Poorly Designed Check Dams Leave Birbhum Farmers High And Dry
As against government’s promise to make water available through the seasons, inadequate check dams have not brought any relief to farmers in this semi-arid region who continue to struggle for sustenance
A major part of Birbhum district of West Bengal that borders Jharkhand has always had water woes — not enough to douse a fire at times. In 2011, when people heard about the proposal to build check dams, they were exhilarated.
Earlier, they had been excited about a proposal to introduce a canal system. When nothing came of that proposal, they resigned themselves to a perennial drought-like situation. They felt that their fate was sealed by the laterite soil of their land. When people learnt that the proposed project would be implemented through a World Bank-funded Accelerated Development of Minor Irrigation Project(ADMI), their hopes were rekindled.
The Rajnagar administrative block is one of the backward areas of an underdeveloped Birbhum. The eastern part of the district fares better, as it adjoins the rice belt of the neighboring Burdwan district. The fertile soil of the east rolls into the red soil of western Birbhum.
The red soil is a remnant of the rocks of Chota Nagpur Plateau and is unyielding. A substantive part of western Birbhum is thus unproductive. But the land that can come under the plough has a different problem.
The rivers that run through the region are shallow and seasonal. At other times, they can be best described as brooks that disappear with the onset of summer. Here the temperature soars as high as 48 C. The laterite soil cannot retain any moisture.
The ponds dry up and turn to puddles, not enough even for the buffaloes to wallow in to maintain their body temperature.
The government had considered introducing a canal system. The plan was to use the canals for irrigation. However, the scheme did not materialize and western Birbhum remains a water-starved locality.
Yet, the principal occupation of the people of Birbhum and Rajnagar is farming. As farming depends on the vagaries of the rain god, the farmers can grow only one kharif (summer) crop of rice. Though practically and economically unviable, rice has been the only option of farmers for ages.