It was six days of continuous rainfall that had caused a deluge in the south-western parts of Punjab last year. No lessons seem to have been learnt by the Punjab government as a year later, overnight rainfall once again submerged these areas, causing damage to crops and property.
After the deluge in Muktsar, Fazilka and Abohar last year, the state government had got the problem studied. An extensive report was prepared by Lt Gen B S Dhaliwal (Retd), Technical Advisor to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. The report was submitted to the Planning Commission as well.
None of the recommendations of the report, including realignment of drains, regulation of canals or crop diversification, has, however, been implemented. The chief minister has visited the affected areas over the past two days and once again directed the Irrigation Department to strengthen the drainage system.
One of the recommendations was for realignment of the drains. When the drains were being laid, the alignments were changed at places where there was pressure from influential farmers not to let these pass through their fields. Therefore, despite crores having been spent on construction of the drains, they do not serve the purpose during heavy rainfall.
The Irrigation Department claims that the drains were cleaned before the rains, but the work of realignment was not started. With the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, the government reportedly did not want to antagonise farmers whose fields would have been affected.
There were proposals for construction of causeways, which are also hanging fire.
Over the years, the groundwater level in south-western Punjab has risen. In some villages, it is as high as 5 to 10 metres below the surface.
The soil has become brackish with little capacity left to absorb water. Even a little rain causes waterlogging in the low-lying areas.
Another recommendation of the report was for regulation of water flow in the canals, depending on the weather. While the Punjab government has constituted a committee for regulation, its members are in Chandigarh.
Paddy crop is primarily grown in the affected area. For the crop to grow, standing water is present in the fields. Experts have warned that if the practice continues, then in the coming years a situation would arise that de-watering of soil would be needed before paddy can be sown.
The report by Gen Dhaliwal states that there is a need for crop diversification. The report has recommended that sowing of paddy in the area should be stopped. Instead, crops that require less water and can tolerate salinity should be sown.
Leader of Opposition in the Vidhan Sabha Sunil Jakhar says, “A grant of Rs 850 crore has been received by the Punjab government to solve the problem. However, no action is being initiated. I earned a lot of flak after I accompanied the Chief Minister to meet Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. However, I had felt that this was a wider issue for the benefit of the residents. It is due to the apathy of the state government that people are suffering.”
He added that in Abohar, 80 per cent of the crop is kinnow and not paddy, and the orchards are under threat of being destroyed. Jakhar further said that water level has increased to 8 to 9 feet below the surface and is causing problems.
Amarinder Singh Raja Warring, Congress MLA from Gidderbaha in Muktsar district, which is among the worst affected areas, says there are several villages which are in a bad state after the rains. “The cotton crop has been spoilt. Last year, when the houses of people were damaged, they were given a pittance as compensation. No work has taken place on the ground. The drainage system is in a bad state,” he says.
What has added to the waterlogging is seepage from Rajasthan and Sirhind feeder canals. Officials say that a proposal has been approved for lining of these canals, but work is yet to start.