Farmers in the Zira belt of Ferozepur district have to dig deeper for water every two years. They are worried not only about the cost of the fresh bore but also about the depleting water supply from the Sirhind feeder. Constructed in 1960, the feeder is in a dire need of repair, and its leaky banks have reduced the quantity of water going to the farmers to a trickle. But the former Punjab government failed to repair the canal despite a central grant of Rs 50 crore and a Rs 42.7-crore loan from National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).
The falling water table—an agriculture department report says it is dipping at the rate of .5-1 metre every year—is a grave concern in the state where 75% of the cultivated land is irrigated by groundwater, and only 25% feeds on canal water. But an audit of the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP) in the state during 2011-2016 has revealed that the state failed to implement five projects, including the extension of Shahpur Kandi canal to Balachaur and the construction of Shahpur Kandi dam, which would have brought 2.56-lakh hectares of land under canal irrigation.
LOSS OF IRRIGATION
These projects were to create an irrigation potential of 2,56,788 hectares. Against this, the irrigation department was able to create only 80,328 hectares (average 31%) during 2011-16.
Experts say it’s a big loss to Punjab where every drop counts. Underlining the importance of promoting canal water irrigation to reduce the stress on groundwater, Rajan Aggarwal, head of soil and water engineering department, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, said even a little increase in canal water will go a long way in delaying the desertification of Punjab.
Three of the five projects pertained to relining of three existing canals —1st Patiala feeder, Sirhind feeder and Rajasthan feeder. GS Buttar, additional director of extension education, PAU, pointed out how Muktsar villages were facing the problem of waterlogging due to the porous Sirhind feeder. “Eroded banks of this canal not only lead to water logging in adjoining villages, thereby damaging their fertility, but also reduce its carrying capacity.”
Lamenting that 110 of the 137 blocks in the state were already in the dark zone (where groundwater has been overexploited and is critically low) due to the fast depleting groundwater, Buttar said any delay in a scheme increasing irrigation water cannot be condoned.
But Punjab government has been condoning this delay during the last five years by failing to release its share of grants. For instance, it did not start relining the Sirhind feeder despite Rs 50 crore released by GOI in March 2014 and Rs 4.36 crore by government of Rajasthan in 2012-13. The state government arranged a loan of Rs 42.7 crore for this project from NABARD during 2012-13 but did not release the funds to the irrigation department (July 2016). This not only resulted in blocking of funds but also created an interest liability of Rs 11.6 crore.
NO MATCHING FUNDS
The state government not only failed to release its share of funds on time, it often did not give the entire sum. Out of Rs 235.16 crore released by the GOI for all the five projects during 2011-16, the state government released only Rs 78.27 crore, thus slowing down the works. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the executing divisions could utilise only part of the total sum released to them, and left Rs 58.59 crore un-utilised.
Work on the rehabilitation of 1st Patiala Feeder has been at a standstill since November 2010 as the Punjab government released its share five years late in March 2016, and that too only partially.
The relining of Rajasthan Feeder has also been languishing for five years as the Punjab government failed to give the irrigation department Rs 105.84 crore received from the central government. Due to this delay, the Punjab government will now have to refund the central assistance along with an interest of Rs 50.46 crore.
The state also failed to release its share for the construction of the Shahpur Kandi Dam near Gurdaspur even though the GOI had released its share in March 2011.
Slamming this “criminal” delay, SS Johal, former vice-chancellor of PAU, blamed it on lack of accountability. “One department blames the other and no one is punished. Unless the authorities pin the blame for the delay in either the release of funds or in the execution of works on one person, this will carry on.