“My crop had ripened and what a fool am I to have decided to harvest it the following morning. By the time I woke up, the excessive water had entered my field and destroyed all ten acres of my land,” says Jitendar, a 49-year-old farmer in Bataur village, adding that he has since made sure that he works overnight, if needed, to harvest his crop before it gets destroyed.
Bataur is a small village with 4,000 voters, most of whom are farmers who have been struggling for the past ten years as their fields continue to get flooded with water from a pond that was built to help them in case of water scarcity.
Indian agricultural lands have for long time suffered due to the lack of water their fields receive, but Bataur must be the first village, where early-adopted methods to save their fields from lack of water, have now become a threat to its fertile land.
“It was during the inception of this village that our fathers decided to plough a johad (pond) in the centre of our village, which gets filled up with the nullah water that flows out of the homes of our village. But overtime, as the population of the village increased and the village adapted to luxurious lifestyles with cemented drains and use of excessive water for basic necessities, we realised that the pond that we dug for our vantage had become a curse. The johad is now full to the brim all 365 days of the year, overflowing especially during winters and monsoons”, said Laxman Dass, sarpanch of Bataur village.
Make-shift arrangements and attempts at fixing the problem on their own, have all been tried but to no avail. The crops that are on the verge of ripening, are destroyed overnight by the overflowing water.
On a sunny February afternoon, a group of men sit outside a house, next to the herd of cattle that is peacefully grazing. Jitendar, with a family of four, consisting his wife, son and daughter-in-law, needs each one of his crop to grow and sell to sustain them, but visit upon visit to several officers and ministers giving shallow assurances has left him hopeless.
The pond which is almost five feet deep and five acre broad rests between a large piece of land surrounding it from all sides. Each time the pond overflows, the water enters the fields and on estimate destroys huge patches of land measuring upto 50 acres. “Each acre of land can earn upto Rs 90,000. Each season the land gets destroyed and farmers go in losses amounting to lakhs. We have a good spirit of sharing among ourselves and manage through it somehow. We sometimes work as masons or take up per-day labouring jobs to sustain our families,” said Jitendar, whose land is closest to the pond and is affected each time it floods.
Jitendar worked as a carpenter while his son worked as a painter throughout the winter season in adjoining villages as their crops had been destroyed in December. The nearby villages often plough potatoes which are sold at a better cost than the rice or wheat crop. Bataur, however, does not have the option complains Vijay Kumar, who has a joint family of 20 people.
“Potatoes need just the right amount of water unlike rice which can sustain even in huge amounts of water. This gives us no choice but to avoid ploughing the potato crop,” he says.
Even though the rice sustains, the flooding of fields in winters, destroys the winter wheat crop, which is usually planted from September to November and is to be harvested from mid-May through June. “The wheat crop is planted and harvested between November to June. It has become the most difficult crop to grow as the water keeps flooding our farms. Once the crop dies, we cannot even plough another one, the time period has already passed,” said Bhim Singh, who owns two acres of land at Bataur.
To tackle the situation, the villagers had made a make-shift canal from the pond, moving through several acres of land. The canal saved the lands for a while but as the discharged water rose, so did its futility.
The Public Departments Work of Haryana, in 2018 had drawn-up an estimate to link the road from Barwala to Bataur of length 20 km. A 1200 meter long brick masonry side drain in Bataur was also made part of the plan. While the road has already been built, the drainage project is still lying hanging.
The total cost of the project had been pegged at approximately Rs 232 lakh, the side drain had been estimated at Rs 66 lakh.
The then Executive Engineer of Panchkula branch, Harpal Singh, had drawn up the estimate which was to be completed under the Deenbandhu Gramodaya Scheme.
Engineer-in-Chief of PWD, H R Raheja was contacted several times but remained busy. SDO Panchkula, Jagvinder S Ranga, who was contacted on Wednesday, replied on Friday, saying, “We have not been able to locate the file as of yet as this was a rough estimate. This rough estimate has to go through proper channels and be approved. There might be a chance that a portion of the project was dropped in the final approval and thus it has not been implemented.”
MLA Panchkula and Haryana Vidhan Sabha Speaker, Gian Chand Gupta, when asked about a solution to the issue, said, “An estimate was made for the same. We are ready to make another pond in their village but it is the panchayat’s duty to give us space for that. They have provided us with no land that we can turn into a pond. They have to take the first step.”
The farmers, on the other hand say that the panchayat has no land to make available for their demands. “This will also only provide us with an interim relief till the next one floods which is inevitable over the years. Why isn’t the government doing its job? A proper drainage system is our right,” said Laxman.
As the governments and officers try to provide the right solution, files go missing, and ministers ask for the aggrieved to give up something they own only to provide an interim relief, the families of farmers, for no fault of their own, continue to suffer, not just in Bataur, but in Haryana and across the country.
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