For 40 years of his life, Wamanrao Hirapure worked with the irrigation department, driving trucks to ensure timely delivery of raw material to irrigation project sites. Among these was the reason for his torment of the last two years: the state’s white elephant – the Gosikhurd irrigation project – one of the biggest irrigation projects in the state and one that could have helped thousands of farmers avoid the agrarian crisis.
Hirapure can see the canal flow by his fields, but not a drop of water from it could irrigate his crop. Hirapure had waited for 10 years for the project to be completed to begin farming. Two years ago, when the canal was ready, he realised, to his shock, the department had not made any sub-canal or supporting irrigation network to ensure the water actually irrigates fields.
“I had to break the canal wall and dig out a mud path for my fields. This is probably illegal, but I told the irrigation official in-charge that I have no option. He agreed,” Hirapure said.
Away from the mind-boggling numbers and political games in the irrigation scam, near the Gosikhurd project, which has been under construction for 30 years now, it was initiated in 1983, the wait for water continues. The promise was that the project would irrigate 2.5 lakh hectares of farmland.
Recent inquiries revealed irregularities in the way the norms were violated. While the report may have created a storm in political circles, at ground zero, there is anger and suffering, as well as ignorance, and an endless wait.
Hirapure has not even heard of the scam. “We do not care what politicians are up to anymore. All we know is we have been waiting for 10 years.” In Hirapure’s village of Pavni, most people like him have to find their own means, often illegal, of drawing water from the canal, which flows by. Premlal Hatwar, another farmer, is forced to draw water illegally from the canal.
An on site irrigation department engineer, not wishing to be named, said, “There is a fund and resource crunch. How do we explain this to the villagers?”
They have not built the vital link between canals: Sudhakar Bhure
While the Gosikhurd project was supposed to irrigate farmland across three districts, the irony of its reach is stark the closer you get to the dam. Korduli village in Bhandara, is the first village the canal meets. But, the villagers can barely see the project’s benefits.
Sudhakar Bhure was supposed to benefit. But, more than 30 years later, Bhure continues to be angry and dejected. Unlike other villages, his is blessed with even a sub-canal emerging out of the canal. “While the canal and the sub-canal have been built, the irrigation department has not linked the two. As the village is far away from the main canal, there is no way to draw water from it,” Bhure says.
While Bhure’s village officially benefits, thanks to the incomplete irrigation network, Bhure is forced to rely entirely on the monsoons. This year, it barely rained, landing Bhure with a debt of Rs. 1 lakh.
One has to use threats to get any work done: Manohar Akre
Manohar Akre is clear about how to ensure the irrigation department works. “Unless you threaten them with the worst, they won’t bother,” Akre says.
The former sarpanch of Kodurli village from Bhandara has been at loggerheads with the department for years. As a result, he has Rs. 1.30 lakh debt over his head. Akre thought his long wait had ended when the department constructed a canal and a sub-canal. But with the vital connecting link missing, there’s no water.
“This year, there was no rain. My fields depended completely on the rain and they failed me,” Akre says. “So, I decided to teach the department a lesson. I threatened them and told them that I won’t take no for an answer. They finally made a special bund from the canal for me and now, they’ve promised that the water will reach us by the end of this year.”