Around 100 houses on the banks of the Ganga were washed away over the past week, leaving more than 600 people homeless in Hossainpur village of Murshidabad, residents said. They also alleged that authorities of Farakka Barrage project, which falls under the Centre, did not heed their urgent pleas for measures to prevent erosion of the river bank.
Authorities of the project, which is under the Union Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, denied the allegations and blamed villagers for removing soil from the river banks.
Those affected have now taken shelter in relief camps set up by the Murshidabad administration and local MLA Mainul Haque. Some have taken shelter in primary schools and health centres. Among them are Haren Mondal, Santosh Mondal and Ram Kumar Choudhury. “We have been asking the authorities to take precautionary measures… But nothing concrete was done. Now, we have nowhere else to go. We have lost everything,” said Choudhury.
Wobaidur Rahaman, another resident, said erosion of the river bank was a long-term phenomenon that had not been addressed in a timely manner. He also attributed the recent swell in the water levels to the ongoing monsoon.
“On September 18, they (project authorities) had come for an inspection… We had told them this area was at risk of being swallowed by the Ganga… However, they paid no heed to our concerns. Later that day, around 20 homes were washed away. The next day, more than 30 homes were washed away. About 100 families have been displaced… and about 500 people have been affected. Several houses are also in danger of getting washed away over the next few days if the river continues to rage.”
Sunil Mondal’s family was among those which had to flee the village on the night of September 19 after their houses were washed away. They took shelter in a primary school.
“The entire house was washed away at night and we stood there, helpless, watching the scene as it unfolded,” said Mondal.
Tarpaulin sheets, dry food packets, clothes and fresh drink water have been provided to families in all the relief shelters.
Asif Iqbal, secretary of the Ganga Bhangan Pratirodh Committee, told The Indian Express he had submitted a memorandum to the general manager of the Farakka Barrage project authorities last month, urging the central government body to initiate repairs.
“However, we got no positive response from the general manager. Only sacks were placed on banks instead of boulders. The area falls under its jurisdiction, yet it is showing apathy… We now demand that the banks must be repaired in an appropriate manner or else we will be forced to start an agitation outside its office from Wednesday,” he said.
Murshidabad District Magistrate P Ulaganathan said the administration has urged project authorities to address the issue.
“It is a very difficult body to work with. They have their own system of functioning. We have done our bit and instructed the PWD and irrigation department to initiate work. But as they are the custodians of that area, they must conduct proper repair work of the banks. We have also provided relief material to affected people and opened relief camps,” he told The Indian Express.
Local Congress MLA Mainul Haque said the state government would have to put pressure on the project authorities.
“We have provided tarpaulin and food to those who lost their houses. Some have taken shelter in relief camps. The state government needs to rehabilitate them and put pressure on the Farakka Barrage project authorities to complete repair work,” he said.
Responding to the allegations, R K Singh, senior engineer for the Farakka Barrage project, said, “The erosion took place in areas where the soil has become weak. This has happened after villagers removed soil from these areas to construct houses. We had given protection to the banks but what can we do if they remove soil within 20 to 25 metres of the banks? Now we will again protect the banks to make sure there is no loss of land. We have convened a technical advisory committee meeting to discuss this and we will conduct a fresh survey to assess the situation.”
The Farakka Barrage Project Authority was set up in 1961 to execute, operate and maintain Farakka Barrage Project Complex comprising of Farakka Barrage, Jangipur Barrage, feeder canal, navigation lock and associated structures. The objective is to divert adequate quantity of Ganga water to Bhagirathi-Hoogly river system through a 38-km-long feeder canal, for the preservation and maintenance of Kolkata Port, by improving the regime and navigability of Bhagirathi-Hoogly river system.