teesta Barrage project after a gap of over 20 years is set to raise Dhaka’s hackles. New Delhi and Dhaka couldn’t clinch a pact to share the Teesta waters because of objections raised by Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee in 2011. A political observer pointed out that by extending the reach of the Teesta project, Mamata is trying to prove that north Bengal needs water from the river.
“Now that her government plans to extend the irrigation network, it is evident that more water from the Teesta will be routed through the new canals. This means less water will be available for Bangladesh during lean months,” said a faculty member of the geography department at North Bengal University in Siliguri.
Around 100 cumecs (cubic metres per second) of water are available in the Teesta in the summer months. Around 1,600 cumecs are required to irrigate agricultural land both in India and Bangladesh, said sources.