This is one monsoon season many in Malwa region wont forget in a hurry. Heavy rain coupled with a failed drainage system wreaked havoc in the area,destroying crops,damaging houses and taking lives. Two months after the deluge,residents in villages across the region are yet to come to terms with their losses.
The perennial waterlogging problem,that has plagued this region for decades,took a turn for the worse this year,catching residents and the government unaware.
Muktsar,Fazilka and Ferozepur that fall in Malwa region,grapple with waterlogging year after year. Sub-soil water levels have increased over a period of time in the area and experts pin part of the blame for this phenomenon on seepage from the Rajasthan and Sirhind feeders. The two were constructed in the 1950s when technology hadnt reached present levels and hence seepage from the feeders continues. Such is the condition now,that water can even be found at depths of 10 metres or less. In Lambi area,it has almost reached the top soil. To make matters worse,the water is saline and residents are reluctant to use it for any work. These factors also ensure that there is little possibility of rain water seeping into the soil.
Another factor that works against Malwa is the regions topography. Following a similar problem in 1984,the World Bank submitted a report in 1985 and among other measures,suggested that drains should be built in the area. Work on the construction of drains only began in 1997,more than a decade after the World Bank report. The flaws in construction of these drains and the apathy of the administration in maintaining them were finally exposed by heavy rainfall that began on August 14 this year.
A visit to the affected villages shows the pitiable condition of the drains. While funds are allocated each year for cleaning them up,the condition on ground tells a different story. Silt has accumulated and the drains are swamped by a layer of grass thus effectively reducing their width and obstructing the flow of water.
For residents of Bhunder village in Muktsar district,the very drains that were to save them became the cause of their misery. The problem in Bhunder is exemplified by one drain that carries water from other villages as well which bends at 90 degree angles at three places within a small stretch affecting smooth flow of water. This anomaly exists at other places as well.
Water overflowed,flooding fields and submerging houses that lay along the drains path. Villagers claim they had not witnessed such conditions in two decades and many were forced to abandon their houses. It also exposed the governments claims of having spent crores to tackle the problem.
Residents say that the alignment of the drains has been changed wherever someone was influential enough to ensure that they do not pass through their fields. The drain was to be built in a straight line. However,the person from whose fields it was to pass through managed to pull some strings and get the alignment changed. Consequently it now has several curves. Due to this water does not flow out. At one point in the village,two drains join. While the volume of water doubles,the width of the drain remains the same. These reasons have led to water overflowing from the drains, explains Sukhdev Singh,a Bhunder resident.
The absence of causeways is another hurdle at several places. The causeways have been replaced with pipes,whose width is not adequate enough to manage the water flow. Villagers allege that at several places from where the pipelines pass,people block them causing water to flow back.
Dr G S Dhillon,a former Chief Engineer with the Punjab Irrigation Department admits that there are faults in the drain alignment. I was the chief engineer when this project costing Rs 464 crore was approved. A committee comprising several members was constituted for a period of two years. However,no meeting of the committee was held. Instead the project incharge went ahead with the construction without taking us into confidence, he says.
(This is the first part of a three-part series on the effects of the monsoon in Malwa)
Tomorrow: After destruction,residents start picking up the pieces
The waterlogging has destroyed standing crop,including paddy and cotton,while leaving houses completely damaged. At some places,two months after the problem began,people are still waiting for the water to dry out. Amarinder Singh Raja Warring,the Congress MLA from Gidderbaha,blames the government for not taking adequate steps. The drains are not cleaned despite funds being sanctioned for them every year. Silting and grass prevent the flow of water. The government did not provide help to the villagers who faced the aftermath of the waterlogging. No efforts have been made to provide relief, the MLA said.
Report by CMs technical adviser
A report on the drainage system has been prepared by a team headed by Lt Gen B S Dhaliwal (retd). The report highlights flaws in the system,both at the time the project was executed and those created by villagers. One of the problems mentioned is that the outlet of water is in the Sutlej that flows into Pakistan. On the other side a flap is installed that regulates the flow of water. Even in case of floods,similar amount of water can be released as on normal days. This causes the water to come back and add to the flooding. A proposal to solve the problem wants a pond in the area,from where water can be collected and released gradually. Another suggestion is that village ponds should be dried out before the monsoon leaving space for water to accumulate. An overhaul of the drainage system has also been proposed. This would include construction of additional drains,widening and cleaning of existing ones and re-aligning some. The government has sought Rs 3277 crore from the Centre for these measures.
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