The ill-timed schedule of repairs of canal distributaries has hit the cotton farmers hard in the state. They are left with no option but to sow water-guzzling paddy as cotton sowing could not take place over 70,000 hectares (1.7 lakh acres) for want of irrigation. Paddy sowing season will begin from June 10 in the state.
It will be a bad year for cotton farmers, especially after the extensive damage to the crop due to whitefly attack last year. The area under cultivation has dropped from around 5 lakh hectares last season to 2.75 lakh hectares this year.
The Lambi distributary, Arniwala minor and Bhagsar branch were shut during the peak season of cotton cultivation from mid-April to mid-May. These canals, which are predominantly for irrigation purpose, are opening now when the cotton-sowing season is over.
Though the state irrigation department says the canals were shut for repairs following farmers’ demands, agriculture department officials say the canals were closed despite repeated requests to carry out repairs during the off season.
Irrigation department executive engineer RK Gupta said the three canals were shut for 45 days to carry out brick-lining works on April 29. “We have been completing the works ahead of schedule,” he said, adding that after repairs, water in the Lambi distributary was released a fortnight ago, 10 days ago in the Arniwala minor, and the Bhagsar branch will be operational by June 5. Gupta said the department had fixed June 10 deadline to make these canals fully operational.
He said farmers wanted that they should get full flow of water during the paddy season and even agreed to shut water channels for repairs during cotton cultivation. “The irrigation department had no problem if the repairs were carried out after the paddy transplantation,” added Gupta.
The Lambi distributary feeds the cotton belt in the Abohar block and Bhagsar minor and Arniwala branch in the Fazilka block. The irrigation department has spent Rs 12 crore, Rs 24 crore and Rs 10 crore, respectively, on these water channels.
“We have lost almost 70,000 acres under cotton cultivation,” director of agriculture department JS Bains told HT. The irrigation department could have closed the canals after the cotton and paddy sowing was over, he added.
He said the agriculture department urged top government officials not to shut the water bodies from April 15, but of no avail. “We have asked cotton growers to shift to paddy cultivation for want of irrigation facility,” said Bains.