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A fresh tussle over water — between farmers and government

Farmers protest against govt ban on lifting water directly from Sirhind canal, they say tanks being installed by canal too small for pumps to draw water

Written by Raakhi Jagga | Ludhiana | Published: December 10, 2019 10:45:17 am
A fresh tussle over water — between farmers and government Members of the Lift Pump Association sit on an indefinite dharna at Muktsar. (Express)

STAUNCHLY OPPOSED to the Punjab canal department’s imposition of restrictions over lifting water directly from canals via lift pumps, farmers are holding indefinite dharnas near bridges of Sirhind feeder (a large irrigation canal that carries water from the Sutlej) passing through Muktsar towards Fazilka. In Muktsar, they are protesting near the bridge of Lambi-Panjawa canal, which is part of the Sirhind feeder. Farmers say they will be sitting near all bridges from 7 am to 7 pm daily to stop canal department officials from constructing any outlets.

Govt wants farmers to lift water from outlets

There are around 290 lift pumps drawing water from the Sirhind canal, of which nearly 190 are in the Badal family’s home district Muktsar alone, while the remaining are in Faridkot area. According to the Punjab government, there is unequal distribution of water, hence it has decided that farmers cannot draw water via lift pumps directly from canals and instead, the canal department will be making a 25 square feet tanks at regular intervals outside the canal from which farmers can draw water.

“This has been planned to stop unequal distribution of water as tail-end farmers always face water scarcity,” said Jagmohan Singh Mann, chief engineer of the canals department. “Canals in Punjabs are cumulatively 14,500 km in length and lift pumps are only used in the Sirhind feeder, which is around 100 km-long and passing through Faridkot, Ferozepur, Muktsar and Fazilka. It starts from Harike in Tarn Taran. We want water supply via outlets to be constructed outside canals.”

Farmers point out technical difficulties

Farmers however are opposed to this move, saying that the water tanks/outlets are too small for their motors to pull water out of them. On Sunday, the Punjab Lift Pump Association had also gathered at Badal village to organise a protest rally in which Congress’ former Muktsar district president Gurmeet Singh Khuddian, SAD’s Gidderbaha constituency in-charge Dimpy Dhillon, SAD’s youth wing in-charge of Lambi Ranjodh Singh Lambi, had all shared the same stage and spoken in favour of farmers.

Gurlabh Singh, a Lambi-based farmer said, “The first lift pump was installed in the early 70s during Giani Zail Singh’s time and later they kept on increasing gradually. Lift pumps have been installed at the base of the canal and we draw water out of the river as per our share. It is easy to draw water directly from canal. It will not be possible to draw water out of a small outlet. Our motors will not be able to lift water at all. We have already met canal department officials a number of times. But since they are not paying heed, we have started dharna on different bridges of Sirhind canal passing through Muktsar.”

Ranjodh Singh Lambi, president of the Youth Akali Dal, Lambi unit, said, “As of now we are getting water from the base of the canal by lifting via pumps, but it will be a task to get it lifted from small outlets till fields. Our fields will go dry and if we are stopped from using lift pumps, nearly 1.5 lakh hectares under crops in this 100 km stretch will be affected.”

Gurmeet Singh Khuddian, former Muktsar district president of Congress, said, “This will cause shortage of water to farmers. We are for the farmers, it hardly matters that I am from Congress, but if something is hurting their interests, I will always stand up for them. We will meet the Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria on this issue and if needed I will also sit on dharnas for farmers.”

Balkar Singh, president of the Punjab Lift Pump Association said, “We held a token protest on Sunday, if the government does not revoke its decision, we will intensify our protest.” Gidderbaha’s SAD in-charge Dimpy Dhillon also spoke on the occasion.

However, canals department chief engineer Mann said, “We are relining the Sirhind canal. Hence we have stated that now farmers will get water supply via water outlets which will be constructed outside canals by department and not directly via lift outlets, through which water was being drawn directly from the base of the canal. This was causing unequal distribution of water and hence tail-end farmers in Fazilka, Abohar, were not getting their due share of canal water. In Punjab, canals are spread over 14,500 km and there are no lift pumps in any other canal except for Sirhind feeder, hence when those farmers are able to irrigate their crops, I don’t think it will be an issue with the farmers getting water from Sirhind feeder. This feeder was an exception to have lift outlets and hence we want to provide water to everyone equally. Farmers will get their due share, they need not worry.”

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