Updated: August 24, 2020 2:53:05 pm
Vinod Kumar (45) stood knee deep in water surrounding his house since Wednesday in outer southwest Delhi’s Rawta village. He was looking for the lid of an overhead water tank in his house that the wind had blown away; it was later found floating among trash nearby.
A few metres away, Kripal Singh (45) had put sandbags around his stable for buffaloes. A day later, he frantically set up a motor to pull out water that was seeping inside. “Otherwise the stable would have collapsed with us and the animals inside,” Singh said, as village residents gathered around him nodded.
Around them was about 1,000 acres of farmland submerged in a mix of wastewater and rainwater overflowing from the Najafgarh drain since earlier this month, after monsoon showers began, village residents said.
Following Wednesday’s heavy rain that lashed Gurgaon — 158 mm in 24 hours — water began seeping into homes in Rawta and a few other adjoining villages in Haryana and Delhi. Water levels continued to rise on Sunday, according to residents. Fields closer to the drain were severely flooded, with two tractors almost completely submerged, they said. Farmers claimed they have disconnected electricity supply in fields closer to the drain as they are unable to access their fields for most part of the year.
“The fields are usually waterlogged around this time every year, and about 500 acres of land around the drain is submerged in water for all 12 months, but homes had not been affected until now,” said Rajnish Phalswal, a resident. Farmers said there was no certainty when fields would dry again, with some estimating weeks or months, and claiming that it all depends on stopping the overflow from drains.
On Friday, catfish and other species of fish were being caught in waterlogged fields by residents and people from nearby areas as they kept a watch for snakes.
Ramesh Singh (56) estimated that nearly every farmer would have suffered a loss of about Rs 30,000 per acre of field, including their investment and returns on the harvest of about Rs 3,000 per quintal of dhan. “We would have to stop sowing dhan if this continues. There is also uncertainty about our wheat crops that we sow in November, because even then, sometimes, water from the drain enters our fields,” he said.
Residents of the village claimed they have made several representations to government officials, local MLA Gulab Singh and West Delhi MP Parvesh Sahib Singh, but no steps have been taken to control the problem.
MP Parvesh said he has raised the issue in the past with the Chief Minister and Lt-Governor. He claimed the district magistrate had prepared a report according to which around Rs 60 crore was required to build an embankment to stop the overflow, but the Delhi government did not provide funds for it. Since the funds allotted to him is Rs 5 crore per year, he said he cannot assist.
An official from MLA Singh’s office said efforts to create an embankment were made in 2015 but some villagers protested against it and work could not be completed. The official said Singh visited the village on Saturday and had a meeting with the residents. “Pumps are being set up to remove the water and work will also be undertaken to solve the problem,” he said.
The problem faced by this village is a result of steps taken after the 1978 floods in Delhi when embankments were built along the Najafgarh drain to prevent the city from flooding in the future, as per an official of the Delhi Irrigation and Flood Control Department.
However, Rawta village lies in a 5.5-km stretch, along the 57-km-long drain, where the embankment was not built by the then Delhi administration. “The area was supposed to act as a balancing reservoir at the time of floods to prevent the population in dense areas of the city from getting affected. The area around Najafgarh lake is a low-lying area, and it was planned at the time that flood water would collect here and not proceed further,” the official said.
In the long term, officials said the issue would only be solved by talks between Delhi and Haryana, and through the medium of the National Green Tribunal, which is presently hearing a matter to determine if the Najafgarh lake is a wetland or a private land. “If the lake is found to be a wetland, then the land of the farmers in Rawta and other villages in Delhi and Haryana would be acquired by the government,” the official said.
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