The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS),often questioned for its efficacy,is becoming a handy tool for activists rallying for revival of old and compromised small rivers. The administration in at least two districts,Pratapgarh and Fatehpur,has linked the revival plans of such rivers with MGNREGS funds.
In Pratapgarh,the district administration will be releasing funds under the MGNREGS for reviving an 18 km-long loop of Bakulahi River,which has been rendered dead for the past 25 years.
In Fatehpur,work for the revival of the 40 km-stretch of Sasur Khaderi river began under MGNREGS in May.
Activists say the idea to use MGNREGS funds was first mooted at a sammelan in Allahabad in 2011.
If the MGNREGS funds could be used for reviving ponds,why cant they be used for reviving old but crucial water channels? Central government officials had then told us that it all depended on taking initiative, said Monika Arya of Chhoti Nadiyan Bachao Aandolan. The district authorities have begun taking note of this possibility,as the movements for revival of such rivers are gaining momentum.
The lake near Khataura,from where Sasur Khaderi (believed to be hundreds of years old) originated,was dug up and revived. The entire length of 40 km of the stretch (before it meets Yamuna),too,is being revived. The budget so far is about Rs 2.75 crore, said Fatehpur District Magistrate Kanchan Verma. She added that at least 40 gram panchayats will be directly benefited by it.
The case of Bakulahi,said to have been mentioned in the Ramayana,is a classic example of how lack of environmental concern breeds long-term negative impact. The river,originating from Manjhiar Lake in Amethi,used to travel 180 km before emptying into Sai river near Kajurni village in Pratapgarh. The river,however,was straightened at Pure Turai village about 25 years ago. Ever since,it takes an 18 km-long loop to return to almost the same path at Dhema village,barely a couple of km from Pure Turai.
The loop was left to dry because people were apparently fed up with regular floods. Some vested interests were also involved. Over the years,the water table of at least 25 villages went down,leading to irrigation and drinking water problems. Besides,there is encroachment. People now want it revived, said Samaj Shekhar of Bakulahi Punarutthan Abhiyaan,who had tried to make people revive the loop on their own last year.
Chief Development Officer (Pratapgarh),Ram Araj Maurya,confirming the revival of the dead stream of Bakulahi through MGNREGS funds,said,Pure Turai and Gaura gram panchayats have already prepared their budget. Others will join in as the work progresses, he said. Officials from the irrigation department have been deputed to provide technical assistance,he added.
While the activists are enthused,it will be a challenge to see these projects through. A case in point is that of Singha Shrota,a rivulet in Bargarh area of Chitrakoot,which the Kol tribals tried to revive.
Two years ago,when the movement started,the then DM got some digging work done under MGNREGS. But the project stopped after he left. It is not a big stream,but the tribals alone would not be able to revive it, said Abhimanyu Singh of Bundelkhand Shanti Sena,who had led the movement.