Why People from This UP Village Make and Break Dam Every Year
Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh): Even as Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were making “lofty” claims about infrastructure development during foundation laying ceremony of Jewar Airport in Noida, people at Khamaria village in Baheri block of Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district were engaged in constructing a temporary earthen dam at Bahgul river to store water and divert it through canals for irrigation in over 100 villages.
However, this is not unusual. Year after year, for over five years, the locals here have been building storage dams for storing water to irrigate acres of land spread over 125 villages in three Assembly constituencies — Baheri and Meerganj in Bareilly and Bilaspur in Rampur. These villages don’t have any other source of irrigation apart from the dam.
But with the onset of monsoon, they have to break the earthen dam — as per the law — by June 25 every year after the river is flooded, failing which the other areas run the risk of being inundated.
Although the government has sanctioned funds of Rs 57.46 crore last year for making a permanent water reservoir, the project is yet to see light of the day and the de facto process of making the earth-fill dam has continued this year as well.
Faced with irrigation water problems for almost 30 years after the collapse of a permanent dam in Khamaria, the locals have been constructing the embankment dam every year since 2016. The fund (which stands somewhere between Rs 3-4 lakh) required for building the earthen dam is arranged by Kisan Kalyan Samiti (a registered group for farmers’ welfare) through crowdfunding.
“People voluntarily donate money, soil, diesel for tractors, JCB machines, and also offer physical services,” Jaideep Singh Brar, a former legislator who heads the committee and supervises the construction, told NewsClick.
Though there is no official record for the legend, yet the 78-year-old, who has served as MLA from 1980 to 1989 and MLC from 1990 till 1996, narrated that some Muslim landlords belonging to nearby Balli village used to get a kachcha dam constructed every year from the 19th century.
The British took over the area in the beginning of the 20th century and constructed a permanent dam across the river to create a reservoir for irrigation in the region, he added.
A devastating flood, he said, washed it away somewhere between 1925-26. Since 1927, the then British officials began construction of earthen dam every year close to the earlier site. It continued until 1947. Post independence, said Brar, the then UP government re-shifted the construction site to the previous location and continued constructing the temporary dam for ground water recharge and irrigation of fields. The Bahgul river water used to be diverted to other small water-starved rivers as well. The construction was discontinued after 1989, until 2016.
“So, people belonging to the vast area of the two districts of Rampur and Bareilly had to face serious irrigation water shortage as no dam was constructed for 27 years. Locals approached me in 2016, requesting resumption of construction of the earth-fill dam so that the fields in the vast stretch could be irrigated. I had left active politics by then. I constituted a committee (Kisan Kalyan Samiti), which began the construction work in October 2016. The dam was ready on November 17, 2016. And since then, we build it every year as it has to be broken in every June to bring down the water level in the river and save the region from floods,” he continued.
Asked about the construction of the proposed permanent dam equipped with modern sluice gates, which control water levels and flow rates in rivers and canals, the former politician-turned-social worker alleged that several project reports have been prepared and surveys carried out, but the construction work has not begun till date.
“The government has perhaps forgotten its duty towards the people. Instead of working for the welfare of citizens, it is more interested in peeping into individuals’ lives,” he alleged, taking a dig at the increased surveillance and vigilantism these days.
Brar said that the villagers, rising above religion and caste, donate whatever they can to the committee because they know the flood and drought don’t make any distinction based on caste and religion. And the same applies to the irrigation water supplied by the dam, he added.
He demanded that the river be widened so that the discharge capacity of the dam can be increased.
Interestingly, the Balli Canal System (Khamaria dam) was declared dead after 1989, but it was given a new life by the citizens in 2017. “Now, it has surplus water. The water from this reservoir goes to Bangladesh during the Rabi season (winters),” he concluded.
The Department of Irrigation and Flood Control, Bareilly, cited HFL (high flood level) breach as the reason behind the delay in construction of the permanent dam.
“We had prepared two designs, but the water level in the river rose 1.5 metre above the HFL during floods on October 18-19 this year. As a result, the release of funds for the proposed dam was stopped as the design needs to be re-worked now. The project will be designed once again and sent to the chief engineer’s committee for approval. We are making all possible efforts. To ensure that the crops don’t suffer, the department has already given its nod to the earthen dam, which the villagers have built,” Narendra Singh, SDO (Canal), Department of Irrigation and Flood Control, Bareilly, told NewsClick.
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