Sunday, April 13, 2008

PM's relief turns sour-DNA on vidarbha agrarian crisis

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PM's relief turns sour

NAGPUR: Mahadev Nago Kumre, a Gond tribal farmer, is waging a losing battle against land acquisition that will render him landless.

"What's the use of the paltry compensation that I am getting for my land? With it I can't buy any land anywhere in the district. And, at this age, where do I go?" the septuagenarian asks.

Kumre is not the only one losing land in Katli Borgaon village for a government project. There are 13 others who have already become landless.

This village in Yavatmal's Zari tahsil is losing its fertile land along a rivulet for a 300-acre pond under construction for a minor irrigation project which will provide water to a few neighbouring villages in Kelapur block. The project is funded by the Prime Minister's relief package.

Suddenly, there's a flood of irrigation projects in the six crisis-ridden districts of Vidarbha. There's ample money for irrigation in the PM's package - Rs2275 crore. And it has to be used within three years.

But even as the government is now in a rush to complete old and new projects, this is creating conflicts between beneficiaries and those displaced by these projects.

"The officials assured us good compensation for our land," says Baliram Bhima Chandekar, who is set to lose his five acres. While the promise was for Rs3 lakh compensation per acre, the government awarded Rs30,000 an acre. Baliram, Kumre and others losing their land are on a fast to protest the acquisition, while 500 metres away, work on the pond goes on.

People are angry with the local MLA, Vasant Purke, who is also the state education minister. "Everyone is busy drawing money into his constituency for such irrigation projects, without studying the technical and economic detail," says Kishor Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti.

Vidarbha has historically suffered from neglect of irrigation. A planning commission fact-finding mission in 2006 found that only three per cent of the cotton area in western Vidarbha came under captive irrigation. But now, when the region has finally got some money earmarked for irrigation under the PM's package, it is plagued by mindless planning, says Tiwari.

Vidarbha gets an average 850 mm annual rainfall; it has two perennial rivers, a series of seasonal rivers, tributaries and rivulets, and a network of natural water tanks. Yet, it is among the most backward regions in water resource utilisation.

Take for instance the case of the Upper Wardha dam, built ten years ago and expected to irrigate 2 lakh hectares. Today, it is irrigating just 10,000 hectares, because the canal network is not ready. Also, the demand for water in the command area is dying down due to spiraling costs. As a result, the water resource remains under-utilised.

The project is at best fulfilling the drinking water needs of Amravati, Badnera and Morshi.

But water resources expert AK Shenolikar feels development of water resources is the foremost need for agricultural growth. "History shows us that people, mainly farmers, take time to utilise harnessed water resources," he said.

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