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Rusting pipes haunt farmers

From a distance, they look like milestones jutting out of paddy fields at random. A closer look reveals pieces of rusted metal pipes standing a feet above the ground at Korotia village in Ausgram block of Burdwan. Ravik Bhattacharya reports.

india Updated: Apr 29, 2011 12:48 IST
Ravik Bhattacharya

From a distance, they look like milestones jutting out of paddy fields at random. A closer look reveals pieces of rusted metal pipes standing a feet above the ground at Korotia village in Ausgram block of Burdwan.

The pipes are all that is left of what was supposed to be the state government's much-hyped response to drought, local villagers claim. They were supposed to be attached to submersible pumps that nobody ever saw. Korotia is one of the villages where farmers committed suicide during last year's drought.

"The government declared a drought in June and five submersible pumps were allotted to water our fields. The pipes were placed amid much hype but no one saw the pumps," said Tapan Kumar Mondol, a villager and retired school headmaster.

"The pipes stare at us, almost making a mockery of our plight," said Gautam Chatterjee, who has 10 bighas to fend for his family of five. Locals said when the pipes were laid, they offered to pay for electricity to run the pumps. But the officials were not proactive.

"We promised all kinds of co-operation as we needed the pumps badly," said Shyamdas Majhi, owner of 5.5 bighas. "The drought-hit village did not get any help from the government. There was no monetary relief and no help for alternative farming.

The spell of drought is officially over but the yield is still poor. "The soil has dried up. I have planted potato and mustard and have been able to water the fields four to six times by drawing water from a pond. The pond has dried now and the situation is critical.

In June 2010, the Bengal government declared 11 out of 19 districts as "drought-affected". The administration calculated the monetary loss to be to the tune of Rs 650 crore and appealed for help from the Centre.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee announced that Rs 50 crore had been earmarked for relief. The government eventually released R34 crore, out of which Rs 19 crore was meant for repair of deep tubewells and Rs 15 crore for alternative kharif cultivation.

Bhattacharjee also paid a visit to Burdwan and promised a number of projects to help out farmers.

Korotia village never saw the promises having any effect on the ground reality. Today, the rusted water pipes stand testimony to what Left Front government failed to do for farmers, still considered the backbone of the CPI(M). The alternative farming schemes and gratuitous relief for small farmers remained a dream at Korotia.